When it comes to games, there is nothing much that comes out of Portugal these days. In fact there is pretty much no day that I can think of that the Portuguese have risen from the gaming ferment to present something worthy of note. Under Siege might just be the first Portuguese game I have encountered, and even though one is always tentative about a product born within an environment of little heritage or support, you can’t help but feel a slight sense of pride that it managed to make it into my hands and is sitting on my XMB.
Developers of Under Siege, Seed Studios, actually do profess on their website that when they first set up in 2006 they honoured themselves as one of the only games developers working out of Portugal. It was probably inevitable then that Under Siege presents the hallmarks of a title that has been coaxed through a room of thorns, but somehow this fledgling studio have managed to bring parts of it out the other side with only a few deformities and scars.
An RTS (real time strategy) game by the numbers, Under Siege plays out like you would expect from much in the genre. Replete with heavy, light and medium units, battles take place in predictable fashion. Grunts at the front, archers subtle but deadly in the background and the powerful mortars and cannons staying even further afield. Add to this a wash of stiff animation and a messy control scheme and Under Siege is something that most players, especially on consoles, will have experienced before.
There is nothing wrong with the ‘If it ‘aint broke don’t then don’t fix it ‘policy, especially when you consider Seed Studios have taken some Armstrong (either Neil or Stretch, you decide) like baby steps with Under Siege. Combat might not be the most thrilling or indeed anything inventive but the saving grace of Under Siege is, no matter where Seed Studios have faltered, there at least shines through ambition.
Take the story for example. A tale straight out of some greater folklore that might not be the most well crafted script or indeed best delivery but here Under Siege has the state of mind to try and implement a greater force to push you into battle, which is arguably all an RTS needs. The decision though to not explain anything about who characters are or what is going on until the end of the first chapter (which is around the one hour mark) is either one big boo-boo or a stroke of genius.
Under Siege is not a bad looking game either. Animation might be pretty lacklustre but environments and textures are at least rendered well and fields of play are well populated with abandoned villages and ominous scents of war. It is a grand theatre to play in and it is within this space that Under Siege purposefully forces you to think strategically and with well thought out application.
In every stage of Under Siege you will be an outnumbered minority. At the start of each phase you are given a certain number of spawn points, in which you can call forth only one unit of your choice. Once that unit is chosen you are stuck with it for the entire stage and unless you prepared well by scanning the environment first and deciding the best tactic to advance, you’ll come unstuck very quickly. Under Siege doesn’t take many prisoners and by forcing your tactical hand, early stages can be frustratingly complex but shatteringly satisfying when you get the balance just right.
The system that units employ becomes even more intricate when you add in the fact that each unit ‘carries over’ into the next area. So if one member of a unit of three dies then you’ll only have two come the next stage. There are greater losses to experience than these though, as units that you’ve seen through chapters and levelled up over time can still be extinguished in a second and suddenly you’ll be forced to face difficult opponents with ‘new’ units that you’ll have to build from the ground up. Again, the decision to add these little tastes of an RPG (role playing game) is either one big whoopsie or an idea spawned from a devilishly sinister master mind.
Under Siege has left me split between its intelligence and immaturity. All the pieces of a smart RTS are here but the polish just isn’t there just yet. It doesn’t help that there is also a clumsy control system that doesn’t fit with the title’s requirements that you take care of each and every unit. It’s far too easy to confuse units up or selected them incorrectly, leaving the weak exposed and the strong out of place. Seed Studios have included Move support for the title which one would hope gave more fidelity to managing what is going happening on screen.*
It is hard not to recommend Under Siege to RTS fans because there is just about enough here to provide a welcome palette cleanser to the more destructive and severe iterations of the genre. Under Siege also has enough tit bits to interest the first timer, as it deals specially in tactics, management and organisation, skills inherent in every RTS. For the price the package also comes with a wealthy online community and a comprehensive level designer. For most, Under Siege might just be the stepping stone or cooling side dish that seasoned players or rookies have been looking for.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: PS3 Release Date: 2/06/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Under Siege for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.
*Move controls were not reviewed.