When you clicked in this review you may have flicked through the images on this post or maybe you’ve seen something of Impire previously and understandably seen the similarity between this new title and the classic from yesteryear, Dungeon Keeper. The last installment of the famous Bullfrog franchise was way back in 1999, so what could be better than a fresh, modern update? Surely the vast technological improvements seen over the last decade would allow Impire to take the strong fundamentals of Dungeon Keeper and dramatically expand on those foundations, elevating it above it’s now aged companion?
Impire tells the tale of the mighty demon overlord Baal being brought to Ardania, the game world, by the demonologist Oscar Van Fairweather. Unfortunately the journey from hell has reduced Baal to a mere fraction of his fearsome statue and he’s now a portly and oddly cute shadow of his former self. Impire follows Oscar and Baal’s quest to restore the demon while terrorising the world in the process.
Each level sees you attempting to satisfy certain goals rather than being open ended. You will also need to build your dungeon up by creating new rooms or connecting to existing ones dotted round the map, while also spawning a legion of evil minions to do your bidding. During each level though you’ll face random encounters from Heroes who can drop into your dungeon and cause chaos. These units are much stronger than the usual enemies you will face and can also damage rooms too.Defeating them unlocks extra resources to allow you to unlock or build further units
Unfortunately, despite a promising start off point (who doesn’t want to be an all-conquering evil demon?) Impire quickly starts going downhill.
There’s an issue that runs right through Impire from the first level right through to the end; Repetition. Every level starts with the same process; Quickly gather resources, build up your dungeon and unlock the units you’d already previously unlocked on the previous level. All feel of progression is stifled by this unlock process. If it’s been done once at a lower and presumably easier level, why should the player have to unlock the same units again? It feels strongly like the developers have thrown a purposeful spanner in the works in order to slow you down. Instead of adding meaningful length to the game though it just serves to grate.
There’s also a problem in that the actual building of your dungeon is a process laden with frustrations. The few resources available can make the expansion a slow process and the pre-determined sizes and shapes of the rooms can make it awkward to fix together. It’s also impossible to destroy a room you’ve previously built and, as I discovered on one particularly frustrating occasion, it can leave it actually impossible to complete a level if you’ve blocked off a necessary pathway.
The interface quickly became a major source of ire for me personally. The menu system is sometimes painfully unintuitive with the vast array of icons sometimes given scant or no explanation. For example; in the squads menu there are 5 icons available next to your groups of creatures. Hovering over two of these icons displays a pop up explaining what that particular button does however the other three, inevitably the ones with icons that aren’t self explanatory, show nothing to suggest what they’re used for. In 2013, surely this is Game Design 101?
The camera angle is equally frustrating as it’s nearly impossible to get a perfect view of the action. Zooming in brings you a little bit too close for comfort, leaving you with a very limited field of view. This becomes a particular issue during combat as all the units, both yours and the enemies, meld together into a chaotic bundle of mini explosions, flailing limbs and hit points. While this may have been a conscious design choice to reflect the cartoony look to the game it unfortunately makes me nigh on impossible to issue commands to your units. Similarly, zooming out is equally unhelpful. The camera then switches to a top down view and completely removes any feeling of connection from the game.
Also disappointing are the overall graphics. While the cutesy and cartoony characters are quite nicely modelled, if not a bit angular and blocky, the game contains one of my major bugbears; The characters lips don’t move when they speak. You may think this is picky (hell, I think this is picky) but there’s something about watching a cutscene featuring voice overs and the character models waving their arms around but with their lips firmly planted shut that creates an instant loathing within me.
Perversely though, and in spite of all the above, Impire has some charm – The script during the admittedly overly-long cutscenes is witty, self-aware and decidedly adult in places. I was fairly taken back when during the initial cutscene one character describes another with a beautifully enunciated ‘little prick’.
The missions are also suitably demonic and quite amusing, with goals such as poisoning a town with barrels of rotten rat flesh. They’re bizarre but fit the theme and sense of humour of the game perfectly.
In summary, it’s cripplingly obvious how much Impire wanted to be Dungeon Keeper and it sadly falls way short. It unfortunately comes across less like an updated and loving tribute and more like the New Look knock off of a designer label. That’s not to say Impire is a bad game, it’s quite clearly not. Much like the aforementioned clothing brand, it’s an entirely adequate product, it just sadly pales in insignificance when placed next to the exalted company it tries so hard to emulate.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 14/02/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Impire for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 2 weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.