This review was originally published in issue 224 of Edge back in February. Delays to the game's release followed by the PSN outtage mean that the build we played differs from the one which became available on PSN today.
Realtime strategy titles may be few and far between on home consoles, but the developers that have dared to bring a typically hardcore PC genre to a broader audience have managed to set a high bar. From Halo Wars to Civilization Revolution, and more recently with Ruse, the challenge of paring down traditionally complex interfaces while maintaining a deep level of strategy has been conquered.
Under Siege strips even further layers away from the RTS template to the point that it almost feels like a dungeon crawler. There’s no traditional base-building, you manage and carefully choose your units for each mission of attack and defence before deployment, and if you make the wrong choice… well, tough. It’s closest in design and practice to last year’s Command & Conquer 4, which itself attempted to bring console mechanics to a PC genre.
There’s a varied mix of units to select – earned as you progress through the missions – with an even spread of abilities that make each one a valuable asset. Archers can heal and launch flaming arrows from afar, while soldiers can lock their shields in place to defend against aggressive assaults. Even with a neat, balanced set of troops, however, the daunting difficulty of the game sets in thick and fast. You’ll fight hard to complete missions on the easiest setting, learning harsh lessons in micromanagement and pre-battle preparation as wave after wave of evenly matched enemy units rail against your team. Repeating missions is something the designers clearly anticipated, as failure can still reward vigilant, treasure-hunting players, imparting valuable funds to upgrade infantrymen on your next go.
A thin narrative yarn has been spun around the campaign – another evil empire, another rebel alliance – and though the splash-page intermissions and storyboards are pretty enough, it does little to add any real weight or motivation to the campaign. The paradox of the game is that its art design and script targets teenagers while its stifling difficulty sets a barrier to entry far too high for its own good.
Take a well-earned break from the campaign mode and you can test the game’s advanced, intricate map editor. Completing the campaign missions opens up the maps for use in this mode, allowing you to improvise with the plots of land and add your own spin. Alternatively you can start from scratch, determining everything from spawn points, environmental effects and even adding your own cutscenes. The editor is Under Siege’s best weapon. It’s extensive and rewarding – if a little tricky to navigate due to some confusing prompts – giving you enough autonomy to counteract the unfair odds of the campaign.
Under Siege may be a downloadable game, but it’s certainly not throwaway. It’s engaging and, if the controls can be mastered and the bugs forgiven, a satisfying sampler of RTS thrills for the uninitiated, and a stamina test for anyone who thinks they’re hard enough.