Siegecraft Commander, in its most basic form, is a battle to the death between good and evil, but the more complex side allows for a great deal of tactical nous and strategic thinking.
An action-strategy hybrid, it is up to you to create a network of interlinked structures and buildings by ‘throwing’ them between each other, all whilst defending your ‘Keep’ from the opposing forces – because if that goes down, then it’s game over. The process is simple, but you’ll need eyes in the back of your head, and plenty of patience, should you wish to overcome the forces which head your way.
You play as either the wise-cracking Knights of Freemoi or the scaly tribal Lizardmen, heading off and doing whatever tribal Lizardmen and free Knights do. Whichever side of the tale you choose, the mechanics are pretty much the same, with just the story behind them changing. In fact, the actual gameplay itself is near on identical as you try to penetrate the defenses of a number of pre-designed enemy fortresses across nine levels – 18 if you decide to play through as both the Knights and the Lizardmen.
In order to do so, you’ll need to build a maze of structures across the map, by flinging them, catapult style, from your already established base. You’ll find that your standard Outposts are the best to help spread your wings, but you’ll need to weigh up the pros and cons between covering ground and setting up smaller, well defended independent cities as you do so. Armouries, Barracks, Libraries and more, all bring different unit types and you’ll need to ensure that your base is guarded by a combination of ground units, air bound fighters and permanent, standalone damage-bringers in order to succeed. It’s all very Command&Conquer-y, without really ever going too in depth or reaching the enjoyment heights that the numerous C&C formats over the years brought.
In fact, if you are looking for a deep, tactical title to get to grips with, then you may just be left a bit deflated. For whilst the Tech Trees that are in place are full of everything you could ever wish for, with Tesla points and Dragon nests proving the real high points, you’ll probably find that much of your game time will be spent trying to ‘force’ through a win in the simplest way possible. Thankfully, all is fed your way at a decent rate, giving you the chance – if you so wish – to get to grips with each of the tactical opportunities as you work through the missions. Some will have you taking on basic ground forces, with a throw of a building or a ping of a TNT barrel normally being enough to help you progress. But others will see the AI throw all manner of aerial units, lightning shields and more, your way. You’ll need to be able to think quickly, on the fly, creating the correct units to see off the forces coming your way.
I believe Blowfish Studios would also wish you to plan your route to victory, and this is something which you’ll need to do throughout. You see, when you throw a structure, an unpassable wall drops in between the two – these can’t be crossed and will see any attempt to pass over them with a second structure end in destruction. It’s pretty difficult to initially get your head around all this, and you will find your first few attempts at level completion ending in defeat, either because the opposing forces have completely overrun your army, or because you’ve hit a dead end, blocking yourself in. Every second counts in Siegecraft Commander and one misplaced unit could be the difference between success and failure.
But get it right and you’ll be left with a ton of joy etched upon your face as there really is a huge delight in seeing your destructive efforts come off. It’s even more pleasing when you manage to drop in behind enemy forces and take down the root of all evil first, as destroying one of the structures in a chain quickly sees all of those forward of that demolished in an instant. It’s hugely satisfying to see how a whole chain of command can be taken down with a single barrel of explosive stuff, and even if you decide to go in on the front foot, ignoring tactics and flinging Outpost after Outpost right into the heart of the opponents base, seeing the chaos you cause is great.
So, Blowfish Studios have created a rather lovely little action-strategy game that works pretty damn well. Or at least it would do if it wasn’t for the utterly horrid catapult system. You see, this is where Siegecraft Commander very nearly throws a TNT barrel in its own face.
Now, the idea behind the throwing and slinging of units is a good one, but the application is wrong. Initially, you’ll be hit in the face with a ‘slingshot’ control method which is too damn fiddly, too damn imprecise and too damn frustrating to use on a regular basis. In fact, if this was the only control scheme in place, then I’d be telling you to leave Siegecraft Commander alone like a shot – believe me, I was all ready to ditch the controller after an hour or so of huge frustration. Thankfully though, it’s not, and the ‘Precision’ alternative firing option is much preferred – doing pretty much as its name suggests. But it’s still not perfect and gauging length and power of each shot you make is always pretty random. Sometimes you’ll find that an Outpost will shoot off exactly as intended, but at others…well, it’ll fail miserably. It’s not a massive deal breaker, as the solo campaign and its real-time nature allows for a little inconsistency, but in the same vein, it’s not exactly the most comforting of control schemes.
So, that’s pretty much the game in a nutshell, and you’re probably sat there thinking that Siegecraft Commander has enough positives to enable it to also be a fairly comprehensive multiplayer title. And you’d be right as the basic mechanics (excluding those controls) lend themselves brilliantly to a bit of one-on-one action.
Available in either turn-based or real-time match ups, Siegecraft however doesn’t limit things to just two players, instead allowing those who can grab up to three friends the chance to throw buildings, structures and TNT barrels right onto the bonce of their nearest and dearest. If I’m honest, it’s damn good fun, especially when the options are set for real-time slugging, replicating the solo player campaign, but with the added bonus of hearing pitiful screams from the other side of the room.
It does however get a tad repetitive if you prefer the whole turn based idea, and whilst the 15 second time limit per move really does force each player into rushing through things, all turn-based battles eventually run down a dead-end alley, turning into a fight between two structures, with neither side ever really coming out on top. On the opposite side of the coin, a five minute move period is just far too long and will have you sat twiddling your thumbs throughout.
Additionally, and this is a bit of a strange one, but the developers at Blowfish Studios really need to remove the ability for those not taking their turn to be able to move cursors and spin screens. The control system is initially hard enough to get used to, without you having to put up with a mate sat next to you swirling his thumbstick round and round during your turn, making your choice of shot near on impossible.
Believe me though when I say that the multiplayer aspect is good – just make sure you can tempt some mates in to use the split screen real-time option and all will be well.
Siegecraft Commander isn’t just limited to offline multiplayer fights though and it’s great to see that a fully developed online multiplayer option is in place – especially for a game that comes from a smallish indie studio. Again, there are both turn-based and real-time opportunities available for up to four players at the same time. On paper it sounds great, but I’ve yet to be able to experience any online fight – but then, as the game gets released around the world, I should expect to see more Commanders online and up for a brawl. On the flip side of that, as is the way with 99% of smaller titles that hit our console stores, whether anyone will actually be playing Siegecraft Commander further down the line may just see that online aspect thoroughly wasted.
So, Siegecraft Commander. What’s the overall verdict? Well, I absolutely adore the crisp, comedic visuals and I even find the storytelling pretty humorous. The gameplay itself is testing (in a good way), and the overall concept is well thought out. The problem is, that damn control scheme really does take some getting used to – and that’s even after switching away from the horrid slingshot method. Many may just find that the overall repetitive nature that accompanies any game of this type a bit too much to bear, but as a real-time strategic offering, it just about delivers the goods, especially if you can manage to coerce some friends into joining you for the online multiplayer modes.