After the fairly subdued appearance and slow draw of acclaim gathered by the original Kingdom Under Fire, the release of Heroes exists as a solid opportunity for publishers Phantagram and developers Blue Side to build on their established foundations and add improvements to an already competent real-time strategy formula.
The central storyline this time around places the player at the centre of an emergent power struggle between a warring Vampire Lord, his dark elves and orcs, and the opposing human and elf forces. The integral plot unfolds through masses of prompted character text, which, in the main, is also accompanied by emotive voiceoversâ€”that do occasionally threaten to cross the line into pantomime delivery thanks to some inconsistent audio direction and poor sound editing. Also, the gameâ€™s main textual preamble is very poorly written, and perhaps indicates a writer and/or translator not especially proficient with the English language. However, though sometimes a little flat, the gameâ€™s narrative threads are certainly ambitious and remain compelling enough to keep players moving forward.
In terms of gameplay, Heroes remains fairly true to the original Kingdom Under Fire blueprint, and places the player either in the midst of direct ground-level melee combat or in command of specific groups of manoeuvrable troops during offensives. The ubiquitous command element so prevalent in standard RTS titles is cleverly counterbalanced in Heroes by the frequent and involving hack and slash encounters, which provide players with a more obvious connection to the action and their loyal troops. Also, increased interaction with playable characters means that players will likely form bonded relationships with the gameâ€™s central protagonists, and work all the harder to keep them alive during frenetic bouts of gameplay.
Visually, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is certainly an attractive title, its character sprites, environmental elements, map explanations, and cut scenes are all executed to an impressive standard. Yet, the game initially portrays a distinctâ€”and damagingâ€”sense of player disorientation through a very limited visual range. Immediate environment distance quickly mists into blurred nothingness rather than stretching to a clearly defined horizon. The resultant sensation of geographic confusion is often only countered by overlaid guiding paths, or highlighted target points. When in melee combat, battling troops reveal themselves as generic representations of their specific race, but the lack of individuality is never an issue seeing as on-screen action is so intense that anything other than survival and carnage is of secondary importance. Considering the amount of character action (either melee or strategy) taking place on screen at any one time, Heroes admirably betrays very little in terms of slowdown, and handles the processing load with gusto. The only notable criticism of the gameâ€™s visual performance exists through the camera. Though it can be clicked into several different distances, the cameraâ€™s positioning during certain sequencesâ€”mainly strategicâ€”can severely detract from the actionâ€™s immersion factor as it stutters behind peripheral trees, castle walls, boulders, etc. and blocks important tactical viewpoints.
For all the solid groundwork accomplished through the varied gameplay and impressive visuals, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes leans heavily toward disappointment in the sound department. Beyond the sporadic straining of the central voiceover performances, the gameâ€™s core musical component is woefully ill fitting stylistically. Some players probably find that ear-shattering guitar metal is an apt choice for on-the-fly tactical siege planningâ€”but somehow thatâ€™s doubtful. The relentlessly over-paced soundtrack may well fade into background insignificance amid the meaty, sword crashing and scream-laced melee skirmishes, but itâ€™ll coax blood from the ears of players trying to consider strategic options. Thankfully the soundtrack can be turned offâ€”but, oddly, this only further detracts from the gameâ€™s atmospheric effectiveness, as its removal reveals massive aural pauses where no semblance of ambient sound remains to sustain moments of tension or the sensation of expectancy.
Beyond the unusually attractive RTS gameplay variety of melee and strategy, and the advanced interaction levels granted to the gameâ€™s main cast of characters, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes doesnâ€™t quite achieve its own ambitions. Though itâ€™s certainly fun to hack and slash alongside your troops while embarking bravely through the unfolding storyline and progressively more involving tactical clashes, the game all too quickly wanders into the dreary realms of repetition. The inclusion of Xbox Live multiplayer negates this somewhat, but the subject matterâ€™s appeal will still be a short-lived multiplayer extension. Combined with the grossly flawed camera, abhorrently bad music, and overly melodramatic voiceovers, Heroes unwittingly destroys more than it creates. Those players drawn inexorably toward the RTS genre, and all it entails, may well garner an experience where these criticisms are easily tolerated for the sake of a slightly invigorating twist on a tired genre. However, everyone else would be better advised to seek rental assurance before dipping into the piggy bank.