It’s RTS Jim, but not as we know it!
Having first made an appearance on the Wii ages ago, it is with great joy that Swords and Soldiers, from Ronimo Games, finally comes to the PS3. With it’s abundance of humour and comical graphic style, you could be forgiven for thinking that this game has about as much strategic gaming as a Karaoke game. But beneath the colourful and welcoming exterior beats the heart of a formidable strategy title. Well, almost.
The thing is with Swords and Soldiers that it is actually quite easy to overlook the strategic element. The game sort of tricks into thinking strategically without your realising. It is almost as if they have taken a full featured wargame, taken out most of the strategy and complications and then sneaked the strategy back in somehow. It is one of those games that are described as being simple to pick up, yet difficult to master.
The basics really are very simple. The player gathers gold and then uses this resource to create units. The units are created at the base and, once created, start making their way towards the enemy base, only stopping when they come across an enemy unit to fight. The player has to wait between creating units, resulting in a constant stream of troops rather than a massive horde. As the player progresses they unlock different units with different abilities. This is where some strategic thinking comes in, as each unit moves at a different speed. Certain combinations of unit work very well together, but because there is no way to stop their constant trudging towards conflict and death, the player is required to time the creation of the different units. It is an effective way of making the player think carefully about their timing.
But they still have to be quick, as the other player, or AI, will be doing the same thing. The simple left to right maps across which these conflicts rage result in bottle necks, especially when playing against another human opponent either in split screen or online, as streams of troops meet up and battle it out to get the upper hand.
It is here that magic comes into play and can swing the tide of battle. The only other resource besides gold is mana, which is used to cast a variety of different offensive and defensive spells. Mana is not collected, but replenishes itself at different rates, although there are other ways provided to the different factions to boost mana.
There are three factions available in the game: Vikings, Aztecs and Chinese. Working through the campaign, the player begins with the Vikings, who seem to be going to war solely for their love of Barbecues. The entire campaign is a lot of fun, with some fairly difficult stages that will challenge the way the gamer plays.
Each of the factions have different troop types and spells, allowing for some variety in the way the game is played. The simplicity of the game comes through even here, with only a handful of troop types and spells available to each army. But keeping it simple allows the player to concentrate on effectively using what he has.
Something that I thought of as utter genius was how the game deals with the downtime whilst trying to find a multiplayer opponent. The player can simply set the game to look for an opponent whilst they continue to enjoy the single player game. Once an opponent is found, the game pauses. Brilliant.
One thing that the game does shout out loud is it’s lack of seriousness. Unlike most strategy titles, this game is happy to laugh at itself. Little jokes and digs at the genre or other games, are strewn throughout. And let’s not forget the serious reason why the Vikings have gone to war. Barbecue sauce! The Aztecs are protecting their giant Chilli and the Chinese Emperor appears to have lost his toy!
The visuals are bright and colourful, creating a very cartoon feel to the game, a vast improvement over the Wii version. The sound too is finished to a very high standard, with some excellent one-liners guaranteed to make you giggle.
Strategy games are a difficult thing to pull off on a console. But with it’s less than serious attitude, simplistic controls and hidden depth, Swords and Soldiers does as good a job as any. Not everyone is going to be impressed, but it is this type of game that could open the genre to newcomers. Swords and Soldiers is a colourful bundle of gaming fun, which is not something you hear too often in the RTS genre.