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A beginners guide to world domination: Risk Factions

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Hey there guys and gals and welcome to yet another review. What happens when you take the classic Risk formula and alternate it to make it more casual friendly without driving away the hardcore strategy/ fans of the original and then fill it will with a bunch of wacky cartoon characters bent on war and world domination?

I don’t know. I don’t have a good enough imagination. But the folks over at Stainless Games and Powerhouse Animation sure do and Risk Factions is the product of their joint imaginations.
 

Is this crazy spin on a classic board worth strategy fans’ virtual cash or is it’s quirky nature and simplification too off putting to rightfully gain the mass appeal that developers were looking for?

The game’s Campaign Mode seems like a good place to start things off with, since it happens to be the game’s Story Mode. In the story you have five factions, which are the Humans, who are lead by the rough and tumble General William P. "Fatty" McGutterpants who is a seemingly Americanized military man who absolutely adores the concept of war and is constantly spouting off substitute curse words. It’s an E-10 rated game remember. The Cats, who are lead by the charismatic Generalissimo Meow, who dresses like Chairman Mao (so, his name is a cat pun?) and sounds an awful like Hugo Chávez (a Red Scare double whammy). Gotta love them “subtle” communist jokes.

Reader: “Do I Khrushchev?”

Me: “Yes!”

The Robots who are lead by Commandant SixFour (nice 80’s home computing reference) who is cold, calculating and can’t tell one organ based life-form from another. The Zombies who are lead by Colonel Claus Von Stiffenberg, who is obviously a zombified German soldier. Not much else to say about him other than that. Personally, I would have written his character as more of a zombified Corneal Klink. This is a comedy after all. But I guess a WWII pun was too hard to resist. Although there is one very funny instance when he tries to make peace with the humans, only to be shot on site. Yes, I know that sounded violent but I’ll get to that later.

The final faction is The Yetis, who are lead by the gentle and peace-loving guru, His Excellency Gary. I like this name; it’s extravagant yet plain. Very funny. Although, I guess I shouldn’t have called him peace-loving. Well he was but after McGutterpants screwed everything up; he went nuts and decided to focus his efforts on global conquest, rather than peace, love and understanding. Which I have to admit was one of my favorite moments in the entire game.

Gary: “Can I bring peace to this world? The answer is no. But what I can bring is….(draws out shotgun) the pain!”
 

(So much to conquer. So little time)

Here’s the plot, the planet is at peace and while any rational thinking person would love to see world peace finally come to fruition, McGutterpants is bored and dreams of returning to the battlefield. He gets his wish as his pet dog (who has some decent moments of his own) re-directs a missile into the country of Catsmir, which results in a war between felines and mankind. After that, the remaining three chapters (chapter one is more of a training mission) can be summed up with this sentence, “The Humans do something stupid and make a new enemy/get another faction involved in the process.”

That’s pretty much all there is to say about the story other than the fact that the cutscenes are not necessarily gut-busting hilarious or anything of the sort but they do generate some good laughs and the art-style is charming. Oh and the chapter names are cute little movie parodies.

As far as the gameplay aspect of the Campaign goes, well it’s basically a tutorial for playing against other people and the chapters don’t take too long to complete (Unless you’re a dunderhead like me and fail to read the onscreen instructions (because it’s small) that are incorporated into the gameplay and load screens). In fact, I beat the game in about two hours on my second playthrough. Five chapters spread out over two hours is kind of weak for a story mode but the plot that’s given is as I have already said, charming and it does serve as solid tutorial. Playing as a different faction in each chapter is fine touch as well. The only real downers are the facts that you have to play the campaign in order to unlock each faction and we don’t get an ending. We have all of this plot set-up with the war and instead of seeing who ultimately comes out on top, we get a generic congratulation screen. Lame. I mean why even bother to have a plot if you’re not going to give it a conclusion? If that is meant to be a set up for a sequel, it misses the mark.    

The game’s audio is pretty good. The music might just be the standard style tracks you would hear in other military based games, but the voice acting is fantastic, with every character being given a performance worthy of a Saturday morning cartoon series, with gold old “Fatty” and the Generalissimo being my favorites. Whoever did their voices should be proud of their work. Oh and the computer voice altering that was used for Commandant, was also pretty cool beans. I also think the sound effects really add to the game’s cartoony appeal.

Graphically, Rick Factions doesn’t really resemble a video game all that much, aside from the typical “war room” inspired menu screen that you would see in other games like this one and the 3D models that are used for certain locals (like cities that represent capitals and things like the missile launch station) on the board and the dice.  Each of which look great but the dice especially, since each faction has their own version, which are actually really cool. Humans have army color green dice. Cats have orange “fuzzy” dice (my favorite design by the way). Robots have a steel, red and white set of dice to match their own design. Zombies have dreary gray dice that bleed purple when they are rolled (how cool is that?) and Yetis have ice blue dice that leave a trail of frost when rolled. Oh and each set of dice also has it’s own way of blowing up when losing a roll. Cool beans. The game board itself is basically just a plain map of the world but considering how each country is given the color of the faction that controls it, the map is still pleasing to the eye.  
 

(Cats learning about the horrors of Man!)

The cutscene’s, like I have already said, look like they were pulled straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Hell I might even go as far as to say that they almost look brighter and more colorful than any cartoon that you would see on TV nowadays. Were they done in HD? Oh and for those of you who recognize the art style, these scene’s were created by Powerhouse Animation, the same studio responsible for animated shorts like Heroes, Clerks: The Lost Scene and that stupid looking Halo fan thing (none of which are safe for work by the way), although here, the character designs are a bit goofier likely because it’s meant to be more kid friendly. Personally, I think the game is all the better for those designs because they add to the overall charm.  


Fun fact: Powerhouse is currently working on some stuff with Penny Arcade.

Now, let’s talk gameplay. I know I missed a few of the presentation details but they tend to blend in with the gameplay, so I will get to those aspects later. First off, besides playing through the campaign, you can also play a Custom Game, which gives you the chance to increase or decrease the length of the game by adding/removing the number of objectives needed to be fulfilled to win. Or you can choose to give it a Classic Risk spin by making complete global conquest the only means of victory. Of course you also have your local and online (via XBL or PSN or Steam) multiplayer that can be played by up to five people.

Now that I got that little tidbit of info out of the way, let’s discuss the rules of the game shall we? Each player is given control over a few select countries and two troops to protect each one. However, before your turn begins, each player will be given a set number of additional troops based on the number of countries and capital cities their forces have acquired (this happens before every turn) that they can place in any country that they control. They can also move troops that were given to them at the beginning of the game (although each country must have at least one soldier).

 

(Fulfil objectives to discover creative ways to destroy the enemy forces)

Once this is done, players can begin to invade the countries of other players, if they so wish. All but one soldier from the player’s country will invade the chosen country of one of their rival conquerors. Once this is done, a battle between the two factions will ensue. As many as four soldiers from both sides can attack at a single time. Each soldier will face off with a soldier from the other side, with the winners being decided with a dice roll (highest number wins obviously). This process will continue until all of soldiers from either side are eliminated. You can choose to invade another country or you can end your turn. Once you do that, you can migrate your troops to any of your controlled countries but remember, each country must have at least one troop left to defend it against enemy invaders and you don’t want to leave any particular country open for attack. Especially if it is close to a border controlled by an enemy empire. You will also be given a star card at the end of each turn, which will give you a select number of extra troops that you can use on your following turn.

Remember when I said that the game feels more like a cartoon meshed with board game, as opposed to a video game? Well, the main reason for that is not only the special little dice animations but also the fact that the battle sequences are also animated. The troops from both sides will march in at the bottom of the screen and those who win their respective dice rolls, will attack their opponent on the other side and I really must say that they are animated really well. The Cats scratch and spit out furballs at their enemies, while Robots zap them with their arm cannons (Mega Man reference?), Zombies will puke on or throw body parts at foes, Yetis will throw snowballs or ice sickles and Humans throw grenades or gun them down. Actually, all sides will gun down the occasional enemy combatant.

You might think that this is surprisingly violent but isn’t really. The worse that happens is enemies simply falling down or getting an x-ray style shock or getting a face full of soot. Kind of like a Looney Tunes short. Well, except for the puking part. That’s more or less Ren and Stimpy territory.

Now for the rules that makes Factions different from Classic Risk. Risk Factions allows you to complete certain objectives to gain an extra ace in the hole. For example, you can capture a tomb that will convert nearby rival countries to your side or a dam that can flood nearby countries to wipe out their troops or even a military base that will give you an extra attack die that will drop missiles on your enemies. Not too mention, fulfilling these objectives will make you one step closer to victory no matter how you use them. You see, the goal of Risk Factions isn’t to dominate the entire map (although you can still win that way) but rather complete three objectives. Although, if you complete more than one in a single turn, you can only choose to benefit from one of them. But don’t worry. You can always fulfill one of those unchosen objectives later. Unless an enemy completes it and chooses to reap the benefits. These new attacks acquired from the objectives are also animated, although they are done so with 3D graphics as opposed to 2D animation and while these animations are nothing special, they still look impressive.

I really like these new rules, as they add to the strategic element, while at the same time not necessarily easier but shorter and more accessible. So, both veteran and novice Risk players can become brilliant military strategists without much trouble.

As far as extra content goes, there really isn’t much to speak of other than the Leaderboard and the War Record, which is basically just a posting of your stats, the cutscenes from the campaign and the amount of time spent playing. Although you can play the original or “Classic Risk” but it’s presentation is kind of bland in comparison to Factions and besides, if you wanted to play Risk with the vintage rules, wouldn’t it be better to play it in board game form anyway?

 

(Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Cute)

Risk Factions is definitely a fun a little strategy game that can appeal to both casual and hardcore players, with its simpler rules (which don’t take too much away from the challenge), charming sense of humor and its game design. However, considering that the single player option doesn’t have much of a shelf life, this is definitely a game just begs to be played with a group of friends.    

Final Score: 7/10