Under Siege: Enhanced Edition Review (PS3)

Oh how disappointed we were at the lack of chubby-faced ponytail action in Seed Studios PS3 take on the classic Under Siege. Where were the extravagant cakes containing half-naked pin-up girls from the 80s? Gary Busey was in Saints Row, could they not have plumped up the money to get him in for a voice session? Maybe Tommy Lee Jones’ eye patch could have been brought on board for a minimal amount of fuss? No ships? No marines? No awkwardly-choreographed close-quarter knife battles with a heroic cook? What is this travesty exactly?

It’s a downloadable techno-fantasy console RTS of course, and one that Steven Seagal would probably be proud of, given it contains all sorts of blades and regimented units.

Controls work pleasingly well

There was a time when such a concept for a PC-centric title on a living room setup was unthinkable, but thanks to a somewhat brutal learning curve traversed by the likes of Lord of the Rings: The Battle For Middle Earth, Halo Wars and Ruse, we’re facing a bizarre situation where the strategy genre feels almost as much at home on your TV as it does on a mouse, keyboard and intimate monitor setup. Not many would have even considered that possible at the start of this generation of hardware, but the gains in interface and UI design have been monumental, stripping away layers of frustration from the dual analogue sticks as a replacement pointer.

And those improvements have never been more refined than the implementation found in Under Siege, with the developer confident enough to work intuitive squad-based special powers into the mix with comparative ease.

Before we delve into those though, it’s worth noting the setting, which is that of a story-based mission-driven fantasy tale with some technological stylistic elements bolted on for good measure. The campaign is broken up into missions that are interspersed with static comic-book art shifting the story of your land (and its inevitable invaders) forward a beat or two, and each of those missions involves patrolling an open battlefield, ordering you troops to fight and capture specific rally points, help out sympathetic NPCs and generally mop up the dangers contained within.

In order to succeed, you’ll have to do quite a bit of squad management before venturing forth into the fray. There are limited spawn points on each map, so it’s best to scout around and determine the best balance of archers/melee/cannon/exotic unit types, and then select from your most experienced squadrons of each type. XP and money is earned by completing primary and secondary objectives on each map (and from looting chests lying around), and each of your groups can be bolstered with new members or upgraded weaponry as you see fit. Losing a group of upgraded and experienced warriors is a crushing blow as you venture further into the game. Fortunately, each mission can be attempted again with no permanent loss should you quit out in the middle.

The screen is frequently busy

In terms of control, the basics are as you would expect. Tapping X on any of your disposable units selects them for command, and tapping square anywhere on the map will make them advance to that position. Holding down X brings up a widened selection circle that’ll group together all the units that you choose, whilst clicking in the right thumbstick selects all active units available on the map. Holding a directional button on the pad forms a quick-select group with whatever units you have selected at the time, so it’s a cinch to set up a quick battalion of ranged units or a melee group, and keep them in the exact position that you’d like on the battlefield. It feels smooth and fast, and it never gets in the way.

Layered on top of that are the ‘special’ skills, activated with the triangle button. Each of your unit types has a different skill that they can utilise in the heart of battle, such as taunting your enemies to pull them towards melee units, locking position to deflect attacks, healing your troops within an area of effect, or blasting a huge cannonball towards a targeted area. With multiple unit types selected, you can simply rotate active command with the shoulder buttons before hitting the triangle to trigger the ability you need, so choosing your type of special attack is a simple task even in a heated situation. Well... it is once you get the hang of it, so prepare for more than a few mortar holes and mission over screens before you’re smashing your enemies.

And in truth, that’s a screen that you’ll see a whole lot. The free ‘Enhanced Edition’ update that’s available on the PSN mitigates the brutal difficulty level somewhat, but even in its current state Under Siege is a tough task master. Expect to repeat missions and learn patterns of micro-management before you can get anywhere near succession, but with each wave of enemy attack and each inevitable defeat, the urge to proceed usually gets stronger. To a point.

You probably wouldn’t mess with that

When you need to take a break (and you will), outside of the comprehensive map editor, multiplayer should also offer up further longevity and a chance to flex your army-building skills against real life opposition, free from the shackles of that brutal AI. The problem we had was that absolutely nobody seems to be playing at present. Try as we might to find a match, we were unable to do so in the time in which this review was written, although if you have a buddy willing to double-down for a second copy of Under Siege, I can only imagine that there’s a lot of fun to be had once the battles become a little more spontaneous and unpredictable.

On the whole, Under Siege is a rare thing indeed. It’s a hardcore RTS in terms of scope and the demands it places on players, wrapped up in one of the best console-specific control schemes that the genre has seen to date. It’s a little too tough and a little too dry to be worthy of ultimate praise however, but if you plump down the relatively modest entry fee on PSN you’ll be treated to a decent amount of challenging content for the price. Not a bad proposition indeed.

Best Game Moment: Finally conquering a mission after your 10th retry.