Review: Risk: Factions

Greg Tito | 1 Jul 2010 09:00
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I have fond memories of playing Risk in many forms. The first was when I played the board game with my friend while camping. He got so mad that I was winning that he picked up the board and threw it across the campsite, spraying the little plastic pieces everywhere. I also played the hell out of the PC version of Risk released in 1997 during one visit to my friend's dorm at UVM. Because I didn't partake in many inebriating substances at the time, the intricacies of the strategy game allowed me to enjoy an otherwise very cold and boring trip.

The XBLA game of Risk: Factions lives up to its predecessors, both tabletop and digital. It is a cleverly designed turn-based strategy game that takes the basic gameplay of Risk and adds a few interesting points to control on the map and a cartoon storyline campaign which was well worth a chuckle or two.

The "story" of the Risk: Factions campaign is basically a Warner Brothers-style cartoon critique of war itself. General William P. "Fatty" Mc. Gutterpants starts off delivering a speech railing against the mortal enemy of the human race: Peace. Gutterpants' ever-present dog accidentally fires a mortar into Warpaw, which pisses off the nation of anthropomorphic cats led by Generalissimo Meow. Meow then launches an attack, making the humans' noses red with allergies. A series of unfortunate events adds new antagonists, including robots (Commandant SixFour), zombies (Colonel Claus Von Stiffenberg) and finally a group of yoga-practicing yetis and their leader: His Excellency Gary. The art in these cutscenes is surprisingly well-done, as if they were indeed created by cartoon animators instead of videogame designers. (That's because they were produced by Powerhouse Animation from Austin, TX.) I was reminded of Kricfalusi's Ren & Stimpy more than anything else.

Unfortunately, there is no conclusion to the story, as if a five faction war over nothing needs no ending. Still, I wish there was some kind of climax, perhaps involving all of the leader characters realizing that war wasn't worth all of the pain. On second thought, maybe it's better to leave it open-ended.

If you are familiar with Risk, then you get how the actual game is played. If you don't remember, the campaign does a good job of reacquainting you with how it works. You start out with territories on a map, each of which has a number of armies stationed in it. When your turn starts, you can add armies to any territory you wish and then attack an adjacent territory. Attacking should really only be done when you have a significant numerical advantage, because you need to beat the die rolls of the defender and d6s can be finicky. Moving armies from one territory to another is restricted, and this gets a little annoying when planning attacks. Just like in the board game, it sucks when armies are trapped behind territories that you already control. Occupying more territories, as well as whole continents, adds to the number of armies you place each turn.

Risk: Factions spices up the classic dice-rolling by using each faction's unforgettable details and animations. The Cat faction's dice roll across the screen in all of their furry glory. When the zombies attack, they groan and moan their way into your heart, and into Catmandu. The robots attack with lasers and I particularly love the sounds of an old modem as our metal lords march into their newly conquered territory.

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