The mark of a good real-time strategy game is the feeling of accomplishment you get after overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. That rush that comes from crawling back from almost certain defeat to a last-minute victory. Changing your tactics on the fly and successfully adapting to your opponent’s strategy. The knowledge that, in the end, it was your quick-thinking and mettle that won the day.
Under Siege is not one of those games.
Originally releasing for PSN in 2011, Under Siege was a valiant, yet flawed effort from Portuguese developer Seed Studios. Listening to fan feedback, Seed has brought forth a massive update with Under Siege: Enhanced Edition, addressing many of the bugs and issues that marred the original. Unfortunately, despite bringing in new game modes, graphical improvements, and rebalanced difficulty, this update is still held back by huge missteps in the core design.
Like most real-time strategy games, Under Siege presents players with a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, directing various units against your enemy. Where it differs is the lack of base building and unit creation - staples of the genre - forcing you to make do with only the units you start out with. While this certainly conveys a relatively more realistic portrayal of war, it doesn’t really transfer to a game all that well.
At the beginning of each match, you choose the types of units you want to deploy, including your basic varieties of soldiers, archers and mages. With only about nine different types of units to choose from, there are few viable strategies that a player can bring to the table, especially since there is only one faction you can play as (which is a shame, considering the enemy faction gets to use giant robots). Because the units you start out with are the ones you’re stuck with, there’s absolutely no room to adapt your strategy to your opponent’s if they gain the upper hand.
This lack of control over the flow of battle makes Under Siege’s campaign one of the most difficult I’ve ever experienced in gaming. Not difficult in a reasonable or challenging way, but difficult because you are continuously struggling against the developer’s intent. There’s no strategy to beating each mission - just the specific way that the developers want you to beat it. Individual units gain experience with each enemy killed, leveling up your soldiers in the process, meaning you have to grind your units to beat most of the missions. Can’t get past the large group of enemies between you and your objective? There’s probably a group of easier enemies in the opposite direction, who upon defeat will probably give you enough experience to level up. After killing these completely tangential foes, your units will be strong enough to beat the mission, without any need to adjust your original tactics at all. That’s not strategy, that’s just padding.
Luckily, none of the game's frustration will be due to poor controls. Seed's greatest accomplishment with Under Siege was making an RTS that plays naturally with the PlayStation 3 controller, and this carries over to Enhanced Edition as well. Units are cycled through quickly with the shoulder buttons, and hotkeys can be assigned to important units via the D-pad. Micromanaging can still be a chore sometimes, though this less due to a fault on Seed's part and more from the inherent limitations of a controller with the genre.
There’s a story behind the campaign, though good luck caring about it. The plot consists of your basic “noble rebels versus an evil empire” conflict, and never really evolves beyond that. Memorable characters or plot points are virtually non-existent. The entire story is told through text conversations between various generically designed characters, none of whom take any active part in battle. The graphical style is so bland and uninspired that its presentation is only a couple steps above free browser-based games.
However, I can’t really knock Seed Studios for lack of trying. Despite issues with the design and core gameplay, there’s a lot to admire in this package. Unlike various re-releases and “Game of the Year” versions of other games, Enhanced Edition is essentially a large, free update to those who already purchased the game. The new maps are nice to have, and the addition of 2v2 co-op alleviates many of the strategic issues present in the campaign. In a world where buying DLC is the only way to get the full experience of the game you already paid for, it’s nice to see a studio add more features to their game completely free of charge.
Under Siege: Enhanced Edition is an absolutely fantastic update to a mediocre game. The new features and rebalancing are great additions, and the fact that they’re free makes them even better. However, this is only exciting if you already own and are a fan of the game. The new maps and co-op modes give a good reason for fans to return, and perhaps could provide incentive for those previously on the fence about purchasing it before. For everyone else, it’s hard to recommend Under Siege: Enhanced Edition, improvements or not. Under Siege has some pretty interesting ideas behind it, but as an RTS, it falls short.
This review is based on a PSN copy of Under Siege: Enhanced Edition, provided by the developer.