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Under Siege Hands-on Preview

‘Premium downloadable games’ have become the norm for studios wanting to test the water with new ideas or get a feel for developing on ‘next-gen’ consoles.  They can be produced relatively cheaply, they don’t demand a huge dev team and as such they represent significantly reduced risk for prospective publishers.
Under Siege, from Seed Studios, is the Portuguese team’s first effort at a home console title and marks their graduation from producing kiddie focused Nintendo DS titles to something with a bit more bite.  
Essentially this is a real-time strategy game, a RTS aimed at the modern adult gamer – those who, due to the commitments of modern life, may often be short of time and have only small windows in which to indulge their entertainment needs.  As such it does away with a lot of the time consuming unit management, resource gathering and tactical positioning of standard ‘full-scale’ examples of the genre in an attempt to provide a streamlined experience that is easy to drop in and out of.
Rather than recruit via the standard barracks system of training of units in exchange for credits and waiting for them to pop up on the map, Under Siege opts for a system of selecting your units at the start of each mission.  In those we played we were limited to a maximum of four unit groups, each of which could be upgraded or reinforced to increase their strength and numbers.  The only way to increase the number of controllable units after the set-up phase is to stumble across allies that, depending on the mission, may or may not be scattered over the map.
Admittedly, we have yet to be let loose on the entire game but it seems that, again, in order to keep things simple, unit types fall into the rock, paper, scissors system of ‘x’ beats ‘y’, ‘y’ beats ‘z’ who then defeats ‘x’.  It’s all very Halo Wars.
In an attempt to forge a stronger connection between you and your soldiers, any units that finish missions alive are carried over to subsequent levels; retaining any experience or stat increases they’ve accumulated along the way. Of course, in the short time we’ve had with the game thus far there’s no way to tell how vital it is to make use of this feature in order to beat the game but, on the face of it at least, it seems like a mechanic that will influence the way you approach combat. 
Whether that means you end up throwing your high level units into battle to efficiently dispatch of the enemy or hold them back to preserve them – letting the grunts do the leg work – is something we’ll that’ll become clear as we put more time in.
The dev team are clearly using this opportunity as a way to both test and showcase their ability to produce games aimed at a mass market audience. This includes the integration of the PS3’s new toy; ‘Move’.  Due to the fact that Move was so prominent in the presentation we were given, Seed clearly believe in the potential the device holds in ridding the RTS genre of ‘the-controls-are-crap-on-consoles’ bugbear that has held it back for so long.
Initially Move’s ‘wand’ seems a tad sensitive when it comes to navigating the map; on frequent occasion the camera shooting off to the edge of the arena because we’d aimed it slightly too far to one side.  After some practise we did manage to get to grips with it though and it became a viable device for selecting and ordering troops and utilising the nifty camera tilt feature which allows you to view the action from your preferred angle. 
Still, after half an hour or so of practise we found it easier, more comfortable and more natural to use the navigation controller half of Move to position the camera.  Whether that’s still the case after more exhaustive play testing is something else that’ll become clear after as we become more accustomed to the game.
The most impressive element from what we’ve seen of Under Siege thus far though is the map editor which, more than just a simple level creation tool, allows you to craft entire scenarios and – if you’ve the time and skill – tinker with the A.I. logic system to create something entirely different from the game play mechanics on offer in the standard game.
For example, if you happen to prefer recruiting units via the traditional barracks system, you can set individual buildings to churn out units upon meeting certain criteria i.e. once you achieve a certain level of wealth or position yourself within a specific distance of your disegnated barracks.
The system is incredibly robust and presented in such a way that should allow those harbouring an interest for such things to make use of the tools without having to delve into the nitty-gritty of computer science or programming languages.
Those mission which make up the single player campaign are viewable within the editor along with the A.I. systems that make up their structure providing a valuable learning tool for budding designers.  These levels cannot be saved over or uploaded online but the idea of displaying how the team themselves have gone about things should increase user efficiency no end as the tools available to players are the very same used by the designers in constructing the campaign.
Supposedly the creation system is so exhaustive that it allows you to create games that do away with the ideals of a RTS entirely.  We’re told an RPG style game can be achieved by altering the A.I. to, for example, react only when you approach them (as opposed to them traversing the map looking for you), setting up your own victory conditions, writing text and interactions options for NPCs and employing other optional quirks such as items to find and people to rescue.
The potential is clearly there but the true test will be how in how achievable it is to create something approaching (or improving upon) the standard of the shipped levels.
Under Siege is due for release just before Christmas of this year so look for our review soon.


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