Wednesday, 15 February 2012

REVIEW: Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes

This review is long overdue, but for a time I wasn’t really sure where I came down, but now I am. I’ll be brief.

I guess I should start by expressing my fondness for being able to try things before purchasing them. I don’t think that’s ever going to get old. However, demos can give a faulty perspective: producing a slither of gameplay that perfectly encapsulates the entire experience of a game would be a fantastic thing. But what if a demo could actually do that? Well, said demo would either represent the pinnacle of fine-tuning, or the game itself would turn out to be rather shallow. I hope you can see where I’m going with this. I will give a mild hint: Clash of Heroes is not a long and complex experience.

Now I feel like I’ve lurched into a foregone conclusion. Notice I didn’t say the game was bad, though. Because it isn’t: I would simply like to move the less shiny parts out of the way first. The main issue I have stems from a mild frustration with the formula of the single-player: you go through the campaign one protagonist and realm at a time, shifting through a heavy-handed (but fun!) fantasy story all the while. You begin as a level one (of ten) character, with new units, items and abilities delivered at an enticing rate as you make your way through the stylised scenery to a conclusive, final encounter. Then you do that again, four times. Credits. Okay, that’s not fair: there’s a multiplayer mode, too.

Luckily the major highlights of this game jut forth into some extremely acute points. For one, it is a good price: a kind of ‘I can’t believe this is how much two tickets to the cinema costs’ kind of price. Also, the desire I felt for things to get kicked up a gear was the result of an already-solid system reiterating itself. So what is that system? The demo can show it better than I can explain, as it is practically a microcosm of the entire game. But that is an unsatisfying answer so I will quickly throw-up an explanation. It’s a turn-based strategy game that can easily trick a player into thinking it is a puzzle game. Maybe it is both. Your block of units faces the enemy’s; the player can either move a unit from the back of a given line to another, or use their move in deleting one of their own units. When three units of the same colour (there are three colours) and the same type (three basic types, too) are lined up they either form a permanent wall or an attack column. This is the simple base from which a promising sum of customisation is built, with obligatory RPG-elements thrown in for good measure.

I love that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Frankly, it was an enormous relief. Too many titles get sucked into a land where nothing is more important than whatever bland, generic arc has taken the fore. This doesn’t mean that titles can’t or shouldn’t be wholly serious. Fuck no. This title couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be wholly serious. The moments where the game indulges in its gratuitous personality were some of the best for me: the bright and soft art-style fits this path, far more than trying to make me care about some impending demonic invasion. The music, too, felt best at its most mirthful and playful moments. That said there is a consistent vibrancy on this front: I’m pretty easy on music with as much heart as this, though there could be (ahem) more of it. The demo manages—seemingly, anyway—to make most of this manifest.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the over-all experience a little simplistic. The items can change the flow of the game substantially, but by the third ‘starting area’ I just craved something sharper. I wanted some new hook to show up and kick my ass to the curb if I didn’t have the decency to comprehend it; I wanted the game itself to expand as far as it could, or else come to an end with deft concision. That was pretty greedy of me. I have no right to more: the sum of content provided for the price was far from inadequate. In this case I would appreciate more liberal use of scissors, by which I mean editing down. I’m sure it is common to feel an obligation to finish what’s been started. In the case of games this can take some time; even as you become painfully aware that the developers have ran out of tricks you push on, hoping there is something new around the next corner. There’s another feeling that accompanies this, though, and it happens as the credits roll. A little-spoken-of sentiment that I like to think finds form in a long, drawn-out sigh: the paradoxical mixture of relief, satisfaction and disappointment.

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