Rule the World
It’s pretty hard to completely botch a video-game adaptation of a board game. All developers really need to do is program in the game’s rules, add some spiffy animations, and make sure everything runs smoothly.
As far as that goes, Risk: Factions gets the job done. If all you want is Risk on your Xbox, this is a great buy. The controls are intuitive enough that even your non-gamer friends can play, and all your old strategies still work. But beyond these basics, the game is a failure. Apparently, the developers just don’t understand what makes Risk so great.
For the few of you who have never played Risk before, the idea is that you control an army, and your goal is to conquer the world (in classic Risk) or accomplish various other goals (in newer, mission-based forms of Risk). Each turn has three phases. First, you place some new troops on the territories you already own; you get bonus men for controlling entire continents. Then, you attack other players whose territories border yours, and the outcome of each round of battle is determined by a roll of the dice. Finally, you move some troops between your countries to put them where they’re most needed. If you conquer at least one country in a turn, you get a card, which explains a bonus you can cash in on your next turn.
As everyone who’s ever played it knows, Risk isn’t all that exciting in and of itself. Mostly, it entails watching other people roll dice. There are two things that make it a lot of fun, though. The first is that it gives you time to interact with your fellow players. The second is that the central concept of the game — to brutally and completely obliterate every other army on the planet and rule the world — speaks to something deep and disturbing in the human psyche.
The single-player campaign is short (five missions), but because it lacks social interaction, it’s tedious and painfully boring nonetheless. These missions teach you how to use the new bells and whistles that come with this version of the game (more on those later), but the bottom line is that no one wants to play Risk by themselves for hours. There’s just not enough action.
Most players will spend the majority of their time online, either playing against friends or taking on any strangers who show up. Fortunately, enough people are playing that it’s not hard to get a match going, and if not enough players show up, the game provides bots. It’s not long, however, before you realize something is missing: no one seems to use their headsets. When these games start, they have up to five players in them, meaning that you spend up to four-fifths of your time watching other people play. (Unlike in the board game, you don’t have to roll dice when other people attack you, so there’s absolutely nothing to do between turns.) The option to strike up a conversation would really help here, but all you can do is watch other people distribute their men and attack.
The fierce spirit of world domination is gone from this adaptation, too, thanks to the ridiculous graphics and animations. The cutscenes look and sound more like Saturday-morning cartoons than war footage, and every time you roll the dice, you watch an animation of the factions attacking each other whimsically. Speaking of factions, they include cats, zombies, humans, robots, and Yetis. (They’re just graphical replacements; they don’t have different abilities or anything.) Sometimes the zombies attack by puking on their enemies.
To be fair, while the graphics take the game in the wrong direction, they’re well-done on a technical level. The animations truly come to life, and if you don’t mind a layer of absurdity on top of your hardcore strategizing, they do provide a little bit of a break from the difficult game.
In the single-player mode, the cutscenes have some decent jokes in them (they remind us of the cutscenes from the DS game Squishy Tank), and while puking zombies may not fit with the overall theme of Risk, they are fun to watch. In the time we spent with the game, we noticed not a single technical hiccup, whether we were playing alone, locally with a friend, or online against other players. Also, the orchestral music sounds epic.
The one area in which Risk: Factions truly shines is local multiplayer. Once you get past the cutesy presentation, the download serves as both a re-creation of the board game (you can play “classic” Risk if you want) and a streamlined, improved version of the concept. One major improvement is the “fast battle,” which skips the dice-rolling and just tells you who wins. (Otherwise, even though this is a video game, you have to watch digital dice roll.)
Another improvement over classic Risk is that you no longer have to capture the whole world, which brings the total play time down to about 30 to 45 minutes per game. Instead, the goal is to accomplish three objectives (such as capturing a given continent, or invading a certain number of territories in a single turn) while holding on to your capital. This is similar to the “mission” version of the Risk board game, and especially when you’re playing locally and can talk to your competitors to pass the time, it keeps the game from dragging on.
Also, thanks to the digital nature of video games, the developers were able to take some liberties with the maps. The classic map of the world is still available, of course, but there are also some new maps with interesting features. In one, you can control a dam and flood other players’ territory. In others, controlling various landmarks (missile silos, barracks) can improve your attack and defense odds.
In short, Risk: Factions is a serious but misguided attempt to bring the classic board game to the Xbox 360. For those who want it mainly for the local multiplayer, it’s not a terrible buy. But the single-player game is dreadful, and without voice support, the online games get boring in a hurry.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.4 Graphics
They’re fine on a technical level, but the cutesy visuals don’t fit the spirit of Risk. 4.6 Control
No real complaints here. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects are comical enough to go with the visuals, but the orchestral music works well. 2.7 Play Value
The local multiplayer is great, but the single-player and online games are boring. 2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.