Risk. You know, the board game where you fight to gain control of the world, continent by continent, and there’s always one person who sits in Australia and refuses to budge? Well Stainless Games have taken it upon themselves to attempt to recreate the experience (without the risk of losing the dice or rampant cheating) for Xbox Live Arcade and PSN in the form of Risk: Factions.
The classic board game is there, fully intact with the usual rules and world map to play in many configurations, but what makes this digital incarnation so interesting is hidden in plain view with its title. The Factions portion of the game takes on a very distinct cartoon vibe, with an art style that brings to mind John Kricfalusi’s work on the excellent Ren & Stimpy. Five factions are present (Human, Cat, Zombie, Robot and Yeti) with each presented to the player via an animated short before each of their campaigns kicks off properly.
Each faction must face off against the others, with the player controlling them in turn and each map in the campaign will offer up a unique special property that the player can use to defeat their AI opponent. This can take the form of controlling all the Barracks to enable a Rocket attack, and capturing and maintaining these strategic points on the map acquire additional bonuses. Ranging from additional manoeuvres at the end of a turn, or gaining extra reinforcements when their next turn comes around by controlling all of their opponents Capitals, the player will need to think tactically at all times.
The humour is spot on and fits perfectly with the exceptional graphical style, as the player finds themselves chuckling along at the feline General being called Generalissimo Meow or the Zombie leader, Colonel Claus Von Stiffenberg. As for the yeti’s title? Well, some things are best left discovered on their own for the full effect…
As much as the new take on Risk is solid and fun, the cracks start to show when it comes to actually playing the game. Risk was always biased against those who could throw a six consistently and Factions still adheres to this principle, at the expense of accessibility. There is nothing worse than amassing an army and annexing a particular foe, only to find them consistently rolling sixes and thus decimating any planning and structure of attacks. And, just like original Risk, the dice probabilities that accompany each roll might put off many would-be players who are new to the intricacies of both the board game and this title.
There are the ubiquitous online modes for both quick and epic matches but, as seems to be the case, it can be patchy finding a game unless the player has friends who own the title or are willing to sit forever in a self-created lobby just looking for a random person to play. When it does work it’s a seamless experience and highlights how bad the AI is. Nothing beats taking on a human opponent; trying to second guess their strategy and cunning, making victory all the sweeter, while defeat gives a reason to befriend someone just so you can challenge them to a rematch.
It would’ve been tempting for Stainless Games to just recreate the original game and leave it at that, but with an injection of humour, a cracking art style and a slight revamp of the gameplay, Risk: Factions becomes an interesting, if flawed, title. It won’t convert many, and the obvious cheating from the AI will cause some to quit in frustration, but with the right minded people and an abundance of time, you can recreate those halcyon boardgame days. But without the annoying player with the antipodean fetish, camping out south of the equator.