Monday, December 29, 2008

BC Kings Review

BC Kings, developed and published by Mascot Entertainment.
The Good: Solid mechanics, side quests
The Not So Good: Hardly original, lacks attack-moves, LAN-only multiplayer, confusing translation errors, campaign on the short side
What say you? A classic RTS big on nostalgia but short on innovation and features: 5/8

With the real-time strategy genre continuing to expand and incorporate new elements that subsequently make the games more complicated and less approachable, it’s nice to come across a more standard RTS title every once in a while. BC Kings is strongly reminiscent of a certain strategy series with a lot of “craft”ing (before it sold out and got all “world” on us): resource collection, base building, and attacking the enemy. There is a place for the more simplified real-time strategy game and BC Kings brings a very old school (like 10,000 years ago) approach and an international flavor, hailing all the way from Hungary. How will this game compare in an over-crowded genre?

The similarities to Warcraft III start with the graphics, as BC Kings looks like it came out at the same time back in 2002. The character models, with some decent animations, are somewhat blocky and the environments, although there are four themed areas, are common at best. The special effects are sporadic and performance is slightly below what I would have expected for such an old-looking game. This is exactly the level of quality I expected coming from an independent developer, so lower your expectations accordingly. There is nothing that sets BC Kings apart from the horde of strategy games available on the market. The sound design fits the game: there are “Neanderthal” unit acknowledgements and some appropriate background music that I found quite pleasing. Still, you can’t escape the drastically generic nature of BC Kings.

BC Kings features a solo campaign of twelve missions that feature typical RTS objectives: collect a set amount of resources, escort a unit, or defeat all enemy troops. The game brings a couple of wrinkles to the standard formula: missions that take place on multiple maps and optional side quests. The “sub-maps” (as the game calls them) are gimmicky and don’t add anything to the gameplay that could have been accomplished by simply making a larger map. Supreme Commander did this in a more effective manner, gradually expanding your operational area as the mission progressed instead of having unrealistic portals to maps. In addition, switching maps invokes loading times and too much waiting, making the process annoying instead of innovative. The side quests are optional secondary objectives that can be completed to grant your main hero unit additional attributes or coins you can spend for additional powers or equipment. This isn’t totally revolutionary, since role-playing games do side quests all the time, but presenting a variety of objectives in addition to the main story is always welcome.

Once you are done with the relatively short campaign, you can play against the AI on randomly chosen maps with either random or chosen attributes like difficulty, weather, terrain, and resource level. The game pits the humans (the only side for the campaign) against the mutants, which only differ in terms of appearance and some very subtle changes. BC Kings also features multiplayer against human competition, but only over a local area network. Having multiplayer but lacking online play is a serious shortcoming these days, as many RTS games remain popular thanks to robust online features. BC Kings has nine maps each with slight variations like day and night versions. For some reason, you cannot customize resource level and the like as you can in the random maps against the AI.

BC Kings features a pretty standard interface for dealing with ordering troops around. There is an idle worker indicator, but a single click zooms on the worker instead of simply selecting them, making you move the camera back to the location where you were looking to send them in the first place. There are some descriptive tool-tips, but resources lack them (sometimes I forget what the little icons mean). Speaking of, the resources in the game consist of wood, stone, bone, and food, all of which are gathered from fixed caches, with the exception of food that can be hunted. You can also trade for needed resources once you construct the appropriate building. In addition to simply contending with the enemy units, there are also wild animals running around the map (usually dinosaurs, which went extinct 64,990,000 years before humans came around) that spawn seemingly out of nowhere. All this means is that resource gathering workers need to be accompanied by fighting units, a unique concern I am glad to see here. One of the many ideas “borrowed” (stolen) from Warcraft III is the use of heroes, powerful fighting units that can be upgraded with additional attributes and weapons gained from side quests or purchased from the shop with coins (usually earned through side quests).

Despite the unique setting, BC Kings features a very standard assortment of units: workers, melee, ranged, mounted, flying, magic, and ships. Granted, they are mounted on dinosaurs (back when they weren’t confined to zoos!) and using rocks as long-range weapons, but I would still expect more innovation in this department. This goes for the buildings as well: houses for population cap, resource collecting buildings, labs, factories, markets, barracks, and defensive structures is all you get. I don’t mind a standard RTS game, but featuring the same unit and building types that we’ve seen countless times before makes BC Kings a forgettable game even with the setting. Add in the lack of attack-moves and some questionable friendly AI and we have quite an average game, which is simply not good enough anymore. Units will run off and attack dinosaurs even on a defensive stance, making micromanagement an arduous task. There are also some translation errors, something I usually find acceptable but not when it impact the gameplay. For example, the game said I needed a “toolwork” to build some weapons and I could not find that building or technology anywhere. It turns out the game meant researching “workshop,” something that’s completely different from what the tooltips were indicating. Confusing the player is never a good thing.

Everything BC Kings does some other RTS game (usually Warcraft III) did before, and I am hard-pressed to find anything completely original in this title that would warrant a purchase, even at a very low $15 price. The theme should have brought about at least something innovative, but this is really Warcraft III with dinosaurs. The gameplay can be enjoyable on occasion, providing a solid RTS experience, but there is a host of ancillary features that are either broken or missing completely. No attack-moves. No online multiplayer. A short campaign. Annoying multi-level maps. Translation issues. There are just too many little problems in BC Kings that add up to one big headache. The lack of innovation seals the deal: there are way too many other RTS games just like BC Kings to make it stand out.