War. War never changes. That’s even true when you’re talking about Risk: Urban Assault. It may look very different to the board game it’s based upon, with its Modern Warfare-esque twist. And you can see why developers Zoe Mode and Ubisoft have taken this approach, since guns, tanks and explosions makes Risk: Urban Assault that much more marketable to gamers raised on military shooters. But at its heart, like the original board game, it’s still just a turn-based strategy game. That’s a blessing and a curse.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world at war, you’ll take control of one of three factions (with two more unlockable) and fight enemy armies across a series of boroughs, starting with London and moving to other parts of the world – New York, Paris, Shanghai and Hamburg. The factions are all cookie-cutter, featuring a tech-mech squad, general assault and anti-aircraft activists, each with their own special abilities; you can even switch out the faction leader for a mercenary with different skill-set, like disabling the enemy’s dice modifiers. Oddly, the three mercenaries are the same no matter what faction you choose – that’s fine, they’re mercenaries with no allegiance, after all, but we felt there could’ve been a larger number to choose from, letting us really play to our strengths.
You know every pre-level cut-scene in every COD game ever, all cheap and hollow computer graphics and angry voice-overs shouting about war? Well, Risk: Urban Assault’s entire gameplay is a lot like that, taking place on a virtual battlefield screen atop a table like something out of the movie WarGames.
It’s simple, but for a game that can be incredibly overwhelming if you’ve never played Risk before, that simplicity is welcome – the graphics are designed to ensure that all your focus is on the strategy element. It’s when the game tries to go beyond maps, very basic tanks and dice, that you realise just how basic the graphics are; the AI narrator (voiced, we’re certain, by the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer announcer) appears as a blocky Cortana-type CGI head that would’ve been considered only mildly impressive back when Banjo-Kazooie was topping the charts.
In terms of gameplay, Urban Assault is precisely what you’d expect from Risk: you take it in turns to draft your platoon into the nearby territories in order to launch attacks before fortifying weaker areas. After fortifying, your turn ends. It’s not all about attacking, but considering when it’s best to retreat and defend. In true board game fashion, attacks are dictated by dice rolls. The more troops you have on the attack, the more dice you get to roll, up to three dice, and the highest roller wins. Frankly, more than once, we were obliterated, despite having the greater number of tanks in battle, just because the enemy rolled a lucky six – so while the odds are stacked in your favour, there’s still an element of luck to the proceedings.
There are also unlocks, such as bonus troops if you control a whole borough, and stars. These stars can be converted into more troops, or used to curry favour with another faction, and team up to take out the biggest threat on the board screen. However, as with all things in Risk, you’ll have to assess the possible outcomes of your actions. For instance, if you have one faction fight another, will they be too strong when you eventually have to face them down? But the real award is the town hall.
Town halls are awarded when you’ve captured the entire borough. Placing this town hall in one of the borough’s districts will vastly improve your defence capabilities, adding +1 to your dice roll in that specific district. That’s handy, because once you own a town hall, every other battalion will be gunning to take it over, since owning a set number of them wins you the game. These aren’t the only missions available in the campaign – others include tasks such as taking over a particular district – but it’s certainly a key objective in every round.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Risk: Urban Assault is that it just throws you into the thick of it if you jump straight into the campaign. Soldiers don’t go to war without basic training, and nor should you. Not that you have much of a choice, since the tutorial is practically non-existent, almost as though the developers were scared that if they didn’t jump straight into the ‘action’, their players would lose interest. Or, perhaps, that this game is intended for pro Risk players who don’t need to be hand-held through such the elementary facets.
Video games based on board game are notoriously hit-and-mostly-miss – for every Monopoly there’s a Monopoly Streets. It’s a tricky genre to bring to gaming platforms, because it’s not just the game itself that makes it popular (No-one in their right mind would willingly play Trivial Pursuit), it’s the fact that it’s a tactile experience with a real social experience shared with family and friends. And while Risk: Urban Assault does offer multiplayer (although we found it pretty tricky to find a full lobby), it’s a barren wasteland out there as, unless you’re playing with friends or party up, there’s no voice chat. It makes us wonder why couch co-op wasn’t implemented here, especially since up to five players can join a game. It’s a missed opportunity that might’ve made playing with others somewhat enjoyable or, at the very least, bearable.
Ultimately, though, it comes down to a simple question of whether or not you like Risk, specifically, and strategy games in general. If you do, then you’ll find Risk: Urban Assault is a decent adaptation of the board game – if it has a fault there, it’s that it follows its originator too closely, without taking advantage of what video games can offer. But if you’re dipping your toe into strategy games for the first time, stick to Civ.
Risk: Urban Assault is available from the Xbox Store, priced £11.59.
A solid adaptation of the classic board game, but it won’t win any medals.
Pros: Risk fans will be well in their comfort zone here – and that’s probably the most important factor. Excellent strategy mechanics. A game that’ll make you think.
Cons: The ‘future war’ angle is never fully realised, and feels more like an excuse to get away with cliché, low-quality graphics. No couch co-op means the game can never replicate the experience of playing the board game. Features a tutorial barely worthy of the name.