|Platforms||:||Sony PlayStation 2, Microsoft Xbox|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
When gods battle, mortals tremble. But LucasArts' release of Wrath Unleashed, for the Sony PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Xbox, is not the world-shattering event I'd hoped for. [Xbox version reviewed here]
Wrath Unleashed is essentially a repackaging of Archon, Electronic Arts' classic computer game from two decades ago that combined the strategy elements of chess with the uncertain outcomes of an action game. Though Wrath looks like a different beast, anyone familiar with Archon will quickly adapt to this new setting — though they may not like the transition.
Wrath Unleashed pits two to four fantastic armies against each other on a hexagon-gridded map. Players take turns moving centaurs, genies, dragons, and other creatures to place them in control of temples. On most levels, whoever occupies a certain number of temples, or decimates the opposition, first, wins.
When two opposing creatures vie for control of the same hex, a real-time battle occurs. Each creature has weak and strong physical and magical attacks, as well as strings of combinations. The strength of the attacks differ, as does the life force of each attacker; a demigod, for example, not only inflicts more damage per attack than a unicorn, but can take three times the beating of said horse, creating an unbalanced engagement. The fields also vary in composition and element and support combatants of matching alignment, such as the fire god's henchmen situated on a volcano.
Despite (or perhaps because of) these variables, the battles are more frustrating than dramatic. It is very easy to fall victim to a string of physical attacks from which there is neither escape nor opportunity for riposte; the dodge/block button has little effect in either regard. Environmental hazards are too random to be advantageous: the most aggressive strategy proves futile if, on your way to execute it, you're struck down by a stray bolt of lightning. Preparing the battlefield is essential, but the actual battle degrades to a mindless melee in which most of the game's tactical elements go out the window.
As mentioned, victory in battle should lead to control of the temples. A good strategy game would reward patience and planning, but most of Wrath's scenarios have a fixed limit of only 25 turns, which is even fewer minutes. If none of the winning conditions are met within that frame, the game is a draw, regardless of who has the upper hand. Speed is as key as strategy to ultimate victory.
Some mechanical minutia further constrains enjoyment of Wrath. This game improves upon Archon by offering three- and four-player battles, but that only balances the absence of online support for downloadable maps or engaging Internet opponents; even Archon was superior in this regard. Even though offline, ten seconds of waiting precede and follow every battle — a difficult time to justify for loading commonly-used battle maps.
The graphics are serviceable. The fantastic creatures do not always possess a traditional appearance, instead trying to look as intimidating and battle-ready as possible. Their pre-battle and winning poses do little to inspire, though.
Though multiplayer is best, Wrath Unleashed remains restrained. It lacks the longevity and elegance necessary for a successful strategy game. Advance Wars has more tactics, though less action; even LucasArts' own Gladius serves as satisfactory competition. Sometimes, when mortals tremble, it's not in awe, but disappointment.
This article is copyright (c) 2004, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Gamebits, 21-Mar-04