Jan 15, 2008
Dull, repetitive, and generic don't even begin to sum up Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. Like every other dungeon hack out there, you find yourself constantly stabbing enemies and collecting loot as you travel through various randomly generated environments. However, what you won't find are engaging characters, sexy weapons, or any of the other bits of flair that games of this ilk usually have.
Generic lizardmen and skeletons just walk up to you and wait to be slaughtered. They rarely attack, and potions are plentiful, which means you don't have to worry about "silly" concepts like dodging or blocking. Status ailments and elemental weaknesses also don't matter until after you've unlocked the hard difficulty setting. You may want to use a gun to soften up beefier foes, but, by and large, all you really need to do is collect a few potions and jam on the sword button. You can almost play with your eyes closed!
Sameness abounds. Six different characters, dozens of skills and spells, and the ability to fashion your own weapons sure sounds like plenty to do. Unfortunately, that stuff rarely changes what you see on the screen. There are only a handful of unique attack animations and the carbon copied enemies die the same way every time.
Inane fetch quests deliver a hackneyed "good against evil" plot and spoken dialogue that's forgotten the moment a cinema scene ends. Your journey to the overlord in each area is drudgery at its worst, because the same grassy paths and rocky caves are recycled constantly, along with roughly a dozen or so enemies. At least the bosses are lively, and some of them have appendages that you can chop off - so there is that to look forward to.
Hazy visuals convey the sense that you're in a dream world. That's fine when you go to sleep and talk to the harmless spirits in limbo. However, out in the wild, the Vaseline-smeared camera only makes it hard to distinguish the enemies from the scenery. The graphics are already muddy anyway, and the action tends to slow to a crawl whenever more than a handful of enemies are visible.
Standing out, like a solitary rose among a field of weeds, is an excellent musical score that combines medieval, rock ‘n’ roll, and Asiatic influences. You'll loathe what you see, and yet you'll catch yourself humming the game's rhythms over and over again.
They also got the multiplayer right. Hosting co-op through Xbox Live and jumping in and out out of other players' games is a snap. The interface also easily allows you to trade items with other players. Battles end much faster when you have two or three other people tagging along, and the banter traded through the headset injects a little bit of flavor that you don't get when playing solo.
Of course, while the multiplayer does uplift the experience, it doesn't do so to the extent that you'll feel justified spending sixty dollars for an otherwise generic, half-hearted dungeon crawler