The latest strategy game from Cyanide draws deeply from a memorable PC predecessor, but is playing the bad guy just as fiendishly enjoyable here?
It’s hard to resist the lure of the dark side. The devil always has the best tunes, and after all, who would you rather be: Keith Richards or Cliff Richard? And videogames are no different. When the option to go bad is on offer, it’s so easy to give into temptation.
Fortunately for the sake of our eternal souls, Cyanide have created a game that shows that in fact a life of evil has all the cool and glamour of a job as an accounts manager for a toilet roll holder firm in Slough. Which is odd, because Impire is heavily influenced by the classic Bullfrog title Dungeon Keeper, which made playing as the baddie bloody brilliant.
When I say heavily influenced, I’m not joking. Impire makes no bones about its source of inspiration, and like Dungeon Keeper places you in the role of a dastardly fellow crafting your very own underground lair. As with that game, there’s elements of resource management and real-time strategy as you collect materials and treasure, carve out rooms, raise demonic creatures and give a good slapping to any band of heroes foolish enough to trespass into your realm. All the elements are present and correct, but the execution oddly joyless.
You play as Baal-Abbadon, a fiend torn from his hellfire realm by buffoonish sorcerer Oscar van Fairweather and then forced against his will to participate in a whole host of interminable, toe-curlingly unfunny cutscenes. Inbetween these, Baal also has to do Fairweather’s bidding, mainly consisting of taking revenge against a whole host of “eccentric” locals who’ve made it into the magician’s black book.
Bad boys don’t have all the fun
Each campaign level starts Baal off with a threadbare dungeon and a handful of workers to his name to help whip it into shape. A variety of rooms are on offer, some essential, such as the Nursery for spawning your demonic troops or the Training Room for leveling them up, while others such as a Prison area for extracting ransoms for captured adventurers or a Brewery for getting them addled before combat are rather less so. There’s no element of customisation to these rooms, each being a cookie cutter shape that you simply have to wedge into your dungeon wherever you can, which rather diminishes the fun of the whole exercise.
Once you’ve got your basic areas up and running, you can start spawning units from an uninspiring collection of beserkers, priests and warlocks, assigning them into squads of four and deploying them to deal with any monsters inhabiting your halls or hapless heroes invading your dungeon by ladder. Thankfully, Baal and his squads can teleport to any known locations to mop these up.
You can also send your squads to accomplish raids out upon the World Map, missions which rather oddly aren’t controllable: you simply right-click a raid icon to assign a squad and off they go. From raids and enemy drops you gather the necessary resources to make your way up the tech tree, unlocking more rooms, unit types and abilities.
And that’s pretty much it. Each level in the campaign plays out in basically the same manner: hunker down and fend off heroes while you get the basic rooms and upgrades you need, train your troops up to level three then set about ticking off the list of objectives that van Fairweather sends your way. With little strategy or interesting magical options for battles themselves, you find yourself ending up using the birds-eye Management Mode the vast majority of the time, teleporting your little icons from place to place and letting them get on with it. Considering each level can stretch up to the 90 minute mark, and there’s a fair few of them, Impire rapidly becomes a chore to play rather than a gleeful romp around causing chaos.
The campaign does offer an up to four player co-op option and there’s also a multiplayer skirmish mode, limited to just King of the Hill and Capture the Dragon variants, but since during the review process not one single other player or available game appeared in the server browser it was impossible to review this area of the game. Whether this was a by-product of the multiplayer’s beta status within the released game was unclear.
Considering the affection for Dungeon Keeper, and the clamour for an updated version, I can’t help but feel that Cyanide have missed a bit of a open goal with Impire. When your game makes playing as an incarnation of evil feel less like escapism and more like an office job, you’ve got a problem.
Impire, by Paradox Interactive and Cyanide Studios Montreal, is out now on PC.