Platform: Microsoft Windows
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Category: Real-Time Strategy
Impire is a dungeon building and monster management RTS from Cyanide Studios. Players command a hoarde of demon minions, in the vein of the Dungeon Keeper series that was popular back in the late-90s (get it, like an empire, only with imps??). In the game, you will play as the once mighty and revered Báal-Abaddon (lovingly renamed The Death Slayer here), who is summoned from the Bottomless Pit by a bumbling sorcerer named Oscar van Fairweather, to do his evil bidding and such. But as you may have guessed, it won’t be long before Báal gets his demonic mojo back and you begin to regain your rightfully held underground throne.
The first thing I noticed about the opening cut scene is that the potion in Oscar van Fairweather’s cauldron pot has no moving liquid textures to it whatsoever. Oh yeah, and the fact that none of the characters’ mouths move when they speak. This wouldn’t be so bad if the game doesn’t blatantly focus so much on close-ups of their unmoving faces during times of conversation. But after that poor first impression, let’s start this review with what actually works well in Impire.
There is a really cool feature of battling “heroes” like gleaming warriors and knights (it offers a unique twist on the gaming term “dungeon crawling”) in which you essentially get to play as the baddies. In a way, it almost reminds me of the Overlord franchise, although the humor and character designs in Impire aren’t quite up to par. The hero battles can be pretty exciting, although some of the bosses can feel slightly overpowered given the strength of the minions you start out with. Oscar van Fairweather offers some comic relief at times and the writing is pretty well done, but a lot of the dialogue can simply be written off as verbal instructions, rather than adding to the overall story. The different creatures are nice and varied; from grunt troops called Berserkers, to the more strategic Priests, who boast their Life Infusion perk. Building up your troops always comes with a risk. You can spend all your money and resources upgrading their attributes, but losing them in battle sets you back to using Level 1 weaklings. One of my favorite things about the game is how you can personally help out your squads in a skirmish by zapping an enemy with a furious lightning bolt right out of thin air.
Controlling Báal actually becomes a bit burdensome, as you will constantly need him to open gates or flip various levers and switches. What’s annoying about this is that Báal always automatically retreats to his starting position in the center of your dungeon after each one of these actions is performed and you’ll find yourself fighting with the game mechanics just to keep your demon overlord in check. This becomes even more frustrating if you try assigning a squad to follow Báal’s movements for easier management, as they’ll infuriatingly follow right behind him every time he retreats. Báal is also somewhat limited in his attacks at first and functions mostly as the king in this game of chess; so you’ll want to keep him safe; letting Báal die means bad news for the rest of your dungeon.
Luckily, Impire features incredibly smooth controls, and a 360 degree view of your dungeon that really makes you feel like you’re running the show here. You can also seamlessly zoom out to the game’s Management Mode view by using your mouse wheel, which lays out your entire dungeon on a grid for some more “big picture” thinking. It’s also a lot of fun digging hallways between the different rooms and the teleportation feature is indispensable for quickly sending squads back and forth to any previously visited location. There are a bunch of different rooms you can add to your dungeon and each one comes with its own special features that can be utilized after assigning a worker imp to manage them. For instance, the Nursery lets you grow new legions from a bubbling green cauldron, while the Kitchen replenishes the health of your minions by serving them bowls of ground bones and meat. Defeat a new enemy type and you’ll be able to unlock them to grow to your heart’s content in the Nursery and use on your own team.
Things REALLY start to get confusing the further you get into the game, as your network of tunnels and underground rooms quickly becomes a labyrinth of intersecting corridors and dimly lit traps. You will need some serious instincts to stay on top of your empire. I had a hard time simply locating where I had sent my troops after a while, which isn’t great when you have a violent hero lurking in the shadows. Sometimes the camera will take control to show you an event that’s going on inside your dungeon, like when a hero is about to invade. This is helpful and all, but the camera never snaps you back to where you were after the notification, so you will think you are still in the middle of a fixed cut scene even when you’re not. By the time you realize this and frantically move back into position, the heroes are already halfway to your treasure stash and you have some serious catching up to do.
One of the biggest complaints I have about Impire is the game’s convoluted interface and menu screens, which aren’t exactly sure what kind of game they want to belong to. You load up a single-player “match” as if in a multiplayer game lobby, which contradicts the linear story line the game tries to employ. While this design choice was most likely implemented for an easy CO-OP integration, it leaves the actual campaign a bit ill defined. Another word of warning from someone who found out the hard way: there are no checkpoints or progress saves within each chapter or act. This fact is never made clear and after stopping to take a break shortly after I started playing, I found out that I had to replay the entire first tutorial mission from scratch. Needless to say, this left an immediate bad taste in my mouth. It was also weird because I made sure to hit “SAVE GAME” before I exited the application, so I’m not exactly sure what was saved.
I had to choose, I think the biggest flop of Impire has to do with the game’s dungeon raiding feature (think the assassin recruit management system in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood). Instead of venturing yourself into the exciting locations that cover the surface of Ardania on the world map, you simply send a squad of berserkers to clear them out for you. You just wait until they return. Sometimes the game will offer you a glimpse of these missions as your minions reach their goal, but they wind up being more disruptive to what you are working on than anything else. In the beginning sections of the game, this becomes very boring, as you won’t have many other squads unlocked to keep you busy while you wait.
Maybe I just couldn’t get into it, but there is no hiding the fact that a few things in Impire just do not seem to gel. Impire is a fine game, just not terribly fun to play at times. Of course, that is not to say there isn’t a lot to be done in Impire. In addition to the somewhat lengthy story mode, you will also get to challenge up to three friends in a handful of competitive multiplayer modes, most of which are pretty funp; or do the whole thing with a fellow demon lords in CO-OP mode. Impire developers could have done a lot more with the intriguing world of Ardania, but the underground setting actually restricts the developer’s imagination in a sense and the dank environments and humdrum dungeon music certainly don’t help matters much.
Story – 8/10
Graphics – 6/10
Gameplay – 7/10