Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom
Content at a glance:
Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: Microsoft Game Studios, Blue Side
Price Range: $31-40
Learning curve time: 31-60 min.
Age level: Mature Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
Christian Rating: 2 of 5 (poor)
Gameplay: 2 of 5 (poor)
Violence: 2 of 5 (heavy)
Adult Content: 4 of 5 (barely present)
Like Gauntlet and Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance before it, Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom pits a single player against swarms of literally tens of thousands of roaring, hissing fantasy monsters. It sounds exciting on paper, and other dungeon hack games manage to make it fun and addicting. But KUF:CoD is such a joyless and gloomy experience that it’s robbed of almost any potential charm. Even Christian gamers with the patience for this sort of thing will likely find themselves turned off by the bloody and sloppy gameplay.
Circle of Doom is the third in Blue Side’s Kingdom Under Fire series. The first two games focused on strategy, putting the player in command of entire armies against fantasy monsters. For Circle of Doom the strategy and armies have been jettisoned in favor of telling a more focused story of 6 heroes. No matter who you’ll choose, you’ll fight the same enemies, pass through the same environments (forest, snow cavern, fire cave, etc.), and come to the same final end, but each hero is fighting for a different reason, so you’ll hear a different angle to the story each time you play. That may sound like a great idea but I’m not sure I’d ever want to play through this game again. For my first playthrough I chose Celine, the Elven Queen who specializes in magic and ranged combat. Celine’s quest has hints of elegance but in 35 hours of playing I never felt like I was having fun. That’s mainly because the experience is so gloomy and tedious. Nothing funny ever happens. None of the characters ever appear to be enjoying themselves. I know I certainly never cracked a smile. The other 5 heroes (all melee specialists) appear to have the same depressing experience. Looking at the circular game disc one afternoon it occurred to me that the game itself was a “Circle of Doom”!
Kingdom Under Fire: CoD is the kind of game where you run down a predetermined path until a bunch of brain-dead enemies block your way. These enemies include traditional foes like lizardmen, skeletons, golems, and living statues. I usually love this kind of dungeon hack, but none of these enemies ever show any kind of intelligence. After charging toward you they just stop and stand there, waiting for you to hit them. They don’t even block your attacks. Their sole strategy is to overwhelm you with sheer numbers. You can fight back with the weapons you’ve collected for your selected character. For Celine I used light swords and arrows and quickly settled into a rhythm of casting ranged attacks to pick off my enemies from afar, and then rushing in to finish the rest off with a dagger. I kept this up for the next 35 hours until I had killed off the entire population of bad guys. Other heroes can wield axes, chains, guns, cannons, spears, maces, etc. During these battles a number of technical problems surface– slowdown, buggy camera (especially indoors), shadows warping through the floor, etc. I even discovered a glitch where enemies who venture too far away from their assigned “area” are invulnerable to your attacks while they run back “home”. The environments are not destructible and the pathways are pretty straightforward, so basically it’s just you and these idiot enemies for the next 35 hours or so as the same monotonous guitar music plays over and over.
There are “missions” that require you to “collect” things, but they all amount to the same thing: slashing bad guys over and over. One mission requires you to go through the same room 10 times and defeat the same 5 enemies each visit. After several hours of these kinds of “missions” I was bored out of my mind.
Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom is rated Mature for Blood and Gore, Violence, and Suggestive Themes. The options menu does allow you to disable the blood. However, certain enemies (bats, flesh men) bleed even when the option is toggled off. You’ll also face off against a certain boss who rains down gallons upon gallons of blood as you shoot projectiles at its soft underbelly from below. It’s pretty disgusting. I’m not sure why turning off the blood doesn’t always work, but that’s how it goes in KUF:CoD. When the blood option is left on, the cargage level ramps up a lot. As much as half the screen is full of blood at any one time. Wounded creatures lose a quick spray of deep red blood that disappears almost instantly. The bodies make a sickeningly juicy sound when cut down and some of them laugh, which is disturbing. Defeated enemies usually slump lifelessly to the ground and fade away, with the exception of the human skeletons whose bones separate and clatter to the ground, and certain plant monsters that spasm and thrash about when killed. Since you’re fighting as many as 50 enemies at a time, by the end of the game the body count will be in the tens of thousands. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the hundreds of thousands. Your motives for all this killing usually seem to be justified, but on at least once Celine is sent on a mission of genocide against the Blacksand tribe just because the Idol of Death thinks they need to learn some respect. Characters are lit on fire, electocuted with lightning, frozen, etc. One of the more disturbing enemies in the game are the mobs of fat, naked, grunting, chuckling, bloated, decomposing “Flesh Men” who come waddling after you throughout the game. These are deceased human corpses and you have to kill them. There’s also a disgusting trap weapon called the “Flesh Spear” which is a Flesh Man affixed to a wooden stake. These Flesh Spears are scattered through almost every level. There are suicide bomber humans who run into each other and blow up. The final level is a bridge made of flesh and blood and beating hearts.
Missions include a search for Lost Minds, that is, the minds of those who were once human (skeletons, Flesh Spears, etc). These Lost Minds are dead humans who have been unable to find rest. Your adventures regularly bring you to idol shrines where you can conduct trades, get item upgrades, and go to sleep in the Dream World where the storyline is advanced. The Idol of Greed bears some resemblance to Buddha, and the Idol of Death is the Grim Reaper. Enemies include wizards, shamans, all capable casting spells, and so is each of the 6 heroes. Celine’s quest takes her into the Dream World where she searches for the mind of her lover, so she can restore it to her spirit.
Celine’s dress is a bit tight, and she shows a lot of leg.
I would not recommend KUF:CoD to owners of standard (non-HDTV) televisions due to small type and tiny items. The game will tell you that you’re standing over some pieces of gold, but on SDTV you’ll have to squint to see them. It’s also hard to see those black bats against the dark background.
For that matter, I’m not sure I want to recommend this game to HDTV owners either because I doubt high definition would enhance the experience enough to make it fun. Yeah, the graphics are sometimes pretty good and there are some neat moments like when the sunlight breaks through the trees in the forest, but the game itself is so boring it’s hard see how it would be worth anyone’s time. Even if you play the demo and enjoy it (as I did), know that the demo level is the best one in the entire game. From there it only gets worse. I can’t tell you the number of times I moaned, “Oh, come on, WHEN is this going to END!”
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Year of Release — 2007
[tags] 2 stars, Action, Xbox 360 (Microsoft), M (Mature), Microsoft Game Studios, Blue Side [/tags]
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.
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