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Risk Factions is an Xbox Live game developed by EA games in conjunction with Hasbro, and released on June 23, 2010. Since that time, it has also been released for PSN and for the PC, through Steam. It's a new twist on the classic Hasbro board game of Risk. It offers new features, a graphical update, and a single player campaign mode to the classic core play style of the board game.
This review will focus specifically on the Xbox Live version of the game, because that's the original version. However, with the exception of the online community being different in all three versions, the game should be more or less the same for all three versions. Read on to find out if EA has delivered with this title or not.
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Risk Factions is an Xbox Live Arcade game, so I don't think anyone expects it to look like the newest game releases. The game map itself is a static image of some continents. The number of troops in each place is represented by a simple number instead of trying to render the troops themselves. When you attack or are attacked by someone else, however, it animates the attack. Each army's troops are animated, and depending on the winner of the dice rolls, an attack is animated. Each faction is animated pretty differently, too; they each have their own type of die and their own unique set of attack animations.
The robots have electronic machine-esque dice and things like eye lasers for attacks, for example, and the cats have furry dice and they claw their enemies or spit hairballs to attack, which is kind of gross but still kind of funny. It has a cartoony style that's almost reminiscent of some of today's comic book art and has a distinctive feel to it. The animations can be skipped if each side has a ton of troops and you don't feel like waiting out the long attack period as well, which is a nice touch. When you do feel like watching them, they're a lot of fun, and they really add an element to the game.
As well, in the single player campaign, each chapter introduces a new faction by way of a cutscene animated in the same art style, and though you'll only ever see those once, they're animated in the same style, so they're actually quite a bit of fun too.
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The music EA has provided here is pretty repetitive, and not terribly memorable, but it's never terribly off putting either. The sound effects that accompany the attack animations are generally pretty fitting, and they add a nice touch. Overall, there's not a lot about the sound in the game that really does much to add to the game or to detract from it. It does its job perfectly acceptably, so it's difficult to detract from it. I've played a lot of games with exceptionally bad sound effects and music, so it could be a lot worse, but it would have been nice to have seen a little more attention paid to the music. The cutscenes in the single player campaign are voiced as well, and they're actually voiced pretty well, so I'll give them that, even if it is only a handful of scenes.
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The gameplay in Risk Factions is pretty classic Risk, at its core. In fact, it actually has classic Risk gameplay at its core. It just has some bells and whistles on it, and since all of those are optional, I think it's pretty easy to make anybody happy here. You can choose to play on a variety of maps, and there are extra items and types of continents you can control on different maps, giving each map its own course-specific obstacles. Some of them are a lot of fun when you're in the mood for a more frantic game, and when you want to play classic Risk, the original map from the board game is selectable as well, without any weird extras.
There are bonuses you can collect as well, by completing set objectives like taking over a specific continent, or conquering a certain number of territories in a single turn, which will give you slight advantages, such as a boost to your attack rolls, or an extra 2 troops in the draft at the beginning of each of your turns. In the end, it's Risk with some extra, optional features to spice it up as much or as little as you want to, which is the best thing they could have done. Some extra features are needed if you're going to release a video game, but they've got to be optional for the people who feel like playing the classic version.
Also, the factions are a nice touch, because they give some personality to your troops. It's more fun to choose from humans, robots, cats, zombies, and yetis as your army than to decide to be... the red guys.
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The single player campaign is about as much fun as you would expect playing Risk by yourself against computer opponents to be. It has some neat cutscenes, and it serves as a nice introduction to the various extras that this game brings to the table. Since it's only five matches long, it's worth checking out to learn the ropes, whether you're new to Risk or just new to this version of Risk. Let's not kid ourselves, though. Risk is about playing with other people.
Online, it's easy to create or join a game over Xbox Live. Private games are available to play with specific friends, and if no one's around, you can play against strangers just as easily. You can play ranked or unranked matches depending on how serious you are about your skill sets, and you can play either a standard conquest match, or a command room match, which is thew new play style that EA has created for this game. Command Room is also the game type for the single player campaign. It's objective-based, and victories are gained by fulfilling certain criteria rather than conquering everything. It makes for quicker games, which is one nice feature, but it can also be a lot of fun in multiplayer because it creates an entirely new sort of strategizing.
Whether you play classic Risk or Risk Factions, though, and whether you play a World Conquest match or a Command Room match, multiplayer is the reason to play Risk, and EA's done a good job here to make it a lot of fun. The separation of modes spreads players out, but I've never had trouble finding an available game in at least one of the modes, so if you're willing to check in a couple places, you're bound to find something going on.
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The controls make sense. They use the A button as much as possible, and the buttons used to select actions tend to be pretty logical choices. Even if you disagree with some of their button choices, though, Risk is ultimately a board game. There's never any frantic action going on, so even if one button may not be exactly the button you would have chosen for that action, it's tough for it to ever really cause a lot of problems. Unlike fast-paced action games, you never need to remember them in a split-second. As well, the buttons and their corresponding actions hover over the bottom-left corner of the screen at all times, so if you're not sure if you were supposed to press A or B to do the next thing you want to do, it's not something you ever have to look far to find out.
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Risk Factions is a great take on a classic game. EA has added some fun extras, but they've had the intelligence to make them optional for players that just want the classic game. Even their battle animations, which are a lot of fun, are completely optional. As with any videogame version of a board game, the removal of the board itself eliminates the need for the hassle of pieces and dice rolls, but you do lose the tactile feeling of those very same things. There's something to be said for huddling around a table with your friends and a bunch of game pieces, but sometimes, that isn't feasible.
Sometimes it's nice to not have to worry about any of that, and besides, sometimes your friends aren't able to come to your house, but that doesn't necessarily mean they can't slap on a headset and sit down in their own house for a game with you. Online gaming is a great way to keep in touch with people especially if you don't live near one another, and Risk is a great activity for friends anyway. I'd like to think everyone has memories of playing Risk with their friends until 6 AM on as many nights as possible all throughout high school, but maybe that was just nerds like me.
Either way, for anyone that enjoys Risk, this is a great way to get a chance to play it some more, and for anyone that's always thought they might enjoy Risk but never gotten around to it, this is a great addition to anyone's Xbox Live games. It offers the classic gameplay, but it should satisfy new fans with the additional features as well. For only 800 Microsoft Points, or $10, I can't recommend this enough.
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Product website, http://www.ea.com/games/risk-factions
Risk Factions is available for purchase for 800 Microsoft Points through the Xbox Live Marketplace.