Impire – Review

Title   Impire
Developer  Cyanide Studios
Publisher  Paradox Interactive
Platform  PC
Genre  Strategy
Release Date  14th February 2013
Official Site

For those who want to let their dark side out and get a little demonic, Impire from Cyanide Montreal and Paradox is one of those titles that threatens to put a big smile on your face. Last year we previewed Impire at Gamescom, and I for one was expecting something pretty special. The game showed real promise, feeling like a spiritual successor to classic releases like Dungeon Keeper. On its release last month it was finally time to spawn my minions, practice my most diabolical incantations, and build my very own Impire.  The game centres around the journey of Ba’al-Abaddon, a demon summoned from the very depths of the pit, and his rise to power. Ba’al is awoken by the incredibly incompetent Oscar Van Fairweather, who, despite his best efforts, manages to mess up the ritual and imprison Ba’al in an imp’s body. Together, the odd couple begin their journey of destruction, culminating in the death of the Sovereign ruler of Ardania and their eventual rule.

This title doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this really shows in the story; Oscar is so incompetent that most of the time his evil schemes end in a pretty positive outcome for the general public. At one point, after overthrowing a queen who is secretly a bit of a drug addict and sex pest, we discover that this fallen foe has decided to rebuild their reputation by building schools and giving back to the community, and agents of the evil organisation F.A.K.E continually pop up to remind Oscar and Ba’al just how terrible a job they are doing of being truly evil. In fact, Impire is filled with brilliant side-characters who appear from time to time, offering side-missions or to simply shout at Oscar for screwing up.

Aside from the characters, the voice-acting is one of Impire’s strongest points; Ba’al is voiced by someone doing the best impression of Danny DeVito I’ve ever heard, and is the perfect choice for the underpowered Imp. Strangely, his voice never changes despite his eventual evolution into a fully-powered demon, and while it’s still funny it does seem a little weird hearing a DeVito impression coming out of a seven-foot-tall monster.  One thing you will also notice is that almost every objective and instruction is voiced, something often missed in favour of a wall of text in smaller budget titles.

Sadly, while the voice-over work is great, the visuals are a bit of a let down. It’s far from the ugliest release that I’ve laid eyes on, though it often feels like a little more effort could have been put into the cut-scenes. Models stand around doing the same animations, with Oscar in particular constantly recycling the same Dr Evil style ‘pinky to the lips’ animation, regardless of the dialogue. While this may well seem like a pretty minor thing, after ten missions I was just listening to cut-scenes rather than watching them, as I’d seen it all before ad nauseum.  This lack of decent animation also rears its head in the gameplay; for the most part, minions and heroes cluster together in a massive pile, where each unit just plays out their combat animation without much of a reaction from the other side, and I found myself only really being able to track the health-bars. Combat really boiled down to just throwing units at other units and didn’t come across as that engaging.

The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward; at the start of each mission Ba’al and two workers stand at the entrance to their lair, the player is then charged with building up a working lair and spawning some minions – something Impire has in droves. Minions are summoned and formed into squads, which are then used directly to raid for resources or defend your dungeon from attacking heroes. Squads consist of four minions and the combination of these provide additional bonuses and skills to that squad. The squad system in Impire actually works well, with the only issue I had being that the minion combinations are never explained and seemed random at times, but overall the variety of minions and their use in the system adds a level of strategy, as you try to balance your squad’s offensive and defensive skills.

Berserkers form your basic starting unit, and these knife-wielding imps are pretty effective for the first couple of minutes while you build your base. Expansion occurs pretty quickly, and new units are unlocked using a card-based system and the tech tree known as the Index Dungeonis. In the index, DEC points – gained by completing tasks or mashing up heroes in the Extractor – are spent to unlock units, stat bonuses and rooms for your lair. Index cards are unlocked by completing side-missions, though eventually you will end up with more cards than you can fit in your index and will subsequently have to edit your deck, depending on your play-style.

It won’t be long before you find yourself with a fully-functioning lair and a number of squads out plundering the world at your behest. As the lair grows heroes become attracted to it; you just know that in a tavern somewhere your newly-expanded pad is getting a reputation that heroes just can’t resist. Ladders appear at random around the dungeon, meaning that the player must always keep an eye on both their objectives out in the world and their dungeon. Various levels of traps can be placed to see these do-gooders off, although nothing beats a squad of pissed-off minions.

Ba’al’s lair is usually found very close to what I would call the battlefield, where main mission objectives are completed, usually consisting of anything from killing a target to gathering up resources. Once areas on the battlefield have been discovered you can teleport squads and Ba’al between them using the radial context menu. This menu is the main method of control in Impire, and while it is fairly easy to pick up, it can become frustrating when time is limited. One errant click and you have to start from scratch when ordering your troops around. Luckily there are alternatives, and the construction and squad menus are put together more effectively and do roughly everything the radial menu does. If I had one real complaint about the radial menu it’s the lack of a ‘teleport all’ feature, because if you want to swarm into an area each squad has to be sent manually – not ideal.

Each mission – while varied in terms of story – ends up playing near-identically: you start from scratch, build up your squads and lair while fending off heroes and then hit the battlefield hard and complete the objectives. It all becomes a bit of a grind, and while you want to see the story through to the end the lack of a solid gameplay backing leaves you bored. Between missions Ba’al levels up and you start to specialise him as a character, with a number of options, such as increasing his basic stats or upgrading his wings or skin-thickness, but where he really comes into his power is in classes. Picking the warrior class causes the imp to grow into the typical badass demon, standing seven feet tall and sporting a giant sword, while as the commander Ba’al becomes more of a support unit, capable of healing or summoning smaller units for brief periods. I personally went with the mage class and gained the power to cast some more offensive spells, not to mention getting a cool-looking hood.

Impire also features a skirmish mode that can be played online, though there are only two game types: the classic King of the Hill, where sides fight over an area in the battlefield, and Capture the Dragon, which plays exactly like capture the flag. With the choice of either Fiends or Soulless units to play with, each player gets access to a starter Ba’al who can be levelled up as the match progresses. Sadly, not many players have picked up the multiplayer element and unless you have some co-op partners willing to join you it’s going to be a pretty single-player experience all-round.

Despite the minor issues with the gameplay Impire remains a pretty enjoyable title. If you can get your head around the grind of the campaign and focus on the enjoyable storytelling and the incredibly funny voice-acting and dialogue it’s really not a bad way to spend your time. At the end of the day, in this Impire, being evil is a hell of a lot of fun.

  • The storyline keeps you engaged from start to finish
  • A huge number of levels for an RTS
  • Some amazing voice over work
  • The radial menu
  • Danny DeVito
  • A little too much grind
  • The radial menu
  • Some very poor animations

Despite my love of all things good, I really do enjoy the opportunity to let go and be a little bit evil. Some of my favourite titles, such as Overlord and Evil Genius, have taken this guise and allowed me to let go, but I just don’t think I can add Impire to that list. While funny and charming, there are key issues with the gameplay, and the requirement of micro-managing the defence of your dungeon and achieve the list of objectives make it a bit of a pain in the arse to play. Maybe that was the idea; maybe the developers are evil. They have managed to create a game that with one hand offers you some unimaginably-awesome cake, while the other hand punches you square in the mouth for even thinking about cake. Some kinky bastards might get off on that kind of thing but not me. It’s a real love/hate thing going on with Impire, and that makes me a little sad, but this is the first release from the Cyanide Montreal team and I can only hope that next time is just that little bit better.

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