Tuesday 24 April 2018

Risk review: No risk of disappointment for fans

Frank Whelan

Frank Whelan

Before Sid Meier dreamt up Civilisation or Warcraft was a twinkle in Blizzard's eye, there was Risk.

Rating: 8/10; Xbox One, PS4*; Ubisoft

Many a megalomaniac's first taste of world domination, Risk is a stalwart of any quality boardgame collection and arrives on consoles courtesy of Ubisoft.

Risk - Attack underway
Risk - Attack underway
Risk - Compete in global leagues for global domination
Risk - Placing a Capital

There's always the fear that the transition to the screen can ruin a good boardgame and with Risk's somewhat suspect "updates" over the last few years, the chances are greater than most.

It would have been very easy for the developers Zoe Mode to try and crowbar in some real-time battle elements, but thankfully the game is true to the original.

A number of rule modifiers allow players to pick and choose between the various versions of the game, from the classic game of world domination to the more modern Capitols mode. Thankfully nothing is forced on the player, whether a preferred classic style or some new bells and whistles.

Players unfamiliar with Risk may expect a somewhat stilted and boring affair, but I haven't fist pumped and cursed so much in a long time. The developers have been clever and kept in seemingly unnecessary elements that actually generate all of the games excitement. Dice may seem out of place in the digital realm, but the roll of the dice, the tension as the defender rolls a moment later and then the split second it takes to determine a winner, all of it is captured here, without the danger of knocking over pieces or losing a dice under the table.

Risk - IRIS is all about pushing the attack
Risk - IRIS is all about pushing the attack
Risk - This is what victory looks like
Risk - Fortify allows you some troop movement post attack phase

The game does embellish the conflict somewhat, presenting 3D armies that fight it out depending on the numbers, but the focus is still on the dice. Different animations signal victory, whether an airstrike, artillery bombardment or sneaky flanking move, but such animations are over quickly and don't drag.

The true joy of Risk comes from the battle of wits between armies and here the developers have had mixed success. The ability to see the cursor move on an enemies turn is a smart move and helps signals your opponents mindset. The cursor can also be used to completely fake out an opponent, hovering over a certain territory just long enough to suggest future intent. While the game is definitely at its best when playing against a human opponent, the AI is no stranger to swapping between targets before attacking, again adding to the excitement.

Where this Risk fails is the nuances that exist outside of the explicit rules. Alliances and trading fall in to a grey area, neither banned nor approved by the rules. A sense of common purpose can develop and be communicated through actions, by sparing an easy target for example, but there are no solemn oaths sworn over a mug of tea.

Territory cards are another element that's altered and may not be to the purist's liking. Classic Risk featured three different types of unit cards, with different combinations resulting in different troops. There was a strong risk and luck element, with the player occasionally holding three cards but unable to claim them. With this game we find cards with different numbers of stars, resulting in variable rewards with each go, but all can be combined to result in extra troops. It simplifies the process, but cuts down on the amount of chance in the game.

Visuals are a typical futuristic war-room holographic table affair, with some short movies to celebration key achievements such as conquering a continent.

One new piece of kit is the IRIS system, which recommends tactical moves when requested. For the most part I found this to be far too reckless compared for my play style, but it will certainly inspire more gung-ho generals.

The online leagues and leaderboards are an obvious add-on but a welcome one. Games appear to be slow to fill and hard to find, possibly due to a lack of players, but run smoothly once underway. Unlike some games that allow you to rejoin, any network issues will result in an end to conquest, so it's somewhat frustrating if like me you have a UPC connection that indulges in frequent dropping.

There's little in the way of innovation here, but a decent interface and smooth user experience results in an enjoyable game, definitely appealing to fans of the original. The game is well worth the €14.99 asking price, if only because the board game will set you back a solid €30.

Risk is available for Xbox One and Playstation 4 now for €14.99 on the Playstation Store or Xbox Live. Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions are planned for the future.

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