Impire Review (PC)
Impire. It’s like an empire, but with Imps. Geddit??? OK, so it’s not the best pun-title in the world, but Impire does what it says on the tin – it’s all about building up your Imp Empire. You play the role of the Demon Lord Báal-Abaddon, summoned by a somewhat incompetent sorcerer to do his bidding. First problem: instead of a giant death incarnate kind of thing, he’s summoned you as a wee imp – not so great for the evil-doing badassery.
The flow of the game will be familiar to anyone who’s ever played any sort of base buildingy empire type game; you place rooms in your underground lair and dig hallways to connect them up. Enemies will raid your lair on a fairly regular basis, but you can deploy traps to protect your valuable areas, and place units to guard. Units can be hand reared in the nursery, which provided very demonic/imp themed characters, or recruited from the “Dive” – effectively an evil tavern – which provides more generic undead/evil themed units.
The parallels to Bullfrog’s classic Dungeon Keeper are impossible to avoid here. Both games see you running an evil hideout, building it up by excavation and room placement. Both have your lair being attacked by traditional hero archetypes. Whereas DK had reasonably limited objectives with a loose narrative being applied between levels, in Impire, the story drives a lot of the experience, with each level having specific objectives to achieve, mostly based around exploring an already established dungeon in the area.
Juggling the minions can be a little bit difficult, but gets made somewhat easier by the use of squads. You need to pay some resources to unlock more than a single squad, but it’s relatively easy to get three squads up and running. Squads allow you to quickly issue orders and set behaviours for all four members at once, and you can manage their aggression and experience at a single glance. You can also send squads out onto the surface to conduct raids on nearby settlements, which is useful to level up your units as well as a way of gathering resources.
Provided they aren’t off pillaging unsuspecting townsfolk, you can teleport any of your squads to a previously visited location in the dungeon. This makes it fairly trivial in the early stages to easilly overcome the NPC heroes – rapidly turning an incursion into a gank as a group of well armed, well experienced troops land on top of those do-gooders and show them the error of their ways.
As you kill, build and slaughter, you earn DEC points, which are intended to reward evil deeds. Really these are awarded for per-map achievements such as summoning X units or using Y amount of mana. The more of these you do, the more DECs you get and you can then use them to unlock new units, rooms and upgrades.
As you play through the campaign, Báal will level up and you can customise him with specific abilities, before ultimately choosing what form he will evolve into – a warrior, commander or mage. At this point, the imp becomes a more traditional demonic avatar and gets new skills suitable to the choice made. In Skirmish mode, this takes place in a single game with Báal quickly leveling up.
For once I have very few complaints about a game. There’s nothing at all wrong with Impire, in fact I might even be willing to go so far as to say that it is actually a “good” game. But I need to fill some column inches so let’s get into some nitpicking!
The pacing feels a bit off to me. Maybe it’s my play style, but I find that I’m spending an awful lot of time on each level even in the early stages and without a whole lot of interesting things happening, I’m really just countering wave after wave of enemies while I grind up my squads to a high level and send them out to explore the map and complete the objective. Couple that with a lack of fog of war in the area you are building your base in – and an ability to throw a thunderbolt at any NPC – and the whole thing has the potential to feel a bit hurry-up-and-wait.
The voice acting is of surprising quality, but in cutscenes it is let down quite a bit by character animation which owes an awful lot more to Thunderbirds, using Gerry Anderson-eque head wobbling to represent speech. It’s a cheap dodge around facial expressions – and understandable given the hassle and costs of trying to do motion capture – particularly for faces. However it’s a bit goofy and the number of times I’ve seen the “Dr Evil chewing on his pinky” animation is getting a bit too high. Don’t make a drinking game around these animations. Or do. If you hate your liver or something.
There’s also a lack of audio within the dungeon – your units don’t seem to have cues for when you select them or to acknowledge orders, and there’s very little immersion to the level as a result. It would really benefit from a lot more in-game voicing just to add a bit more depth, and also to provide a bit extra to the UI – sending units off for training, feeding or even raiding an audio alert when that completes would be extremely useful.
But like I said I’m nitpicking. These are the things that would take Impire from a decent, robust title to a fully polished piece of awesome. They’re also the things that would be used to justify a price-tag of around twice as much. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this game, and at £15 it’s well worth a punt if the aspects I’ve explained appeal to you, if you liked Dungeon Keeper or just if being the bad guy has a certain charm! The game comes with single player and Coop campaign modes and a multiplayer skirmish, and two factions to play as in the Skirmish mode in either King of the Hill or CTF style games, so there’s plenty to keep you occupied. It even has a great, offbeat sense of humour.
Overall, Impire rates a solid…
8 teleporting imps out of 10