The first casualty of war is potentially your mental health if you fire up Siegecraft Commander, which takes the novel idea of crossing a real-time strategy (RTS) game with the tactical control of a tower defence title. Sounds good and Blowfish Studios has a good track record of making compelling games, so let's slip the dogs of war and let the good times roll right?
Hmm, we're not quite so sure, as what starts as a promising experience soon starts to feel finicky and a chore to control in the console version. Siegecraft Commander at heart is mostly a straight-up battle between armies – in the single player Knight campaign it's humans vs lizardmen – each with their own tech trees to get to know and use. The catch being that you begin with just a base keep. From your humble HQ you must sling a seed pod which will spawn another type of building where it lands providing there is clear space, and from there you can fire another which is how you creep across the map marking your territory. The downside of this is that all of your buildings are connected by walls, and if a building from which others have spawned is destroyed, it creates a tumble effect that wipes out all of the buildings that spawned from it.
Tackling the Knight campaign will see you frantically erecting chained buildings, each of which augment different advantages in the heat of battle. To start this all works adequately if a little clumsily on the DualShock 4 (this game would be much more intuitive with a mouse and keyboard), but you'll soon have some towers built and then battle management is the order of the day.
The initial buildings you'll use are an "outpost" as a staging post and a "tower" from where you can unleash fiery projectiles your foes or auto spawn units to fight for you on the field of combat. Once you have a stream of spawned units, they will make their way towards the nearest enemy structures – but bear in mind they can't jump your own walls, so you'll need to plan carefully or you could end up blocking your own advance with the walls of your forward outposts.
To win the day you must destroy your opponent's base and you'll need to fiddle around with a lot of trial and error as the AI is adept at kicking your butt unmercifully if you're too slow or totally tactically cack-handed. There are elements such as tech trees to research and unlock so you can access better buildings and units, plus there are resources on some maps that you can collect by firing an outpost onto. The strategy ramps up when you have enemy units getting in close and melee attacking your towers, and unfortunately mortars can't defend themselves once enemies get in too close.
Siegecraft Commander is initially reasonably easy to pick up but as mentioned it does take some time for the console controls to "click". You move the map with one stick, rotate the camera with the other, and click on your buildings to open command menus. It's the launching mechanic that seems to have created the most headaches on console, though, but the developer has at least accounted for this with multiple control settings. You have two options: you can pull back the slingshot and let go or select a set level of power and fire using a button. We found the latter to be the optimal option, but it never feels fully intuitive.
At least in multiplayer you're both having to deal with the controls at the same point which levels the playing field. In an online skirmish there's the eternal RTS question of do you rush the enemy or build up a formidable defence and let them break against your fortifications? The real-time mode is frantic, but there's a nice turn-based option as well that allows more thinking time.
Graphically it all looks fine with a nice battlefield depiction which reminded us of Warcraft and the sounds work well. What lets Siegecraft Commander down really is the launching dynamic, and that's a problem because it is at the very heart of the game.
Siegecraft Commander is a good idea which very nearly works. There is a lot of game packed in, and if a decent multiplayer community can be formed then it could be a fun one to be part of. The problem is the wonky control system which never quite feels right and undermines much of the good stuff on display.