canuckeh's RISK: Factions (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

The world as ruled by the almighty dice roll.

I guess if you were going to update any board game for the console market, it may as well be Risk. It’s not that online renditions of Kerplunk or Hungry Hungry Hippos couldn’t work (actually, they probably wouldn’t), it’s just that Risk is already a game about war and console gamers love games about war many times more than the soldiers actually fighting wars. Thus, the changes that turned Risk into Risk: Factions at least feels like a logical progression. Inversely, a video game adaptation of Mouse Trap would involve a post-apocalyptic setting where gun-toting survivors must destroy the virus-infected zombie-mouse-monsters with vile death trap devices. And your character progressively levels up with better traps. And it’s in a sandbox. And it has mega-textures. So I guess this game is already in development. 
 

 The time for fucking around is over.
So, Risk: Factions. Someone decided that Risk needed a plot, and that someone is a smart man. I look forward to his concept of revamping the Monopoly Man as a binge drinking sex-addict with the brain of Michael Douglas from Wall Street. Factions contains a quick campaign that details the beginning of a proverbial internet meme battle royale between humans, cats, robots, zombies and yetis. I should clarify that these are army humans, army cats, army robots, army zombies and army yetis. The “campaign” is more of a five mission tutorial showcasing each new faction and gameplay concept, with each of the Flash-based cutscenes detailing the conflict getting more and more escalated. There isn’t even a resolution; once you finish the five missions (which takes an hour or two), it’s presumed that the conflict will rage on through Xbox Live or something. I don’t know what you would add for a Risk Factions sequel – an army of epic beard men? 
 
For someone expecting Baby’s First Company of Heroes, they’ll be in for a dice roll-slap to the face. Risk: Factions abides by the core rules of a Risk game- you still control numbers of…errr, numbers (I guess resembling your army troops) across various countries. The concept of “warfare” is still determined by dice rolls. Up to three dice are rolled on each side, and the result determines who lives or dies. In this version, combat is represented by a troop of cartoon soldiers that are fully aware that dice rolls determine whether or not they come home to their families. And the winning side of a roll gets the right to point-blank slaughter the other side with guns, grenades, mouse-grenades, vomit or otherwise. This is easily the most violent E-rated video game to date, with its upfront and yet so funny depiction of death and destruction. I don’t think a wise parent would rationally let their kids play this game… but yet thousands of parents willingly let their kids drop racial slurs at online Call of Duty sessions, so perhaps this isn’t the worst parenting mistake one can make. 
 
 When I grew up, the GI Joes shot each other with cartoonish laser beams. None of this realistic stuff.
There are some logical changes to the formula for people whom are tired of the hours-long Risk sessions contested over Australia. Total World domination is no longer necessary to achieve victory, but rather being the first to accomplish three objectives out of a sizable list. Even if one can't remember all 8-12 wackyy objectives, the player can assume all of the objectives involve either conquering countries fast or conquering areas of interest. This at least ensures that you won’t have an hours-long session of trying to take over a single plot of land controlled by a player that just happens to roll 6’s at every attack. On the new maps, you can also compete for specific landmasses with super abilities. Controlling both sides of a dam lets you flood a continent and wipe out anyone foolish enough to leave large numbers of spare armies in the area of question, for example. (And amazingly, there are a few fools online that have not learned this lesson.) Or controlling three areas around a missile silo grants the player an extra thrown die for future attacks in the area. You know, because nuclear missile strikes become nullified if the nuke-dice rolls a one. 
 
And therein is a very important point to note about Risk: Factions. Luck is very much a fact of life, moreso than in dice-ruled Bioware games. Sure, there are elements of strategy in the hows and wheres you use your troops. Sure, there are things to not do, like send a single soldier in a country occupied by fifteen legions of gun-toting yetis. But at the end of the day, dice rolls are Lord and Savior of your destiny. The attacked nation still has more than a 1 in 6 chance of a guaranteed successful defense. You will have those moments of watching your army of 12 fall to a single robot, a robot that’ll earn himself a Purple Heart. (Purple Emotion Engine?) Whomever tops the Risk: Factions online leaderboards has many, many horseshoes positioned up his or her rectum. So you have to quickly learn to treat Factions as the social board game it is inspired from and not as a definitive test of wits. Swearing on your Xbox headset because your zombie insurrection failed does not reflect kindly on you as a person, after all. 
 
By the by, you can play original Risk. But I think the game hates you for doing so. Can’t confirm this, but new Risk is so much better than old Risk anyways. 
 
And this is definitely a game best played with friends, either locally or over the internet. You can play online with strangers; and there are good, sane people out there that understand the spirit of Risk-dom. There are also nimrods that’ll drop out of a game if things aren’t going their way, or people that’ll take minutes at a time deciding a single move. This is especially annoying if you play on the traditional world map and each player takes turns selecting countries to own. Because of the considerable time commitment, Risk is a fun game to multitask with. At some point or another, I’ve played Risk online while I was: cleaning the home, flossing, consoling my ex, watching television, playing a Nintendo DS game, managing finances, eating ribs and writing the review for Risk: Factions. I’ll probably play Risk: Factions online while doing the Earthworm Jim HD review too. 
 
There are two definite target audiences that should look into Risk: Factions. People who love board games, and people who love cartoon violence. I tend to think those two markets intersect often and that a lot of people will totally dig the cat-on-commodore 64 action. So Risk: Factions is a fun game for people that don’t like to take their gaming warfare seriously. 
 
4 stars  
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