Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is an aweinspiring game. And not just because it manages to so cleverly blend solid arcade action with genius real-time strategy while chucking around 200-plus massively detailed fantasy characters around on screen simultaneously either (although those things do help). No - what really awes us about Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is the sheer scale of the game. It's massive. Huge. And yet at the same time fantastically personal.
Picture it: you're surveying a battlefield from on high, controlling an army of thousands, positioning your troops as they fight for their lives against a horde of nightmarish orcs and ogres and dark elves. Yet seconds later, you can be right down there in the thick of it, scrapping sword-to-pincer against the giant scorpion army of justice in person.
These are the jaw-dropping, fantasy battles of JRR Tolkien's wildest dreams, laid out on screen - fire, brimstone, blood and all - with you sat slapbang in the middle, controlling everything you survey. For anybody with even an inkling of passion for all things orc- and hobbit-related, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is a gateway to your most fevered imaginings. If Star Wars: Battlefront was the game Lucas fanatics always prayed for, KUF: Heroes is set to send Lord of the Rings worshippers into equally orgasmic fits of ecstasy. Because, to be honest, it really is that special.
In case you've just landed on planet Xbox Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes is a semi-sequel to last year's Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders, a game that took the button-hammering combat of the Dynasty Warrior games, spruced things up with some much-needed real-time strategy elements, and plonked the whole lot in the middle of a fantasy world filled with monsters, magic and mayhem.
And we enjoyed it. The Crusaders was a great game. It was different and entertaining. Problem was, it wasn't quite the game its creators envisaged. Quite apart from the trouble some people had getting to grips with it, its Live component had to be cut down in development to a basic two-player deathmatch game, and that simply wasn't good enough for the people behind Kingdom Under Fire. So they remade it, bigger, faster and slicker, and now we have KUF: Heroes - and guess what? We really like this one as well.
It's more of an expansion pack than a fullblown sequel, a prequel with new characters, weapons and units. But not a great deal has changed. KUF: Heroes boasts a slicker, more approachable combat system, and the number of enemies on screen has gone through the roof. But the gameplay itself remains identical: travel around a giant map screen, moving from one town to the next, then get ready for ten levels of hell to break loose as you enter the mother of all fantasy battles.
This, of course, is when it gets good. Most of the time you'll be in control of your own unit of troops, following orders and generally progressing across the field. Come across an enemy unit, however, and you'll be thrown into action: hacking, slashing, dismembering and - once you've built up enough power - unleashing all kinds of magical grief both personally and through your lieutenants.
And that's great - Dynasty Warriors Plus if you like. But as you progress you'll take on more and more auxiliary units (archers, catapults, cavalry and so on), and it's here things get really tactical, because it's only by ordering these additional units to lend strategic support that you'll ever hope to turn the tide of battle. Just like real war (we imagine), it all becomes a task of juggling the needs of your own troops with the needs of those around you. And just to make it a bit more interesting, Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes boasts 40 unique unit types, each with their own specific powers, strengths and weaknesses. Phew!