You play Chauncey, one of King Winthrop the Good's humble servants. During a meal at which you are serving food, the king begins choking on a bit of turkey.
The other people at the table are so engrossed in one of Kronus Maelor("the Evil High Chancellor")'s stories, that they don't notice the king's predicament. But you, realizing the magnitude of the situation, perform a royal Heimlich maneuver on his highness, saving his life.
Although Maelor wishes you imprisoned for attacking the king, King Winthrop has a better grasp on the situation and rewards your valor by knighting you "Sir Chauncey" and giving you a small tract of land known as the Shimto Plains.
While vast tracts of land are nice, these particular tracts of land are infested with "The Horde". Luckily, as part of your reward for saving his life, the good king has given you his mighty hordling-crushing sword, Grimthwacker with which to thwart the advance of the foul beasts.
Your job is to turn the lands given to you into a thriving community.
I had heard this game described as a combination of SimCity and Castles and this appears to have been a reasonably concise way to summarize the basic gameplay. Put simply, you must construct your village such that it is "desirable" to new citizens and protect it from the advancing hordlings.
The are at least five "habitats" (major levels). You spend several years in each habitat before the king grants you new tracts of land and you start fresh with a new village (you *do* keep your money and advancements however). Each year consists of four seasons(rounds) which are broken into two distinct phases.
The first phase, the construction phase, is always exactly two minutes long and is the period during which you are allowed to manipulate your village directly. You control a cursor shaped like the outline of the selected tool. You have several actions available to you at the start of the game, and more "abilities" can be purchased as time progresses. The following are the default actions you can perform at the start of the game:
Dig - Digging allows you to remove rock (which slows Chauncey and prevents building) and to fill in or expand watery areas. This can be used to create moats in which weaker hordlings will drown.
Plant tree - Cutting down trees is one source of funds. Each grown tree that you cut down adds five coins to your treasury. This command allows you to plant saplings that will eventually grow into trees that you can harvest. Trees also make your land more desirable to people and can help increase your population.
Buy cow - Cows are a continual source of income in that you get 25 coins after every season that a cow survives. Since cows cost 100 coins though, you have to keep them alive for more than a year to turn a profit. If you pack your cows too tightly together however, they will eat all of the grass around them (leaving stone) and they will no longer give you money each season until you dig away the stone.
Dig pit - This allows you to place a spiked pit in the ground. When a hordling falls into a spiked pit, both the hordling and the pit are destroyed.
Erect fences - This allows you to erect fences around your village that will slow down the hordlings. All hordlings can eventually break through fences, but they will give you enough time to get there with the mighty Grimthwacker. Eventually, you can buy the ability to build stone walls which are much more durable.
End Turn - If you are finished and don't need the rest of your two minutes, you can skip directly to the onslaught rather than just waiting around.
Other items that can be purchased later in the game include:
Knights - These hirelings do not move from where you place them, but they turn to face any approaching hordlings and whack them with a spiked mace if they get too close. They initially cost $30 per season to maintain, but they may request pay raises as the game progresses.
Archers - These are similar to knights, but they fire arrows at the beasts, and therefore have a greater range.
Most items can be "picked up" and your treasury will be credited with the number of coins that you originally paid for the item. This is an extremely welcome feature that allows you to remove walls that you find ineffective, and "relocate" them, or to cash in your cows if you can no longer defend them adequately. Also, simple mistakes can be corrected with no penalty. Digging is a notable exception to this though, as it costs money both to dig holes and to fill them in, as both actions can be helpful in different situations.
The second phase of each season is the battle phase. During this phase, a random number of hordlings approach your village and try to destroy your crops, eat your villagers, eat your cows, and generally make your life miserable. You control Chauncey and can run around thwacking hordlings with your sword. Swinging the massive sword swings Chauncey around 360 degrees, and doing so more than two or three times in quick succession will make him dizzy for a second or two during which he can do nothing.
There are at least eight completely different types of hordlings. Each type has its own personality and abilities. The following is a brief summary of the different types of hordlings that you might encounter (NOTE: I have only seen the first five of these, so the others are from the manual):
Adolescent hordlings - These are the grunt hordlings. They can be killed with one thwack and bound around pretty mindlessly. They are also reasonably susceptible to drowning if forced to cross more than a couple of squares of water.
Piranha hordlings - These springy little buggers bounce extremely erratically and are consequently difficult to hit. I haven't seen them actually eat my villagers or cows yet, but they are quite effective at destroying houses, exposing the inhabitants to other hordlings. They can be killed with one swing.
Forest hordlings - These guys are nasty, but hilarious. They hop around like kangaroos and shoot huge plunger-like blowgun darts at you. They almost always run away when you approach, and they can hide in trees. You can flush them out by swinging at the tree, but then they usually get the jump on you. These can also be killed with one swing
Juggernaut hordlings - You will rapidly learn to fear the call of the Juggernaut. These guys are HUGE, and they can smash through most obstacles (fences, stone walls, buildings, etc.) in one swing. They take several thwacks to kill, and they do immense damage to Chauncey if he annoys them to the extent that they turn around and come after him. Luckily Juggernauts are also quite slow and stupid.
Shaman hordlings - These little guys teleport all over the place, cast fireballs at you, and can revive hordlings from the piles of goo that they leave behind when you thwack them. They also take two or three hits to destroy.
Swamp hordlings - Fast swimmers, but slow on land according to the manual.
Desert hordlings - The manual states that these guys burrow under the ground and pop up unexpectedly.
Ice hordlings - No information
Luckily Chauncey can also buy additional weapons as the game progresses including the following:
During both phases, you can switch back and forth between a close-up view, or a view of the entire map. During the construction phase, you have complete functionality in both modes. During the battle phase, switching to the map view puts the game in 1/2 speed mode (as does switching to the toolbox), but you cannot run around on the map.
At the end of every season, you get money for the number of crops and cows surviving, and you pay any fees for your hirelings (knights and archers). You also get a tally of the number of cows, crops, trees, and villagers gained or lost during the season.
At the end of each year (four seasons), you must pay taxes. If you can't afford the tax, you are put in debtors' prison and your game is over. You are also allowed to purchase the ability to buy new items as well as new weapons. All of the options are not available in the first habitat but become available as the game progresses. It is also at year end that you are allowed to save your game in one of the ten save slots available. You can restore a saved game from nearly any point in the game regardless of what is going on. This is a nice feature as it is often the case in such games that you realize that the whole defense you just set up has a fatal flaw, and you don't want to bother fighting your way through the current level before restoring.
There are two primary types of graphics in the Horde, full motion video (FMV), and in-game graphics. Both are better than anything I have seen before on any system.
FMV is used extensively throughout the game. According to the box there is over 35 minutes of video in the game, and I can't wait to see the rest. The cast includes Kirk Cameron and Michael Gregory. I didn't like Kirk Cameron before, but he does a great job in this game. I don't known where I've seen Michael Gregory before, but you'll recognize him when you see him.
The quality of the video is nothing short of amazing. There is a one inch black border around the edges of the video on my 27" television, so it isn't quite full screen, but the frame rate is consistently as high as any television broadcast (unlike Night Trap for example), and the artifacting is truly minimal. You can tell that it isn't quite VHS quality, but it is miles beyond any of the things out there now (without hardware assistance). There are no jerks or skips anywhere in any of the video that I have seen so far.
The acting is really quite good. The whole thing is extremely professional and the jokes aren't all that bad. Kirk Cameron is respectable as Chauncey, and I actually don't usually skip the video clips that I have already seen as I enjoy watching them.
Video clips are used between habitats, to give you current events (immigration is up, flood warnings are in effect, etc.), and for assorted goofy purposes. Wait until you see the "public service announcement" (you'll know it when you see it :-)). I nearly died laughing. Current events are brought to you by FNN (the Franzpowanki News Network), and they actually affect the gameplay. I have seen probably a half-dozen different news reports, and there's no sign of letting up. You can of course skip any video clip you don't want to see.
The in-game graphics are also some of the best that I have ever seen on any system. The use of color is reasonably good, but the amazing number of frames composing every animated object in the game will knock your socks off. Even the cow chewing its cud and swishing its tail made our jaws drop. The little villagers are so incredibly fluid as they walk around and tend their gardens, I assume they must have been digitized from real people and then touched up. The extremely high frame rate throughout most of the game (see GRIPES below) also greatly enhances the visual "feel".
Objects are all very large and detailed. You can even make out the expressions on the hordling's faces, which is particularly amusing right after they eat one of your villagers and they are patting their stomachs.
There are also several small touches like butterflies that spring up from bunches of wild flowers, fish jumping in the water, crops growing, and my current favorite, the birds in the second habitat. There are usually several little birds pecking at the ground, and periodically, they take flight and fly (extremely smoothly) to someplace new and peck away. Nice touch.
The sound in The Horde is in general very nicely done. The one exception that I have noticed is during some of the FMV intermissions, the sound is a bit "fuzzy". Nothing bothersome, but not quite CD quality. I had my stereo turned up quite loud however, so you may not notice it at all. I also noticed an occasional "pop" at the start and end of some of the FMV sequences.
The music during the game is strange, but professionally done and unobtrusive. I did not see a way to turn the music off, but I never noticed it enough to want to disable it anyway. I could be wrong, but during the second habitat, I could swear that as you near the end of the construction phase, the music is gradually filled with crying babies, crunching, growls, and other guttural creepy sounds. Nice effect. There is different music for each habitat (so far) and there is different music for the battle phase, but I can't recall if there is different battle music for each habitat (too busy thwacking things I guess :-)).
The sound effects are perfect. Distinct sound effects are associated with everything of consequence in the game. When a hordling is attacking one of your buildings, you hear breaking wood, when a building is destroyed, the inhabitant screams for help, when a hordling eats a villager, he belches loudly, etc. The sound effects are nicely varied and are perfectly clear. There is no "popping" as there sometimes is at the start and end of the FMV clips.
Slowdown. Ick. Why? Don't get me wrong, I am impressed by the sheer quantity of stuff that goes on during the game without out the slightest hint of slowdown, but when I get a little behind during a nasty battle phase and there are 15-20 hordlings running around the map, things slowdown noticeably. This never happens to even the slightest degree during construction mode, and my wife claims she didn't notice it and that it didn't bother her, so as always, your mileage may vary. I am extremely intolerant of slowdown in games, but at least in this case, it doesn't harm gameplay. You will not die or suffer in any way due to the slowdown, but it annoyed me a bit. For what it's worth, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the quantity of graphics being moved around, but rather with the number of separate creatures running around on the map. The number of creatures actually on screen has no effect as far as I can tell.
As in any game of this type, a mouse would be a more appropriate means of control in the construction phase. Your cursor moves fine in both the zoomed in view, as well as the map view, but in both cases, the maximum speed (the cursor accelerates as you hold down the pad) isn't quite fast enough for me.
Some of the "relationships" in the game may be too subtle for some people and consequently they might become frustrated. For example, you get money for crops, but you can't plant crops. People plant crops, but you can't add people to you village. You need to attract people to you village, and keep the land around their homes clear so that they can plant crops so that you can get money for them each season. I like this, and so will most people, so it's not a true "gripe", just an FYI.
I like it. The gameplay grows on you surprisingly quickly, and you rapidly learn to fear the low guttural growl of a Juggernaut hordling lumbering towards your village. If you like strategy games, but don't have the patience to watch your SimCity grow, or you like SimCity but can deal with a little action mixed in, you'll probably like this game. A sense of humor is optional, but it makes the game much more enjoyable.
The full motion video is awesome, and really helps set the humorous mood of the game. The creature graphics will make you laugh and scream at the same time. The sound of a Juggernaut after swallowing a villager, and the sound of a startled, soon-to-be-swallowed cow will make you laugh so hard you'll have to restart the level.
Don't buy this game and return it until you have played it for more than one or two years (game time :-)). For the first year or so I didn't think that I was doing much, and that the game was way too easy, then a Juggernaut pummeled me and ate my herd of cows, and I realized that I should have been building a much more structured defense for several seasons.This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Matt Brown for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.