Sherwood is a Sure Thing
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The Commandos game pretty much set the standard in small-quad RTS games. Armed with only three or four soldiers per mission, you were tasked with defeating, or avoiding, a hoard of enemies during a variety of missions.
The problem with Commandos was that it was just too hard to play. You shoot someone and you lose. The alarm goes off and you lose. Someone sees you and you lose. You step just one foot out of line and yep, you guessed it, you lose.
Robin Hood takes players back to a simpler time, when breaking into a castle did not require avoiding spotlights or roving tanks. That is not to say that the game is not difficult, but it's not completely impossible either. For a bad guy to raise the alarm they have to run back and tell an officer what they saw and your band of merry men are very adept at preventing such activities if needed.
First off, the game is graphically pleasing. The landscapes are high quality 2D, but are created so well that they give the impression of being three dimensional. Whenever your characters are behind a building, the screen fades out around them so you can still control your character.
On some missions you will have a very small squad, and sometimes you actually go out by yourself. Each type of merry man in your gang has different powers. Some may be able to pick up objects, some can tie up knocked out characters and some can do special attacks like launch arrows at people from a distance. There are also special main characters like Robin Hood and Will Scarlet who have special abilities that most of the other regular characters don't. The trick is taking enough of a mix of abilities into your limited squad so that you can solve the many challenges on the map.
There are basically two types of missions you can go on. The first takes place in Sherwood forest and involves raiding merchant caravans and robbing their gold. These missions are a lot more fun than the second type I'll write about next. The raiding missions are neat because your merry men have set up all kinds of interesting and ingenuous traps around. You can trick guards into falling down holes, or scoop them up with nets. You can also trigger ambushes and generally make people fear the forest.
The second type of mission is more goal oriented. Normally you need to break into a secure installation like a castle or a walled town and rescue someone or steal something important. These missions are difficult because there are guards walking around and you have to time things fairly well to get by tight spots with your men.
It's interesting that you can't really just go into a map and start killing everyone. At the end of each mission, you are ranked based on how well you completed the level. In addition to completing objectives, you are also ranked on how much gold you picked up and how many lives you spared. The more people you kill, the less loved your outlaw becomes. If you keep most of your victims alive, then at the end of a level new people will likely show up in Sherwood wanting to join your gang.
This is neat because it adds a bit of a non-violent element to the game because you don't want to really kill anyone. And it makes it difficult because you can't just knock people out as they could recover later and sound the alarm. So you need someone in your group to knock them out, someone with the ability to carry them off to an out of the way place, and someone with the ability to tie them up. All this coordination has to be done quickly before a roving guard patrol finds out what is going on.
In this, Robin Hood is very much like the Commandos series. But, Robin Hood is a lot easier to play. The missions are difficult, but I never found one that could not be beat after a few attempts and a lot of planning.
There is also a resource management element to the game. Merry men that do not accompany you on missions can instead be given tasks back at the home base. You can have men making arrows, or nets, or training to fight or shoot arrows. When you return from a mission you are told how many of each resource was collected or constructed and if anyone got better at the skills they were working on improving. Sometimes you have to leave someone behind you really would like to have in your adventuring squad because you want them to get stronger, or they happen to be good at making a resource that is getting in short supply, such as arrows.
Robin Hood is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. At times the missions do seem a bit daunting, but they are solvable if you use your resources and your people in intelligent ways. Robin Hood earns 4 1/2 GiN Gems for their treasury for blending strategy and action in a beautifully rendered world.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.