Hasbro Interactive has successfully "ported" one of the oldest and most popular turn-based strategy games to the PlayStation. This one has all the elements of the board game down: the cards, the geographically dubious map, even onscreen dice that roll with a thunderous clamor. Plus you can mix real opponents with CPU ones, and there are lots of odd new options, including Blind Risk and Ultimate Risk, which replace the ease and speed of Classic Risk with some rudimentary realism and strategic considerations. In fact, the only thing missing is the little plastic roman numerals.
For the uninitiated, the game of Risk may seem a little odd. Idiosyncrasies abound. At the beginning of the game, each opponent's armies are distributed randomly throughout the world - though a manual battalion placement option is available. When you conquer territories you are awarded strange playing cards with cannons and horses on them that are redeemable for reinforcements. Last-surviving defending armies always win in a tied roll of the dice, making them fairly fearsome opponents when outnumbered. Plus there's the steamroller effect, by which a single country with enough reinforcements and a little luck can take over territory after territory in a single turn. As long as it doesn't run out of troops, it can keep going until it has taken over the entire world. In short, realism is out the window. And that's what makes it Risk.
Hasbro Interactive could have made the PlayStation version much more realistic. It could have included troop morale, food supplies, different types of units (there's only one), and so forth. Heck, it could've thrown the old game out the window and slapped the license on a brand-spankin'-new real-time strategy game with hyperrealism, and the N64 version could have used the Rumble Pak to simulate troop hunger. Thank God Hasbro didn't. Hasbro Interactive made the right call by leaving it simple, full of illogical rules that also happen to be really fun. Like the original, Risk for the PlayStation is straight-ahead, fast-paced, and easy to play right out of the box.
The game looks great too, with a simple interface, multiple map views at the touch of a button, and terrain that looks great onscreen, even if it doesn't affect play in any way. Video is kept to a minimum in the Classic Risk version of the game, only appearing when individual opponents are completely wiped out or the world is completely dominated. The only visual shortcoming is in the size of the main map's view. All actions, troop movements, and invasions occur while only roughly 20 percent of the world is visible. Sure, complete world maps are only a triangle button away, but you can't perform any actions while looking at them. It would be easier to make small-scale tactical decisions if the large-scale strategic concepts were always visible. The game also features impressive military music that perfectly sets the tone, a huge bashing sound whenever the dice are rolled, and a number of other sound effects whose tasteful brevity enhances the feel of the game without detracting from the mood of the original.
A number of options round out the game. Up to four players plus up to four CPU opponents may play at once. AI may be set from easy to hard, with a dramatic effect on gameplay. Blind Risk makes it impossible to see into enemy territory for troop counts. Ultimate Risk is an entirely different game and makes a stab at realistic turn-based strategy. Featuring random turn order, dramatic weather effects, and choice of combat formation, the game offers generals to wield, forts and capitals to erect, and a much more realistic set of attack routing options that deflate the strategic importance of certain territories. In Classic Risk, there are only three ways in to the Americas, making those three territories the linchpin of strategy in the Western Hemisphere. In Ultimate Risk, piling all your armies in a few places doesn't make you safe. While all this is much more realistic, the new options bog down the speed of the original. Most folks looking for this level of strategy should probably cut to the chase and pick up Command & Conquer instead.
Hasbro Interactive has provided a near-perfect translation from the board game to the PlayStation. It has managed to preserve the style of play perfectly, without adding too many annoying new features to distract from Risk's sublime simplicity and speed. You won't lose the little plastic pieces, and your dog won't eat the cards. Plus, next time you feel like sweeping across Europe, but are worried that it's a little premature, you can save your game before you "risk" it. Perhaps they should have called the PlayStation version "Less Risk."