Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce

As anyone who lives in a hurricane zone knows well, you can build many a new abode atop old foundations. And for many publishers, reinvention on a solid core is also the name of the game.

To that extent, Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is a roomy bungalow constructed above the action hack-'n'-slash base provided by previous instalments. This time, however, Koei and developer Omega Force have been somewhat daring when it comes to their architectural plans to invigorate the increasingly creaky Dynasty Warriors franchise.

Taking a leaf out of Capcom's massively successful Monster Hunter multiplayer-focused PSP games, Strikeforce starts to sparkle when it comes to big team battles as well as character customisation.

Co-operative play marks the game's biggest advance. We've experienced a similar multiplayer mode before in Koei's Warriors Orochi, but the party maximum has been doubled to allow a total of four players in Adhoc mode.

Additionally, all of the alterations made to the single player game have resulted in positive changes to multiplayer. More responsive controls, easier item management, better equipment, and shorter, more focused missions contribute to an overall improvement.

Of course, support for online battles via a proper global Infrastructure mode would really have been preferable - presumably it was nixed by latency issues - but the local co-op experience is pretty entertaining, always assuming you can round up some friends, each with a PSP and a copy of the game. Sadly there's no option to play with computer controlled buddies.

Certainly the button-mashing involved in single player sessions becomes much less arduous in co-op, the multiplayer dynamic softening the repetition required to defeat the massive, graphically impressive bosses. Should you grow tired of co-op, there's a team-based versus mode.

Multiplayer is the way to go, but Strikeforce also offers a revamped single player mode that successfully steeps its action in depth.

As a hero fighting on behalf of the Wei, Wu, or Shu clans, you work through a series of story-driven and optional missions building up your character. Points earned from killing foes and completing missions level up your hero, while raw materials can be used to craft weapons, special orbs, and restorative items.

Between missions you camp out in a small town that grants access to shops and a storehouse for all of the goods you pick up while questing. Officer cards given to you by warriors who randomly travel through the city allow you to upgrade each of the structures, providing an additional layer of depth and development.

The cards improve a specific facility, although you have to have equipped them and completed a mission. And since you can equip only six cards at a time, this becomes a matter of strategy. You may want to level up the blacksmith to get new weapons, but that might mean holding off on a storehouse upgrade.

On the battlefield, combat tactics centre around normal and strong attacks unleashed with the Square and Triangle buttons. Musou attacks return, tied to a new fury mode triggered when you've filled an orange gauge underneath your character's health bar.

Nailing enemies and taking damage yourself fills the gauge, at which point hitting Triangle and Circle temporarily transforms your hero. Another enjoyable addition is the in-air combat which sees you levitating upwards to give (and receive) solid aerial beatings.

The combat isn't very deep, however, with keeping-on-the-move and button-mashing your way through the massed ranks of the enemy being the order of the day.

Variation is provided by stronger and smarter sub-bosses and the final big boy bosses, who incidentally aren't terribly well balanced. If you're playing solo, you will die. A lot.

Still, at least the generic enemies' artificial intelligence has been improved, and your auto-lock keeps you facing in the right direction.

Where Strikeforce does show marked improvement over the previous games is in its focused design. Tailoring mission length for portability gives it greater accessibility and appeal. Missions no longer take hours to complete; instead, they're capped at a maximum of 30 minutes and usually take no longer than ten.

Loading times remain lengthy, but there's been an obvious effort to cut them. For instance, there's an option to install data to a memory stick for faster loading. Even the menus and graphics feel natural, rather than crammed onto the screen.

So while Strikeforce remains tied into the hack-'n'-slash action that's made the Dynasty Warriors franchise a gaming fixture, it distills the formula's best qualities and incorporates some interesting new features.

By building upon that foundation in a way specifically tailored to PSP, the game creates a fresh new home. Certainly niggles remain but this is the franchise's best handheld iteration to-date.

Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce

Built on a foundation of hack-n-slash action, Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce brings new depth to the series thanks in the main to its multiplayer modes