While always on the lookout for roguelike deckbuilders in my never-ending quest to catch-em-all, I let Fights in Tight Spaces slip by while in early access. Developed by British Indie developer Ground Shatter, the game has now gone through a year of tweaking. It is now fully released as a very interesting mix of turn-based tactics, deckbuilding, and classic action-movies fight sequences.
STORY – An undercover spy’s life
In Fights in Tight Spaces, you take on the role of an unnamed Section Eleven agent. This branch of Intelligence has a very hands-on approach to crime-fighting. Tasked with infiltrating and bringing down several gangs, you’ll punch and kick your way out of several tight spaces like elevators, offices, train compartments, and toilets. The game develops over 5 different chapters (plus a brief tutorial). Each chapter sees our sharply dressed character going after a different, well characterised criminal gang ranging from Scandinavian hunks to very Italian mobsters.
This is a great setting and it lends itself to the game. I like to see a modern twist on the usual fantasy-drenched backgrounds of typical deckbuilders and tactics games. One minor gripe with the chapter’s structure is that the game strongly pushes you to start from the first chapter every run, as doing so will grant you bonuses that are almost mandatory to survive through the later stages.
GAMEPLAY – A slow, thoughtful approach to fast action fighting
Throughout each chapter, you will walk a familiar branching path towards the boss, as it’s typical of roguelike deckbuilders. Along the way, there will be fights (all rigorously in tight spaces), random events, and possible visits to the gym and the medical centre.
Combat plays out in a small grid, usually not bigger than 5x5. Each turn you draw some cards and can perform all the actions that your Momentum, which resets to 3 after every turn, allows you to. These actions include attacks and movements, as well as defensive manoeuvrers and special actions that affect your hand or grant temporary or permanent bonuses. Some of these actions can also be combined on a single card. For instance, a flying kick will let you move closer to the enemy that it is targeting. After each successful fight, you can add a new card to your deck.
On top of this simple roguelike building premise, the developers crafted an intricate turn-based tactical game.
In this regard, Fights in Tight Spaces is more similar to a game like Into The Breach than Slay The Spire. Firstly there are a good variety of enemies, some of which will gradually introduce new game mechanics. Some of them will auto-attack once per turn any figure that steps in their area of control. Others will counter attacks directed at them. Others will block all attacks received from the front, attack at range or push you around the board.
Turn-based tactical combat
Positioning in Fights in Tight Spaces is fundamental to survival, more so than other similar titles. Each mission has side objectives, like ending the fight in a certain number of turns, granting bonus money, or health/stats. This effectively means having to make the most out of the environment. Whether by pushing your opponents out of the board or trying to get them in the path of an incoming attack, completing these objectives will make or break your run.
This emphasis on tactical combat leads to amazing moments. There are few occasions in gaming that made me as happy as accidentally making an enemy push another out of the board after I just wanted to kick them away from me. On the flip side, you might not realise you lost the entire run by stepping one tile to your left. This is not a problem, but critical information about the different enemies is only revealed by hovering over each of them or by pressing ALT (and even then it’s mostly just small icons), which can be a bit frustrating if forgotten.
This is taken into account on easier difficulties, which let you rewind the current turn a number of times per fight. Other bonuses at lower difficulties involve “fixing” your draw to get access to at least a movement card each round and being able to restart a fight if you lose it. I am usually a fan of difficulty settings in roguelike deckbuilder, but I think they work well here. I have yet to try the hardest difficulty, but I can see how not being guaranteed to move in around would make the game harder, not by altering the balance, but rather requiring higher deck-building knowledge.
Roguelike deckbuilder progression
In my playthroughs at normal difficulty, I didn’t find the choice of path as important as in a game like Slay The Spire. Generally, you always want to complete your side objectives and have at least £60 when reaching a gym to upgrade or remove cards. For the same reason, you rarely want to use the medical centre, which from what I have seen during my game time is always placed as part of a mutually exclusive choice with the gym.
Random events are multiple-choice dilemmas that mostly seem to be black and white. Are you going to risk an injury to punch a shark for a mediocre reward? During my playtime, I have never felt like the choice was conditional on my particular run and build, but rather on whether the event was a good or a bad one.
GRAPHICS & SOUND – Top of the range
I feel like I am saying about every game I review, but Fights in Tight Spaces looks amazing. The character models have a sort of low-poly quality that has always compelled me. The colours, together with the models, are used well to convey information about enemies. This helps to notice pesky abilities without having to hover over enemies every time. The environments are also nicely rendered, and though they are grey, they are the perfect background for the colourful fighting.
Possibly, my personal favourite is the range of fighting animations. I was amazed by the fact that a small indie studio could implement this many. If attacking an enemy behind you, you might get a different animation than if you were performing the same move on an enemy in front of you.
Fights in Tight Spaces sounds great too. The soundtrack, composed by nervous_testpilot, is full of electronic bangers that go so well with the pounding fist action of the game. I finally don’t need to repeat myself here, as this is a soundtrack that I would buy separately and listen to while working out or something else I actually do.
Fights in Tight Spaces was reviewed on PC, with a key provided by Mode 7.