Shock Tactics is a turn-based squad tactics game from fledgling studio Point Blank Games. The game is a turn-based squad tactics game that focuses on the settling of the hotly disputed alien world of Hephæst. The planet dangers include both hostile fauna and other settlers in the form of the Imperial Consortium. You take control of the Free Space Pioneers' combat units as they race to claim the planet.
Shock Tactics is available from Keen Gamer's eShop for $17.97
On the planet Hephæst, everything is trying to kill you. That is not an exaggeration. Even the local trees are hostile to your presence. The main source of conflict in the game is the protagonist's group, the Free Space Pioneers or FSP, and the hostile Imperial Consortium or the IC battling for ownership of the planet and it's unique resources. The real battle is for the rare resources afforded by the planet. These magic space rocks can accomplish a number of things, from powering your entire base to crafting some nifty new weaponry.
The story is told through narration from various characters in the FSP. The protagonists, only referred to as Captain in the narration, is a voiceless trooper with a randomly generated name. The game begins with the Captain's daring rescue of an engineer named Ignatius, who is looking to study the rare elements of Hephæst and use them to set up a base for the FSP.
The story itself is pretty bare-bones with few twists and turns. The no-frills approach isn't great, but it gets the job done.
Shock Tactics borrows liberally from the recent XCOM games. Fans of that series will feel right at home here. Gameplay is divided into three main screens. First, you have the base menu. Here, selectable tabs represent the various tasks you can accomplish while at the base. Much like XCOM, as you complete more missions and claim more points on the map, you can use the resources you earn to unlock new sections of the base. Each area of your base offers you different ways to train or equip your soldiers. For example, unlocking the Tech Forge allows players to build extra weapons for their soldiers, whereas the Hangar allows players to choose which soldiers you want to send out on missions. It all works reasonably well. However, each area of the base is only represented by a static shot of that facility, making the base sometimes feel like a sort of checklist of abilities to unlock.
The base also allows you to customize your troopers. Much like XCOM, you can customize not only their load outs, but also their armor color, name, and nicknames. However, there is much less depth here. The appearance of your soldier's armor is entirely locked to their class and many classes share the same basic look. I feel this is one part of the game that is greatly lacking, though understandable given the size of the development team.
The second main screen is the world map. Here, the player dispatches an ATV to scour the planet's randomly generated surface. Several missions of varying importance can be found, ranging from story missions to simple resources to secure. When a mission is found, a difficulty and potential rewards are listed and if the player selects it, your troop transport is dispatched to the location to being the mission. There is also some variety in the enemies for these missions. Some missions have you facing off with the ravenous aliens, whereas others put you up against pirates or IC mercenaries. This sort of variety adds some nice flavor to the game, especially in a genre which often limits you to one flavor of enemies.
The main meat of this game, however, is the squad based tactics of the missions. Though in many ways similar to XCOM, this is where the game starts to struggle a bit. For those unfamiliar with the genre, a typical mission goes like this; you enter a map with you team of units, usually somewhere between one and six. You can position your troops and are provided helpful outlines of where your units can move and still act, with a larger selection of tiles showing where they can move if they forfeit any action. Terrain and buildings provide cover for these units, giving enemies a penalty to their percentage chance to aim. This works both ways, as enemies behind cover also are harder to hit. As you move your various specialized units to accomplish the goal, they use up Action Points or AP, which is recharged each turn. Each unit also has access to a skill called Overwatch, that allows them to fire on any enemy that comes into their line of sight during the enemy turn. The mission plays out as the player decides where to position and when to attack.
The enemy AI can be frustratingly inconsistent. Sometimes they will dig in and become impossible to take out. Other times they will run out of cover, only to run back to the same cover when they activate your squad's overwatch ability. Full cover for the enemies makes them virtually impossible to hit. I often found that even with special abilities, I could rarely get more than 20 or 30% chance to hit when an enemy was in cover. This combined with the aforementioned habit of the AI to cling to cover, meant quite a few irritating standoffs.
Some missions give you allies as well. However, these allies rarely help turn the tide. More often than not I found myself greatly disadvantaged trying to rescue my allies. One mission, in particular, had two enemies continuously trading places behind a giant rock, and my allies, who had dug in behind some cover in a nearby building, refusing to move or reposition despite their measly 7% chance to hit one of the enemies. This resulted in a 25-minute match just to defeat an insignificant nine enemies. It feels like when the allies get to full cover, they refuse to move regardless of enemy position or their chance to hit, even when the allies are armed themselves.
The missions map design also leaves something to be desired. Many of the maps contained long stretches with little cover. This meant that many times enemies appear already dug in and capable of hitting you long before you can get in range of them. This artificial difficulty was frustrating, especially when tactics like flanking simply resulted in my squad member being OHKO'd by a previously unseen enemy. Worse yet, the player's cover is sometimes difficult to distinguish because of the games blocky art style. This frequently lead to me confusingly spinning the camera, trying to distinguish what was cover and what was actual terrain I could stand on.
Abilities also will be familiar to fans of tactical squad based games. These include things like firing a cone of rapid fire, temporarily increasing accuracy, or hacking nearby consoles and equipment. Unlike some other squad based games, though, death is not entirely permanent. Instead, soldiers who are downed can be stabilized and transported out of the battlefield. This gives players a little more incentive to invest in their characters, who level up and learn new abilities the more missions they play.
The game also includes some environmental hazards, that add some nice variety to the game. For example, I found a particularly innocuous looking tree in a canyon and was using it for cover. However, after a turn it lit up. Waiting one more turn resulted in the tree shooting out spikes and gravely injuring one of my troopers. This sort of design adds to the game and helped to increase the sense of urgency in the missions. There is also an overall timer of a number of days, or movements of your ATV, on the main map menu that signals the arrival of the main IC forces and more difficult battles. This is a good choice, as it helps encourage players to explore and choose their missions strategically.
The combat is not all bad either. It can be quite satisfying to set up a good formation and take out wave after wave of enemy. The problem is that frequently shaky AI and some poorly design maps break up these moments of triumph with chore-like standoffs and slow paced scouting. The game also throws some different objectives at the player, such as rescuing new soldiers or destroying certain equipment, which is nice to see in a game like this.
The graphics are unimpressive but they get the job done. The soldiers, vehicles, and buildings all are distinguishable and okay to look at. My major complaint here would be the terrain. The game makes frequent use of large, black obelisk-like rock structures among the canyons. These rocks can sometimes be difficult to distinguish, forcing the player to constantly readjust the camera to try and ascertain exactly which direction the rocks provide cover from. As well, structures are sometimes shoehorned into narrow canyon-ways or otherwise awkward positions that make it difficult to see exactly where your units are, even when the player uses the R key to make the upper levels disappear.
On the other hand, the game is very good at demonstrating where your units can move. There is also a helpful red dotted line that indicates both your unit's line of sight and the enemies. This is helpful when positioning. Much like XCOM, there is also half and full shield icons to represent partial and full cover. The planet itself gives one the impression of a Martian landscape, littered with heavy industrial equipment and all-terrain vehicles.
The audio here is not great. Of particular note are the voiceovers, which sound extremely amateur and unimpressive. Frequently, I felt as if the voice overs were done by random people off the street. This is especially bad since the game's entire story plays out in audio logs of Ignatius and other characters important to the FSP cause. These logs are recorded as if the character is telling the story to someone else, making the poor quality painfully obvious. The music itself is not very memorable and frequently loops.
Point Blank Game's debut work is an ambitious title for a small development studio. The game attempts to do many things at once. Some of these things it does well, while others fail to impress. However, gamers who love squad based games and are willing to look passed the game's rough indie edges are bound to find a game that offers some fun tactical moments. Though the frustrating moments sometimes outweigh the triumphant ones, the game clearly shows a development team who loves squad based games and wants to deliver a solid experience.
|+ Good atmosphere||– Poor AI|
|+ Customizable troops||– Bland voiceovers|
|– Confusing graphics|