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Playing like a re-skinned version of XCOM, one wonders if there more to this indie title than just repackaged mechanics and turn-based strategy sci-fi gameplay. The debut game from the German Indie developer Point Blank Games, you play as a team of space pioneers attempting to colonise a newly-discovered alien planet, only to soon find yourself pitted against alien creatures, pirates, and troops of the Imperial Consortium, whom all have their designs on claiming the planet for themselves.
For fans of the XCOM series, there is more than a sense of familiarity to this title, especially when it plays nearly the same with a few tweaks to try and improve on the format. Of course, if you’ve never heard of XCOM, the basic mechanics of the game will seem fresh with you controlling a group of soldiers, guiding them through levels to achieve various objectives while setting up outposts and dig sites to help strengthen your forces. It further shares turn-based strategy mechanics were each character is limited by an Action Point system, so that with any action you choose, be it moving, attacking, or using a special ability, all deduct from your points total. Once you’ve used up the points the turn is over.
One of the key aspects to the game is cover, for attempting to Rambo your way through situations will soon see your squad dying rather quickly, while at the same time your forces are limited, meaning that you can’t just roll into conflicts with enough heavy hardware to make Patton blush as seems to be the sole tactic for Command and Conquer. Instead, the cover system is one that is essential to get to grips with as it makes it harder for your squad members to be hit by the enemy. Due to this cover system, the game really boils down to two main tactics of either using your squad to outflank the enemy or what’s more likely to happen, just putting your squad into overwatch and have them blast away any foe who stumbles into range.
Here in lies one of the main issues with the game in that its AI–at the time of this review–is seriously broken, as during this play test, it was discovered that you could essentially just put your squad into overwatch and the enemies would blindly march toward you than try and take any defensive position of their own. As such there is no real strategy to the game once this was discovered, it proved to be one of a number of bugs that this version of the game had, including a tendency to crash at random, which was only made all the more infuriating by there being no way to save progress during missions, leaving us with no option but to play the same sections over each time it happened. Yes, the game does try to break this habit with the use of timed secondary objectives, but they rarely seem breaking this habit for.
This is not to say that Shock Tactics doesn’t gives us some improvements on the XCOM model, in particular how your action points are used, which unlike XCOM doesn’t just let you blindly wander into groups of enemies who remain hidden until close enough to be spotted. Here, instead, your squad members are stopped and allowed to adjust their movements to get into a better firing position or to get into cover, something that felt like a big improvement and potentially saving the player losing squad members that could be saved, and in a way, adding more of a sense of reality to their moment / actions. It’s just a shame that the game never gives us any kind of connection to these troops who, with the lack of customisation options, are just faceless grunts and only the harder to feel any attachment to.
For new-commers, the game provides a decent training mode, which introduces you to the mechanics of the game, making it easy to pick up and play, and while the mechanics certainly make it a fun title, it’s still one that is let down by its various bugs, which still need to be ironed out, making it hard to recommend over picking up a copy of XCOM, outside of the obvious difference in price tag. Perhaps with further patches, this game could be a title worth revisiting but in its current state, is currently a title not without its barbs.
Game description: Shock Tactics is 2017 single-player turn-based strategy game where players explore and manage base building and combat.