Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Developer: Zed Two
Release Date: May 4, 2004
Turn-based objects are something of a rarity anymore, where one is only released for any system every once in a great while. The GBA really corners the market in the genre, with stellar titles such as Advance Wars, Advance Wars 2, and Fire Emblem. Future Tactics is a turn-based game as well, but rather than limited by the power of the GBA it has been placed in the domain and power of the three next-gen systems. Despite being one of the best looking and best sounding games in the genre Future Tactics brings many new elements to the turn-based genre to the table, assuming of course you can beat the second level to ever really use them.
In the world of Future Tactics Earth has been taken over by murderous creatures, which banded together to wipe most of human civilization off of the planet. Dwindling in numbers, the remaining humans banded together to form nomadic tribes who move from place to place looking for resources, food, and above all trying to avoid contact with creatures. One member of one of the tribes is Low, a cocky, spontaneous young man who travels alongside his father and his little sister Pepper.
Future Tactics’ gameplay is fairly innovative, and is much more than simply moving next to an enemy and pressing a button. Each turn you first pick your character, then pick what actions to have that character perform. The Move option allows you to move across the landscape, though the amount you can move is limited by a circle of orbs. You can also jump on top of boulders or other places while moving to get a tactical advantage. To engage in combat, you pick the Shoot option, which brings up a targeting scope much like a first person shooter. While this scope is up you first try to line up your target with the crosshairs, after which you press A. Once this is done a diagonal line appears and moves across the scope face, followed by another line. Pressing A again freezes the first line and pressing A a third time locks the second line into place and makes your character fire. To accurately hit your target not only do you have to line up the crosshair but each line as well, forming an “X” on exactly where the shot will go. The final option is to Rest, inside of which are three more options. The second Rest option simply makes your character wait for the next player turn with no benefits or reductions. Another Rest option is Defend, which makes your character take half damage until next turn, but greatly reduces their movement range in the next turn. The Heal option regains a portion of the characters health but also doubles any damage done to them as they are healing.
Levels are like Jekyll and Hyde in Future Tactics, with the first one being a good example of an entry level into the game (If not a bit long) and the second level being an exercise in sheer frustration. In the first level, you must effectively utilize strategy and tact, and though a small mistake wont kill you (as a first level shouldn’t) there is still danger involved. It can get difficult if you don’t stay out of enemies sight that you don’t want to deal with or don’t pop back into cover after taking a shot, but as a whole it’s a good time. The second level however is a complete deal-breaker. In the second level for some reason there are no movement limits, enemies and player characters alike can walk across the entire level. This in itself wouldn’t be too bad, if it wasn’t for the fact enemies communicate very, very well. If one enemy sees you, he immediately communicates the fact to all nearby enemies, even those 3/4ths of a level away. If you move into cover the enemy goes to where he last seen you, if at the end of his movement he sees you again he communicates this, which makes other monsters bear down on you anyway. To rub salt into the wound, these enemies attacks are very powerful and while they do kill themselves performing it (They blow themselves up) they also take off about 1/3rd of your characters health. To put the final nail in the coffin if you lose any of your character, the level is failed. Other levels could be less difficult, or could be the same, but after around 30 tries the second level never once yielded and hasn’t yet.
Future Tactics has a cartoony look to it which fits the overall feel of the game very well. The plot is presented in a very non-serious matter, laced with light humor, via both in-game cutscenes before levels and pages from Pepper’s diary in level transitions. The character models look slightly cel-shaded minus the black outline usually accompanying such a style, and have decent animations for the type of game it is. The look of the gun scope varies from character to character but all have rotating objects in them that change depending on how fast the scope is moving and how far it is zoomed in. Special effects such as gunfire and explosions also look cartoonish and slightly over-the-top, such as pistols that send massive bolts of blue energy towards its target. Future Tactics also makes use of a deformable terrain and small physics engine, shoot next to a mine cart and not only will the ground beneath it make a crater the mind cart will fly away and bounce around before finally coming to rest. The deformable terrain can also be used tactfully, such as using your weapon to blow a new path, or create your own cover.
Future Tactics also has a fairly light-hearted sound ensemble with some exceptions. Most of the in-game music has a light and airy mood to it, but there are a few here and there with some guitar pieces and more aggressive tempos. Sound effects are done fairly well as a whole, the gunfire and explosion effects sound just like what the visuals on-screen would allude them to sound like, but the sound effects given off when a large boulder comes crashing down really doesn’t convey any sense of weight or velocity. All cutscenes come fully equipped from voiceovers, which range the gamut from likeable to downright annoying. The voices for the arrogant Low and the wise, methodical Father are done well, but Peppers voiceovers sound way too squeaky and unnatural, even for a perky, possibly overcaffeinated little girl.
Future Tactics just shines like crazy with the potential for good gameplay, and short of a little more polish the first level could be a really good example of a turn-based game done right. However, if the inhuman amount of difficulty found in the second level isn’t toned down by the time the game is released the fate of Future Tactics is bound to be one worse than most budget titles ever face. Difficulty levels aside Future Tactics does look like a refreshing change for the genre and does have quite a few innovative features to it, which not only fit in well with the game but are actually fun to use. With a month before release, here’s to hoping beyond hope that Future Tactics undergoes a deserved amount of polish before the game goes gold and is released as a breath of fresh air for the turn-based strategy genre.