Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Publisher: Jowood Productions
Developer: Zed Two
Release Date: TBA
Going into it, the only things I knew about Future Tactics: The Uprising were that:
- It was a turn-based tactical strategy game set in the future;
- The plot would perhaps involve an uprising of some sort;
- The box art and screenshots were extremely cartoony; and
- It was being pushed as a game where a whole lot of stuff blew up.
Okay, I thought. I'm sold. Let's see what this is like.
All of the above impressions turned out to be true, but as usual first impressions, well, they just don't tell the whole story: This is a game about using guerilla hit-and-run tactics because you're fighting a force about a thousand times better armed, armored, and reinforced than you are, a game about creating cover and prolonging your life via the creative use of explosions, and if it comes off as cartoony... well, it is. It's the kind of semi-serious cartoon you got on Saturday morning back towards the mid- to late eighties and early nineties, when cheesy jokes and broad stereotypical characters were the norm, but so was the occasional shocking death or poignant story-driven moment that just hits home a little too solidly.
It's also kinda British. That may be part of it.
Future Tactics isn't going to come easily to PC players, who traditionally have a rather more refined approach to turn-based strategy. The greatest strength and the greatest weakness Future Tactics brings to the table is that it's a console port, and they do things differently around those parts. Most PC strategy titles tend to be complex and rest heavily on unit management, long campaigns, and number crunching.
The only statistic found in Future Tactics is your to-hit percentage, and that's largely defined by how well you can line up a crosshair inside a targeting sight. It's streamlined to the point of nearly being an action game. Purists are wetting themselves and wailing in revulsion as we speak.
Plotline time. It is some unspecified time in the future, and mankind is surprisingly not once again at war. This is because most of mankind has been wiped off the face of the planet by weird green, uh, monster-like creatures who are nigh invincible. They don't seem to care much if they die, they don't seem interested in communicating except via laser fire or explosives, and what's left of the human race is inclined to avoid them for the most part, going into hiding to evade the roaming patrols of green things on the Earth's surface.
Into this rather grim setting come Low and his father, who is rather aptly named Father. They're on their way back from Low's first hunting excursion, and Low's still feeling the whole adrenaline rush thing, so it's almost expected when he decides to ignore Father's warnings and rushes headlong at a group of the creatures. Together they manage to kill a few and escape, which is good, because they weren't actually sure this was possible.
Either in revenge or just because of bloody-minded seek and destroy instincts, the creatures follow them back to camp and kill off Father. Low is now almost alone in the world, and as time passes this takes a certain toll on him. The only things he has are his gun, a burning hatred of the creatures, and his sister Pepper, who looks like an eight year old cosplaying as Lucca Ashtear from Chrono Trigger and who is a little more fond of explosives than even I was at that age. Together their life becomes a series of hit-and-run commando raids, as they try to do alone what presumably the rest of humanity couldn't: kill off the monsters walking the Earth. Pepper is doing it because it's fun, Low is doing it for revenge, but they're taking care of each other in the process.
They don't stay alone for long. Like a lot of console-styled strategy games (and this is, make no doubt about it, much more a console game than a PC game), Low gradually gathers up a group of well-armed misfits as he tries to find and stop the source of the invasion. From Scallion and his so-called "ten ton gun" to Wardwarf the endearingly lilty-voiced robot to Caraway the "Science Witch" (who has set the concept of field medic somewhat sideways with the invention of a gun that heals people) and a host of others, you rarely if ever have to go at a stage alone. You'll be deploying between two and five pre-set characters for each of the game's 19 levels.
One of the oddest things about Future Tactics is that it initially looks pretty unforgiving, but if you can work it right and aren't adverse to throwing yourself up a mountain now and then, it can actually be pretty straightforward.
The reason I say this is because Future Tactics is pretty darned good at making you feel like a mortal. The creatures are vulnerable to lots of gunfire and explosives, and they'll sink like a brick if you can manage to knock them into deep water, but in a toe-to-toe gunfight, you will lose. Often, your characters will be outnumbered, outgunned, with two or three enemy reinforcements spawning in every turn. Even more often, you'll be up against enemies that can take you out in one shot. For a good bit of the game, you're completely screwed. It's as simple as that.
You have only a couple of advantages, and one as I mentioned is the ability to use hit-and-run tactics. Cover is your greatest asset, and it can often help to spend a few moments digging out a trench in a mountainside with grenades for hiding purposes or edging around to the side of a building to get a shot at a mostly hidden enemy. Another advantage, and it's a meta-game advantage, is that when you die and restart a stage, you get to keep your experience gains from the stage you just died in. You can literally keep breaking yourself on a problem until you're strong enough to get through it.
The final advantage you have is (again) terrain based. It isn't anything to do with hiding this time though. If there's a really freaking big rock around, or a beat-up old car from the Beforetime, or even a bit of building lying around, you can probably launch it into the air with some gunfire.
Nigh-invincible creature or not, being smacked in the face by an explosion-launched 18-wheeler is gonna screw your day all up. I find this greatly pleasing, myself.
Each character also has a number of skills they can access by finding "upgrade boxes" littered around the levels. Low can equip a zoom sight on his rifle, learn to shoot twice per turn, or pick up infrared vision for those rare night levels. Each character takes a different upgrade path. While Low can learn those skills, Pepper can learn to lay mines and Wardwarf can snag the amusing ability to bounce shots off his reflective little body and towards the nearest enemy, so you can park him near a creature and keep everyone else in hiding while their gunfire plinks off him like popcorn off a movie screen.
Future Tactics is at its heart a very simple game. You move each character around inside their movement range. You hit a button to go into aiming mode. You line up the crosshairs at your enemy. You fire. Then you can move inside your movement range again until you find a good place to stop, and choose to either "wait" (stand there defenseless), "shield" (hide under your shield, which takes a turn to recharge) or "heal" (gather health but become incredibly vulnerable). Then the next character does it. Then the enemies do it.
I say that it's simple, but it's still fun to play. The simplicity keeps things moving along at a brisk pace, there's enough variety between the weapons and skills to give you a wide range of tactics to pick from in later levels, and in early levels, this is as much a game of survival as it is a game of combat. This is one of those rare games that makes just trying to stay alive fun.
Plus, if you get bored, you can send cars flying through the air. Everyone likes to do that, right?
Graphically, Future Tactics really isn't doing anything special, but everything does look pretty darned good. It's nothing wow-inducing, but the game has a somewhat unique visual style. Things are rounded and cartoonish, everything from the characters to the buildings have a certain European form to them. There are a couple of village stages that got me thinking of isolated cottages near the English moors, with thatched roofs and charmingly rounded windows. (Then we went out and blew them up. It was great.) Even the enemies aren't very threatening, almost comical in a way. On the other hand, if they shoot you while you're snickering at them, you're still just as dead. Nothing visually really seems out of place here, smoke is thick and dark and buildings show convincing damage as you hammer them with laser fire.
The audio is kind of a weaker, flimsier bag. There are some interesting music tracks in the game, but they usually don't kick in except during the very beginning of a turn and then fade out quickly. Most of the weapons sound the same, and the audio taunts tossed around don't have much variety to them. Additionally, the grunty alien voices are (again) pretty cute and comical.
I have to add, on a purely technical standpoint, that this is one of the very few games released for Windows that actually acts like it belongs in Windows. By this I mean that you can play the game in windowed mode and it works just fine, enabling you to click in and out of the window and do other things around your game of Future Tactics. More games should have this feature, particularly turn-based games.
The major weakness of this game is also its greatest strength: it's a pretty simple and straightforward game. You don't get a lot in the way of special objectives or complexly woven checkpoints around a map. Often your goal is just "kill these creatures" or "escape to this spot." This is going to bore veteran strategists straight into a hole in the ground. The thing is, for people who hate most strategy games for being too darned hard to figure out, Future Tactics is a great game to cut your teeth on. What will drive those players away is the difficulty level, if you don't persist in playing the first few levels where you're outnumbered and basically doomed if you take a wrong step, you're going to turn away from this game vastly let down.
Still, this is the most accessible strategy game I think I've ever played, which counts for something in my book. If you can work past the opening stages, the middle and end of the game contain a strong plot and some nicely designed levels designed to make you think as much as fight, and after beating the game once you unlock a replay mode that changes the rules somewhat. (Rather than move your characters all at once, then waiting for the enemy to move all at once, you alternate turns like chess. Gives a real advantage to the side with the fewest units, because they move more often. This mode was responsible for a large delay in the completion of this review.)
So, Future Tactics: The Uprising in a nutshell: it's a game that doesn't often get a fair shake on PCs, a console-style turn based strategy game. A lot of gamers aren't going to give it a fair shake just because of that, but I say it's worth your time and effort to give it a try if you've been looking for a cute sci-fi alternative to complex unit management.