The world of strategy has been simmering away under the surface of the mainstream for a few years now. Long since the heyday of Westwood Studios, which ruled the real-time strategy genre with its Command & Conquer and Red Alert series, it’s been turn-based games which have been all the rage, thanks to the rise of Firaxis’ excellent XCOM revivals.
Soon, such is your efficiency at producing and preserving units, either by merging wounded squads or healing them at a player-owned city or facility, you’ll quickly find the map overrun and units begin to block each other from moving around effectively, leading to a major risk of bottlenecks if you aren’t too careful.
While the game works well in docked mode, this title has more of a handheld feel, and the turn-based nature lends itself to pulling it out for a few stops on the bus or morning train commute. Matches themselves, even early in the campaign, can easily last over half an hour a piece as games run across 15 or 20 in-game days (or turns) before one team’s HQ is ultimately vanquished.
Tinymetal’s music is fairly unmemorable and doesn’t get across the sort of drama and excitement you might hope for, especially compared to some of those iconic Red Alert or XCOM tunes. It should be noted that we haven’t unlocked the additional tracks with in-game currency, however. Visually, it’s fairly straightforward, but certainly more stylised, exciting and accessible than the somewhat similar Tiny Troopers Joint Ops XL.
Those looking to scratch a strategy itch won’t be disappointed here, with fun and games to be had for a budget-friendly asking price, but the repetition of the experience will start to grate for some before too long.
On top of the main campaign there’s Skirmish, where you battle AI using custom maps and settings, and also an online multiplayer component - but seemingly one too sparsely populated to find a game, even during peak hours.
In the end, Tinymetal: Full Metal Rumble on Switch is a fun little way to spend some portable gaming time, but doesn’t do too much to be exciting or bring a new twist to the genre or platform. There’s little to master, other than the patience for slow-moving and resource-limited units, but there’s still something endearing and easy to enjoy about the game.
Following its launch on PC and PS4 late last year, Ronimo Games (Awesomenauts Assemble!) have brought their side-scrolling strategy title to Nintendo Switch.
Apart from units actively mining resources, which remain at your base unless commanded to collect pick-ups, all units begin marching towards enemy positions immediately once purchased. They give no thought to their own safety or the size of the challenge facing them, therefore, players must manage resources carefully to ensure troops are sent forth in groups, rather than individually. This leads to some interesting strategization, as you’ll want to find potent combinations that best complement each other.
Missions generally feature at least one main objective along with one or two bonus objectives, which encourage you to experiment with tactics or challenge yourself by deliberately making things harder, adding variety to the straightforward level layouts. Main objectives range from simply destroying enemy bases to more memorable tasks like navigating a limited number of troops through environmental obstacles. Occasionally, you’ll also come across Bonus Battles; these one-off skirmishes give you the freedom to build your own army from all of the units you’ve unlocked thus far.
Both visually and technically, Shawarmageddon fares well on Switch. Frame rates occasionally drop during the largest of battles, but (naturally) Nintendo’s hybrid console offers the most ways to play - docked, handheld and touch - to easily counterbalance that. There’s seamless switching between the latter two, which makes targeting individual units a doddle, though, as we’ve found before, the balance, weight and shape of the Switch just doesn’t lend itself well to this one-handed style of play for long periods of time.
The versatility of the Joy-Cons also facilitates spontaneous bouts of local multiplayer, both docked and on-the-go, with portable play intelligently taking the unconventional approach of splitting matches vertically for optimum use of the Switch’s limited screen space.
Online multiplayer doesn’t hold up quite so well, unfortunately, as you’ll likely struggle to find another player even during peak hours. After just a handful of successful matches (many of which were against the same opponent), we found ourselves ranked 23rd on the global leaderboards, which suggests this mode has a very limited following.
Despite the dearth of online competition, Ronimo have catered their charismatically simple and engaging take on the strategy genre to all play styles on Switch, making it an attractive purchase.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden takes the turn-based tactics integral to its tabletop namesake and mixes them with real-time stealth and exploration, giving life to a hybrid brand of gameplay which fittingly mirrors the title’s overarching themes.
Straying from the main path to explore offshoots in the game’s “post-human” take on Earth allows you to uncover these materials in abundance, as well as new weapons and armour, plus even the odd side quest. The latter pair with collectibles to flesh out an intriguing background for what’s a rundown-yet-lush world reclaimed by nature; environments are thick with fine visual details, noticeable even from the game’s somewhat removed, isometric perspective, which makes it a shame that the camera can’t be zoomed in to appreciate them to their fullest.
After any stint outside the one remaining safe haven, a hub area known as the Ark, you can return to tune your kit before heading back out into the Zone, which encompasses the rest of the uncharted world, except for the vague promise of Eden. It’s this illusive, titular paradise you spend the game seeking, initially just as Dux and Bormin, a squabbling and lovable duo comprised of (shockingly) a duck and a boar respectively.
More humanoid companions are acquired along the way, but despite their appearance, everyone in MYZ is mutated in some way or another in order to survive the harsh landscape. All of the party characters are decent, but they only ever share playing third fiddle to the more charismatic leading duo; everyone at least maintains the pervasive air of silliness, quite humorously misinterpreting “ancient” technologies to cut through what can otherwise be quite a bleak atmosphere.
MYZ is a strange game, but in the best way - it’s a mechanics and lore-focused gamer’s game not requiring the sort of time and energy commitment many of its ilk do.
If you can put aside the somewhat cumbersome HUD and a few performance hitches - which aren’t too invasive, due to the game’s methodical pacing - there’s an awful lot both to get to grips with and to be gripped by. Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a strange game, but in the best way - it’s a mechanics and lore-focused gamer’s game that doesn’t require the sort of crazy time and energy commitment many of its ilk do. For a budget buck, or no extra cost to Xbox Game Pass subscribers, it’s one that fans of role-playing and strategy shouldn’t sleep on.
Sega spawned many a classic during their Dreamcast-era days, but have struggled to stay as relevant in the ensuing years. The original Valkyria Chronicles appealed because of its gorgeous looks and Dreamcastian demeanour, but we never quite got round to it, so came to this latest edition with some excitement. Let’s cast nostalgia aside though, and answer one of life’s truly great questions: is it any good?
Getting your tactics right and correctly reading the terrain will ultimately decide whether you prosper or fall.
So, the characters are amusing, but how does the dang thing actually play? To boil it down to its essence, each slobberknocker in Valk 4 sees you moving between a top-down map screen from which you issue commands (position/deploy units, request reinforcements, etc.) and the gloriously animated violence of the third-person running and gunning. We’ve played quite a few similar attempts at this mix, but none come close to the perfect blend achieved here.
The sheer variety of choices on offer is astounding, really shaping how you tackle a particular situation or foe. Do you load up on the bazooka-wielding Lancers to take out tanks? Should you employ many-a-sniper to sneak around and take out the enemy crumb by crumb? Perhaps the protective nature of Shocktroopers is more to your taste? Whichever way you decide to go, you’re bound to have fun, learn from your mistakes, and ultimately realise the potential of classes that originally seemed one dimensional (man, the engineers and grenadiers come in handy).
Vehicular combat also features prominently in Valk 4, with regular use of Claude’s tank, The Hafen, at your disposal, alongside the incredibly handy APC, which allows you to transport soldiers across the battlefield. Whether it be vehicles or infantry, getting your tactics right and correctly reading the terrain will ultimately decide whether you prosper or fall.
Much like the original Valk, version 4 boasts the same command points and action points gameplay system. Command points show you how many actions you can make per turn, whereas action points are relative to each individual unit (later on you can buddy-up groups to your sergeants for extra fun). You can only move/shoot freely until that unit’s meter runs dry, with certain units capable of moving faster/farther, adding extra tactical depth. Using your CP and AP wisely is vital to dominating the blasted Imperial Army.
Valk 4 also offers up a buffet of extras, including levelling up character classes, weapon creation, tank/APC improvements, and, best of all, squad building, which functions exactly as you’d imagine while opening up extra cutscenes and fights. All of the above add to the rich expanse of customisation available to the player, really helping to suck you into the story and gameplay on the whole.
Gawping at Valk 4 is simply sublime, too, amigos. The gorgeous watercolour style evokes a lost storybook feel, adding emotional depth to the characters and the horrors of war. It’s not just the perfectly animated and drawn characters and sets, but the tea-stained map and comic book bright text of moving foes in the command segments, all working in unison to add that extra layer of visual polish and personality.
We’re not finished with the positives yet, as you can also add the game’s audio into the mix (WHAT. A. PUN). Sweeping, swooping strings and stupendous orchestration follow Squad-E’s ups and downs perfectly, whilst the voice acting is charmingly corny.
As much as we’ve enjoyed Valk 4, we’d be fool not to point out a couple of its flaws. The many, many, MANY cutscenes can leave you feeling foie-gras’d (you bet your rectum that’s a verb), as it often feels like you’re never going to get into an actual battle. It doesn’t help that voiceovers move too slowly to keep up with the subtitles, seeing us jam the A button on the reg in order to speed through another scene of Claude feeling emo about his weakling past (Scaredy Claude is his nickname, in spite of being in charge). There’s also no getting away from the fact that a Japanese-centric third-person strategy RPG is just an insy bit niche…
Despite those minor negatives, we came away thoroughly entertained by Valkyria Chronicles 4. Its tactics and combat are fun; the characters and story sway between cliche, humourous and melancholy; and the audio-visual presentation is outstanding. We’ve been blessed with some cracking games already this year, but personally, this goes straight to number one for little-old-me. A Dreamcastian delight: thanks Sega.
There’s a fine art to taking a beloved franchise and using it as a base to produce something new that can stand alone. Whether it’s The Last Jedi dividing a fanatical Star Wars audience or the latest superhero flick not being true to its source material, the process is fraught with danger and potential fan backlash. How reassuring to our faith in humanity then that Two Point Hospital is every bit the worthy standard bearer for a welcome return to the 90s’ management sim boom.
Two Point Hospital is every bit the worthy standard bearer for a welcome return to the 90s’ management sim boom.
A major plus this time around is that you have multiple locations to manage, so you can always revisit an earlier level and beef it up with more advanced equipment and items to boost your overall organisation's revenue. This metagame is a welcome addition, but, so far, hasn't seen different locations interact or crossover.
Repetition and busywork are the quickest way to kill the fun in a simulation game, but fortunately, thanks to the slow introduction of mechanics and a startling amount of depth when you start to dig into the more detailed menus on the information tab, Two Point manages not to be afflicted with this disease.
Given there are humans responsible for Theme Hospital involved with the project, it's no surprise that this and probably every other review mentions the game's connection to what was a mainstay of 90s PC gaming. Despite that, Two Point proudly stands on its own, with more than enough fresh ideas to make it feel like an entirely new game.
There are a few foibles to throw amongst the superlatives, however: AI behaviour of characters can be questionable at times, and in some aspects there's a lot of manual clicking of items to make sure they’re dealt with - particularly for the janitors, even though you can manually enable and disable specific tasks.
Other elements seem very much up to chance as well, such as the panic-inducing emergency requests, which see six or eight patients with the same condition come in for treatment at the same time. In these instances, it often doesn't seem to matter how slick an operation you’re running - there are always casualties. You might have a plus-sized ward with enough empty beds and a more than capable senior nurse, boasting the relevant treatment specialist skills, but still find patients dropping dead on you. A less than encouraging outcome.
Still, these moments are few and far between, and the potential to add in new elements post-launch is now far more likely than in the CD-ROM era.
If you're looking for a surprising diagnosis for this game, then you'll need a second opinion, as we're here to confirm - despite a few minor flaws - that the Two Point fever sweeping Steam right now is every bit as intoxicatingly contagious as it's cracked up to be. If they'd got the original tannoy voice back, it might somehow be even better.
Masters of Anima is a charming action strategy game in the vein of Pikmin and Overlord, where the player guides a young man named Otto on a quest to save his betrothed.
Excellent balance is struck between the game's three key pillars in exploration, puzzle solving and combat.
Stocking up on a certain type of Guardian as a situation dictates - bow-wielding Sentinels for a boss that cuts a swathe through melee fighters, for example - can help to secure not just victory, but a pat on the back and some extra experience points too. You receive a letter grading at the end of each engagement, with the lofty S rank often taking a few failed practice attempts to reach.
Upgrading Guardians can help to make them useful in more situations, but with skill points shared between each class and Otto himself, deciding where to invest them can take a bit of thought; luckily, you can respec as many times as you like between levels in order to really nail the perfect loadout. Replaying stages will net you extra experience to keep improving your build, which is a nice little motivator to do so, as is the opportunity to improve upon letter gradings and gather any remaining collectibles.
Outside of the odd technical performance dip and a few proofreading oversights (just note that we were playing a pre-release version), Masters of Anima is a game that’s very easy to admire. Rich with personality and considered design, joining Otto on his quest is a no-brainer for fans of the often overlooked action strategy genre.
Following in the footsteps of Battlezone 98 Redux, the second game in Rebellion’s classic PC strategy series has now been lavished with the same spa treatment. Originally released nearly two decades ago, Combat Commander’s remaster expectedly shows a few cracks, but an intriguing blend of RTS and FPS mechanics still make for some uniquely exciting skirmishes.
Combat Commander’s remaster shows a few cracks, but an intriguing blend of RTS and FPS mechanics still make for some uniquely exciting skirmishes.
Not all of the changes are to your advantage, though. Obviously you can’t just jump back to your base of operations or an outpost that’s under attack in Combat Commander, upping tension and encouraging a careful approach.
While very subtle tweaks help the gameplay to endure, changes on the visual front are a little more drastic. The game simultaneously looks sharp and slightly retro, clearly being a modernisation of aged assets in place of genuine current design, which there’s a certain charm to. Old school wonk like shooting a chain link fence with a standard round causing it to explode, or hilariously bad walking and on-foot death animations, don’t translate quite so well.
Having largely remained true to the original means that the remaster isn’t too taxing to run. Its range of graphics options ensured we had no problem maintaining 1080p/60FPS on a GTX 1060, though it’s possible to reach the heights of 4K resolution and a higher unlocked frame rate with a more powerful rig. Unfortunately, Combat Commander is less technically accommodating elsewhere, with alt + tabbing causing temporary choppiness, and badly implemented controller support.
On the solo front, Instant Action mode caters to an itchy trigger finger, while the lengthy campaign slowly introduces new concepts to players across 24 varied missions. Set in the 1990s, the discovery of a hostile alien race dubbed Scions prompts the US and Russia to combine forces. You play Lieutenant Cooke of the International Space Defence Force (ISDF) and embark on an interplanetary crusade that’ll lead you down one of two branching paths dependant on a pivotal decision.
The narrative is really what you make of it, delivered through introspective loading screen monologues, written briefs and audio logs that it’s up to you to interact with. Jarringly untouched cutscenes are fortunately a rarity, but worse is the often inaudible mission chatter that gets drowned out by obnoxious sound effects, even after lowering audio levels.
The game simultaneously looks sharp and slightly retro, which there’s a certain charm to.
While hopping between six planets provides a welcome change in scenery now and again, differences in mission parameters aren’t always as easy to appreciate. Combat Commander’s campaign can stray from its strengths, dumping you in an on-foot stealth section, or tasking you with building a base then not allowing you to make use of it. Throw instances of generally poor design into the mix, like needing to leave the area you’re defending to proximity trigger enemies, or placing a particularly difficult section at the very end of a long stretch when the game has no checkpointing, and some outings are a recipe for frustration.
They aren’t all bad - a few objectives are particularly good fun, in fact - but with the multiplayer suite there’s less chance of being let down. Up to 14 players can compete and cooperate locally via LAN or online with cross-play between Steam and GOG Galaxy. Eight modes include the conventional Strategy game type, Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and also more more outlandish undertakings like Loot (steal as much money as possible from a bank) and Race.
You may struggle to find active servers for anything other than Strategy and cooperative Online Instant Action, in which a group of players wage war with challenging AI, but already having ‘dead’ game types doesn’t throw up too many concerns about longevity. With modifiers available to hosts, an endless supply of maps thanks to an extensive editing tool, plus mod and add-on support that anyone can get to grips with, the Battlezone player base has a lot at their disposal.
Much like Rogue Trooper Redux before it, in being ahead of its time in many ways, Rebellion ensured that Combat Commander would remain engaging for future audiences way back when. Its central coupling of genres is still genius, but a concept now held back by some dated execution.
Since leaving Steam Early Access just over two years ago, Red Hook Studios’ aptly titled dungeon crawler has made its way to a number of platforms. Nintendo Switch users are the latest glory hunters to be offered the opportunity to test their mettle, but is this dungeon worth delving?
Outside of a PC, this has to be the best way to enjoy the game.
The risk of forever losing a favourite character, coupled with a hefty amount of information to absorb, can at first seem a little daunting, but push past the opening hours of uncertainty and you’ll be rewarded with a solid, tactical RPG filled with rich, atmospheric environments, unforgiving-yet-satisfying combat and some of the best accompanying narration heard in gaming.
So, after recently releasing on Nintendo Switch, a console that combines many of the advantages offered by the other devices the game calls home - the portability and touchscreen capabilities of the PS Vita or an iPad, the home console experience of a PS4 – is Nintendo’s hybrid the ultimate platform on which to enjoy Darkest Dungeon?
Considering this is the third iteration of the game to arrive on a console, Darkest Dungeon still feels very much like a title that’s been designed first and foremost with mouse and keyboard in mind. Menus aren’t the easiest to navigate with a standard controller setup, and often require awkward button combinations to open stat screens and sub menus. Handheld mode alleviates this somewhat by allowing you to utilise the Switch’s touch screen, but playing this way also comes with a couple of caveats.
Darkest Dungeon and its blend of gothic horror and engrossing fantasy adventure is an excellent and most welcome addition to the Switch’s rapidly expanding roster.
As we found during our time with Severed, the shape, weight and balance of the Switch doesn’t lend itself well to combined Joy-Con/touch screen control for any lengthy amount of time. In addition to that, the already small text and menu icons shrink even further when viewed in handheld mode and can be quite difficult to read, though Red Hook recently stated they’re looking into resolving this issue after receiving player feedback.
In spite of these drawbacks, Darkest Dungeon and its blend of gothic horror and engrossing fantasy adventure is an excellent and most welcome addition to the Switch’s rapidly expanding roster of games. Outside of a PC, this has to be the best way to enjoy the game, effortlessly merging the home and portable experiences offered singularly by other platforms.
Filled with the genre-blending goodness that propelled the original to cult classic status, Hand of Fate 2 is equal parts dungeon crawling RPG, collectable card game, board game, and interactive Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You sit opposite the enigmatic Dealer, who, fittingly, lays bare your fate with his hand of tarot cards.
The game poses a variety of scenarios and leaves you to carve your own path through them, which, coupled with some evocative penmanship, makes each campaign engaging and memorable in its own right.
With freedom of approach often comes the ability to avoid them, though in dodging potential disaster you also decline potential boons. Valuable rewards include food, fame, gold and equipment, all of which can individually be integral to your continued survival.
Any weapons and armour you might gather are put to use in the game’s basic combat sections, which jarringly pull you out of your cosy sit-down with the Dealer into stripped-back, Batman Arkham-style brawls. A range of enemy types are each susceptible to different weapon classes, adding some variety that helps to invigorate things, but HUD elements that telegraph when it’s time to dodge or counter mostly make battles a breeze. Being heavily outnumbered is the one scenario you can’t approach as par for the course, as being flanked and surrounded proves intense when you consider that health is persistent and taking damage can carry very real, far-reaching consequences.
Naturally, that makes eating an axe to the mush as a result of a distracting performance dip all the more annoying. Even on Xbox One X with the settings switched from default to favour performance over resolution, Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t always run smoothly, which is somewhat baffling considering the game’s small environments and nothing-to-write-home-about visuals.
Though Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t do a huge amount in the way of innovating over its predecessor, Defiant Development have refined its winning formula, which is hard to take issue with. The game combines numerous complex systems into a cohesive and accessible whole that could well serve as a gateway into real-world tabletop gaming for many. Its tough choices prompt pause for thought and weave memorable stories that are compelling enough to keep you ploughing through, while also being self-contained and convenient to dip in and out of on a whim.
A direct sequel to 2013’s The Stick of Truth, South Park: The Fractured but Whole sees players reprise their role as the titular mountain town’s New Kid, only this time, swords and sorcery give way to capes and ridiculous superpowers.
It’s classic South Park stuff - intentionally basic visuals and all - packed with the sort of crude humour, plot twists and biting satire that fans of the show know and love.
Battles in Fractured still follow the turn-based structure found in The Stick of Truth, but now offer players (and enemies) greater tactical freedom by allowing them to move around the battlefield on a grid. Rather than simply queuing up and kicking lumps out of each other, it’s now possible - with enough careful planning and the right mix of heroes - to surround and outmanoeuvre enemies, or even dodge their ranged attacks.
This new freedom is put to particularly good use in boss battles, creating some memorable fights. Highlights include outrunning an obese stripper and her one-hit-kill crush attack, simultaneously clearing a path through her minions, and a showdown with a sober Towlie, who’s immune to your attacks and instead must be pacified by igniting cannabis stores placed around the arena.
A range of QTEs crop up both when dealing out and defending against damage to boost outgoing or mitigate incoming punishment, as well as helping to build a meter that, once full, unleashes an over-the-top special attack that’s equally entertaining and devastating.
Before a fight, players can tactically select up to three other members of Coon and Friends to battle alongside them, providing you’ve already unlocked them as a buddy and aren’t on a mission that requires a specific set of characters. Finding the right team may take a bit of trial and error, as there are quite a few options to choose from, but most people should be able to assemble a preferred combination that compliments their play style nicely.
Some of your allies also have powers that can be used outside of combat to reach secret areas hidden around South Park. As an example, you can activate the Human Kite’s flying ability wherever you see a pinwheel, allowing you to reach previously inaccessible areas and rewards, such as new hero costumes and Artefacts (the latter enhancing passive powers and boosting your Might, which makes missions easier). It’s something that helps stop mundanity creeping in as you track your way back and forth across the limited reaches of the town, but, luckily, Jimmy returns to offer another fast travel option that makes things easier on that front.
The Fractured but Whole was always going to be packed with comedy gold, but buried underneath all the fart jokes and political incorrectness is an engrossing and hugely enjoyable strategy RPG.
Although you’re cast as the Amazing Butthole, whose legendary flatulence can be used to interrupt enemy attacks and even bend time, players are able to customise their avatar both visually and on a deeper level, specifically across hero classes and a range of abilities spread between brawler, speed and support archetypes. As you make progress more and more classes begin to open up, and you’re free to combine multiple, though you still only ever have four ability slots no matter how many you’re rocking, not counting your special attack.
It’s worth noting that you’re never locked into a choice, as you’re able to visit Cartman in Coon and Friends’ headquarters to switch out classes should you have a change of heart or just want to experiment with everything that’s on offer.
The Fractured but Whole was always going to be a faithful title packed with comedy gold, which is, to be fair, probably the main appeal for many, but it was surprising (maybe because I didn’t play The Stick of Truth) to find that buried underneath all the fart jokes and political incorrectness is an engrossing and hugely enjoyable strategy RPG.