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Shock Tactics Preview

I recently had the chance to meet with Point Blank Games' Leonard Kausch, to check out his teams upcoming PC title, Shock Tactics. Is it something to get excited for or just another Squad-based Shooter?

Shock Tactics is a tactical, squad lead, turn based RTS (that's Real Time Strategy to those of you unfamiliar with the genre). It takes a lot of inspiration from the X-Com series and utilises your surroundings to gain cover, break line of sight and plan your next route of attack, while at the same time forcing you to learn about your units as you discover their strengths and weaknesses.

You play the Trailblazers - Space Pioneers sent out to explore a newly discovered Alien planet. The objective is to explore this Alien world in search of Alien Artifacts that will help in the creation of advanced technology, all while battling invading Space Pirates, Alien creatures and your rival faction, The Imperial Consortium. Why are these Alien Artifacts so important, though? Well, they're the key items needed for upgrading your base, team equipment and weapons.

If you can upgrade your base, is the base building fully customisable? The short answer is no. While Shock Tactics does have a form of base building, it doesn't allow for you to choose where your new buildings can be placed, though I don't feel such a feature would be essential here. The purpose behind the base building in Shock Tactics is to decide what you'd like to upgrade first (depending on how you want to advance your character and who you wish to prioritise) and then when your base comes under attack, whichever building you've just built will act as a new tactical vantage point, offering a new area for traversal and a new set of obstacles to tactically work your way around and through.

There are a number of different units within the game and each come with their own advantages, disadvantages and skill trees. Snipers have the highest chance of scoring a headshot and serve you well as Scouts, though if you're up against enemy Snipers you'll want to keep moving, because it just takes two turns and you're dead. This is because of the way enemy Snipers work. It takes a turn to target you, but once you're in their targets, if you stay there, you're dead next turn. So, the idea is to keep moving, aggressively pushing yourself forward, while simultaneously trying to break line of sight in your search for cover/a more tactically advantageous spot around the map. Worth noting is that your Heavy unit is the only unit under your control that can survive a Sniper shot.

As much as I love Snipers, the Light Gunner unit was my favourite, because while they're exploring you can set them to guard on Overwatch. This allows your men to wait at the ready for any incoming threats and as soon as they move into your threatened space/proximity, they trigger your men into firing a barrage of bullets at them, usually killing anything daring enough to approach.

With a strong focus on an aggressive style of gameplay, movement is arguably the most important part of Shock Tactics. The battlefield will show you how far each Squad member can move through the use of a coloured/outlined barrier. Anything within the primary coloured area will allow you to move and shoot, while anything outside of that will allow you to push yourself to move further than normal, at the expense of your attack action. So while you're holding down an area, you can send a couple of your other men to move in fast, readying themselves for a full on assault in the next round or two. It's all about thinking ahead as you attempt to outsmart the opposing AI.

Once you've researched some Alien technology, you're able to utilise a new set of abilities, with the most notable one I saw being teleportation. The teleportation function allows you to teleport one character/unit multiple times in a single round. You can use this to move and attack a number of times, or just simply gain the upper-hand by moving to a more advantageous position or lookout point that was otherwise out of reach.

Is Shock Tactics challenging? As a gamer, it's hard for me to say without actually having a hands-on with the title, but it certainly sounds challenging enough. The way you recruit more people into your team is fairly simple. To do this, you will need to find, reach and save one of the potential new recruits in any of the missions they appear. This is usually done by getting your squad to them and defeating the incoming threat before they can kill your team or the new recruit you're wishing to enlist.

The difficulty comes in when you start losing men, because once one of your troops are dead, that's it. They're gone for good. This is good and bad. It's bad because if you've got this one guy who you've been upgrading for a long time and grown attached to, when he dies it's going to hurt and make you feel rather sore. Yet, on the flip side it's good because poor decisions previously made force you into making more intelligent decisions to minimise your losses as you fight to prevent situations of the past from ever occurring again. I also know some of you love a good challenge, so I asked if it was possible to just let your men die (further increasing the challenge) and although it's possible to fight your way through with just one or two Squad members, it's recommended to have a full team of men. That is, if you intend on finishing the campaign. Still, it's always fun to set yourself a ridiculous challenge and see how far you can get.

Each Unit/Squad member has two weapon slots at the loadout screen. This allows for you to equip two weapon types - One Ballistic and one Laser. The customisation in the game looked pretty good too, allowing you to change the colour scheme and patterns of your armour for each individual Squad member you control. This is good because it helps give your men an identity, so you know exactly who you're looking for on the battlefield and where to find them. If you want your Sniper to be bright pink, well you're not going to miss him are you?

The team behind Shock Tactics is based in Berlin and comprised of just seven people. This is a game made by gamers. Just speaking to Leonard, it was easy to see the amount of passion behind this project and for such a small team, it's a very impressive title.

Though a release date is yet to be confirmed, Shock Tactics is due out on PC in the not too distant future and I'm looking forward to trying it out for myself.

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