Last week, GameGrin had the opportunity to preview the upcoming game Shock Tactics, from developer Point Blank Games. While we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to play it, we did sit down with the game’s director Leonard Kausch for an extended 50 minute demonstration of what the game is all about.
Heavily inspired by Firaxis’ XCOM, Shock Tactics is a turn-based tactical shooter, Unlike XCOM, though, the studio wants to make it as aggressive as possible. “We try to have the player basically engage in combat 80% of the time”, says Kausch, “We want them to spend 20% of the time in the macro game, so they have to make decisions and upgrade the base, but we don’t want them to spent too much time micromanaging.”
Indeed, Shock Tactics takes that commitment to heart; the moment your troops drop into a mission, they have enemy contacts from turn one. No slow search for enemies through the fog of war, the game wants you to engage in combat and be aggressive.
The gameplay we saw focused on a rescue mission of mercenaries stranded by the evil Consortium forces. “That’s the only way to get new soldiers”, he tells me. “You’re colonising another planet looking for alien tech, so soldiers are in short supply.”
But the enemies are not, nor in quantity or variety. Shielded enemies are completely impervious to damage from the front, forcing you to maneuver around and flank them. Enemy snipers take one turn to establish their aim, but can one-shot your units the following turn if you don’t move them -- even if they are in cover. Such a focus on mobility and aggressiveness influenced loadouts and abilities, too.
“All units can use all weapons and armour, regardless of class, so players are free to choose how they will equip their squad” Leonard tells me. “You have three abilities that are class-related, and three slots that are unlocked with level and can then be trained. You can also change them later in the game.”
One of these abilities is the awesome teleportation skill, that allows your soldier to place three beacons and teleport to each of them in quick succession, shooting whichever enemy is closest to each one. Leonard utilises this to clear out half an enemy squad, before losing an allied mercenary to enemy gunfire.
Although the game is focused on aggressiveness, it is not meant to be frustrating and punishing. Whenever your soldiers die, you got three turns to reach them and stabilise their vitals, meaning they get to rest for a few days in a hospital instead of a cemetery. The campaign also keeps the difficulty slightly in check: “It starts with a tutorial, and then the player gets a story about why they’re there and it sets up the game. It tells them what they have to do, and then we basically let the player loose.” Leonard says. “He can explore the planet and choose the missions, they’re pretty free at this stage. And then, the Consortium invasion fleet is coming to the planet, and the player has 70 days to prepare. So these 70 days are like the exploration phase of the game, and after those 70 days, his outposts get attacked by the Consortium and the enemy troops get way stronger.”
That’s when the rest of the story missions kick in. “We have a set of ten story missions that guide the player through the second phase of the game.” he tells me while showing the world map. “You have the build up, the exploration phase, that is all about ‘what can I do?’, and then you got the tension, the ‘What happens when they land? What are they going to throw at me?’. And at this moment you find out if you have prepared and have enough damage and enough equipment to face them, basically.”
The team is not worried about replayability, and prefers instead to offer a great experience on the first and second playthroughs. The game is mostly handcrafted, with only the world map being procedurally generated; the missions and levels are all designed, but most can be tackled in any order the players chooses. During missions, the AI moves aggressively and seeks to box you in, meaning they don’t usually play out the same; Leonard got his squad out alive, but missed a fair number of shots and failed the mission objective during the preview.
The game has been in development for only a year, which is amazing for the level of polish it shows. “Me and Sarah (Kausch, Lead Programmer) pitched this game and made the prototype, and then we started building the team”, he tells me. ”This was February last year, and let’s say it’s been a busy year.”
As we didn’t have a chance to play, we can’t comment on gameplay, but the graphics looked good and the game ran without issues. While the sound effects were a bit boring and repetitive -- weapon fire lacked power and oomph -- the music was turned down for our talk, so I couldn’t hear it.
In the end, Shock Tactics is a promising title. It clearly wears its XCOM influences on its sleeve, and that is a good thing -- if you are going to be inspired by a game, might as well be inspired by one of the best. Look forward to GameGrin's review of Shock Tactics when it comes out sometime in Spring.