by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
You are a part of the first wave of explorers that have landed on a new alien planet. On it, you discover new resources, fight back against alien creatures, pirates and more, and try to uncover the mysteries of the planet that you now call home. And all the while, you have to try and find the answer to one, pivotal question: Why are the enemy soldiers charging my covered position for no real reason?
Shock Tactics is a turn-based tactical game developed by Point Blank Games that takes plenty of inspiration from the venerable XCOM series in design. You control a squad of soldiers on an alien planet, fighting against a variety of enemies while simultaneously managing your operation from a strategic perspective. Trust me, if you’ve played XCOM, you know exactly what type of game Shock Tactics is going to be.
And if you have played XCOM, you know that the series has a very high level of polish that places it head and shoulders above its competitors in both design and tension. It is complex, with a high degree of customizable options for your soldiers and base, with a number of different, effective options to handle any given combat situation. While there is no shame in borrowing elements from a well known franchise, Shock Tactics does little to deviate from XCOM’s formula, and makes its own mistakes in the process
Take the standard gameplay of Shock Tactics as an example. In a typical battle, you control a small squad of soldiers tasked with completing an objective, be that killing a certain number of enemies or defeating a certain boss. Soldiers use a set amount of action points, which can be used to either move a set distance, sprint beyond their normal movement range, or to perform any of a number of actions, such as firing your gun or entering into Overwatch mode, which will cause your soldier to fire at the first sign of enemy movement on their turn. Standard stuff for a turn-based tactical game.
Problems emerge quickly however, as the AI does not exhibit any sense of actual intelligence in their programming. Rather than hiding behind cover or performing flanking manoeuvrers, enemies in Shock Tactics seem wholly devoted to rushing your soldier’s positions the moment they enter cover, even if it is not a viable option. Considering that Overwatch mode often results in more accurate results than simply firing your weapon, firefights quickly devolve into placing all of your soldiers on Overwatch and mowing down the waves of enemies that rush you. There is no pleasure to be gained from killing enemies in this way, with the game’s level design often compounding this frustration with randomly generated levels that feature wide open stretches without cover, secluding your soldiers to one section of the map.
Randomness is also a major factor in combat, a factor that seems to be extremely biased towards the AI. There have been multiple situations where a character has a better shot at hitting an enemy from medium to long range than if they are literally standing directly next to them. I don’t expect every single shot with a 90 percent chance to hit to actually hit, but instances such as this encourage abuse of Overwatch, which in turn creates a bland experience.
Shock Tactics starts to get interesting when the game switches to a strategic overview. While the base building option is functional, albeit boring and lacking character, the world map allows you to command a vehicle to explore different hexes to secure new resources for upgrades and to tackle new missions. As it takes one day to travel across a hex, you must carefully plot your route to create an ideal path to your objectives in order to succeed. This level of strategic thinking was welcome, and though it is not varied, it did provide a nice distraction from the more banal combat.
The game’s presentation could have elevated it past the mistakes found in its gameplay, but it ultimately comes across as a generic science fiction story with no real punch behind it. The art, from the soldiers to the planet itself, is not memorable in the slightest, partially because there is little customization in the case of the soldiers themselves. This, in turn, affects the story, which is littered with cliche, stock phrases and serves as an excuse plot for the player to shoot aliens and generic mercenaries. As a side note, the voice acting is uniformly bad in English, with characters enunciating words improperly and placing the wrong emphasis on different parts of a sentence. It’s not a major criticism, but it is distracting.
Ultimately, Shock Tactics is a bland and forgettable game that did little to engender itself to me in any way, shape or form. While the AI is particularly bad, the rest of the game does not try and elevate its mechanics and presentation into something that is more than just a copy of XCOM.
Explorable world is interesting
Horrid AI, bland gameplay and presentation