by Zee Salahuddin
previewed on PC
Telepaths, XCOMs and FTL Ships
Telepath Tactics is a turn-based strategy title from the mind of Craig Stern and developed by Sinister Studios. Its core can be likened to both Faster Than Light (FTL), and XCOM: Enemy Within, but for vastly different reasons, albeit all the right reasons. If you have been looking to invest in a Kickstarter title worthy of your hard-earned doubloons, look no further.
Telepath Tactics has been designed in a flash-based engine, which requires a tiny download and quick Adobe AIR installation. In a nutshell, it features a single-player campaign, 2-to-6 multiplayer, and a very robust map editor. It is set in a fantasy world with its own twisted sense of identity. There are humans, but no elves, dwarves or orcs. There are knights, but they ride on what can only be described as battle-locusts. There are supernatural abilities, but not magic. There is technology, but not in the conventional sense, as it is powered through steampunk contraptions dependent on an unstable, crystalline substance called vibra.
Simplicity on the Single-player Surface
The press demo features a single-player campaign that takes place in the fictional Dundar Archipelago. Eight hundred years ago, the story goes, the ambitious Ser Gilliam Dundar tore through the lands, conquering all and uniting them under the Dundar banner. Your story starts on the disputed island of Kovit.
The first thing that strikes you is the digital art that surrounds you. It reminded me of the retro-style of FTL, another fantastic Kickstarted game from 2012. Telepath Tactics ignores hyper-realistic graphics in favour of gorgeous hand-made pixel art. This is good because it implies the development team is working hard on tweaking and perfecting the excellent underlying system, rather than using sheen and surface polish to... wait for it... gloss us over. Pun intended.
The single-player campaign, though dawdled by a tutorial, and limited by the confines of the demo, gives a decent look into what is in store for when the game launches. Keeping in line with the retro-theme, events unfold for you via scrolling in-game text. This may be difficult to comprehend and relate to for the modern, twitch-obsessed generation of instant gratification. However, I found it to be refreshing and perhaps even more engaging than the overly explicit nature of contemporary video game narrative.
Complexity Beneath the Single-player Surface
There are twenty-two classes of combatants to choose from for your army. Some of the classes require no clarification, such as Bowmen, Assassins and Healers. Others, such as the Skiakineticist, a psychic warrior with shadow-based attacks, require some explaining. Engineers, as usual, can build bridges, lay explosives and create previously impossible battlefield opportunities. Terrain height can be used to your advantage, applying bonuses to your attacks.
The environment presents additional tactical opportunities, with walls that can be used to protect, but can also be demolished, pools of water and lava that enemies can be forced into, or cliffs to kick opponents off of, while yelling “This. Is. Koviiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” in your head. Position matters, as you can be backstabbed and flanked. There are several debilitating effects that can be used to disable and demoralize the enemy, such as blindness, burning and stuns. All things considered, a typical game of Telepath Tactics is similar to an all-out fight with the aliens in XCOM, where the environment, positioning, flanking and height all come into play in a turn-based battlefield.
Murderous Multiplayer and Muscular Map Editor
The game will feature 2-to-6 player (or AI controlled) multiplayer, with standard modes like deathmatch and capture the flag. There are several additional options available to spice up the matches, such as the ability to toggle fog of war, imposing a time limit on turns (15 seconds to no limit), or adjusting army constraints. Coupled with the list of battlefield opportunities explored in the section prior, this should make for some memorable multiplayer mayhem.
The map editor is a truly robust feature of Telepath Tactics. It allows you to create new battlefields, entirely new characters, items or even attacks. You can introduce new tilesets, or define your own destructible objects on the terrain. The map editor even allows you to create and launch entirely new and original single-player campaigns. This is almost poetic. For a game that is crowd-funded, it is only appropriate that it should feature crowd-powered longevity and replay value.
But all of this will be an exercise in futility if the game never reaches its funding goals. At the time this preview is published, the first Kickstarter for developing the game has failed, but the developer promised to launch another campaign in March this year. Telepath Tactics promises a return to the turn-based strategy of old, and it does so with a lot of character and positive attitude, while eliminating much fluff and pretence. It deserves to see the light of day.