Monday, November 29, 2010

Grotesque Tactics - Evil Heroes Review

Grotesque Tactics - Evil Heroes, developed by Silent Dreams and published by Meridian 4.
The Good: Combat emphasizes terrain and takes place directly on quest map, distinctive characters with varied skills
The Not So Good: Linear campaign with repetitive objectives and laborious dialogue, limited special abilities produce uninspired combat, easy, no cooperative play
What say you? A lighter approach to role-playing is short on features and depth: 5/8

The comedy role-playing game is in full force. After too many RPGs have taken themselves far too seriously, a band of merry men...err, games have taken it upon themselves to lighten up the mood. Recently, the Japanese import Recettear offered up a more humorous take on venturing out into the wilds in search for riches and/or adventure. Next is German import Grotesque Tactics - Evil Heroes, which features tactical battles of a grotesque nature. On with the grotesqueness!

Grotesque Tactics features decent graphics for a budget-level indie title. The game utilizes a high angle camera that I found initially to be weird: it’s somewhere between isometric and top-down, and you can’t change the angle (just the zoom level). The problem I have with it is that trees and other objects commonly restrict your view, hiding things more often than they should be (which is “never”). The graphics run the gamut from “bright” to “dark,” with ten varied environments you will encounter along the way. The character models are OK: though small and lacking a lot of detail, they do exhibit decent animations. The spell effects in Grotesque Tactics can be nice. On the sound front, you get no voiced dialogue (lots of reading! yay!) but pleasing background music and appropriate, if repetitive, battle sounds. In the end, I was neither pleased nor disappointed by the presentation of Grotesque Tactics.

In Grotesque Tactics, you lead a group of warriors against the forces of evil, and possible some Evil Heroes. The campaign is too static: the initial enemy locations are scripted and the path to each objective is rarely varied, although you can approach them differently to an extent. The quests are very combat-oriented, as you fight the next set of enemies as you traverse across the map to the objective location. Travel is made more speedy by using time acceleration: a nice feature. Treasure chests are occasionally scattered throughout the landscape, although I did not note any randomization in this area. There are only ten maps in the game, one of which is the headquarters city for healing, dealing with merchants, and getting new quests. The difficulty is fairly low, and with no way to increase the challenge, allowing your two main characters to survive is an easy task. Grotesque Tactics features a lot of conversation, more than I care to enjoy. This means there is a whole bunch of reading to be done, as none of it is voiced. Thankfully, you can skip past dialogue with a quick right-click. Unfortunately, you might miss an important piece of information if you do so: clicker beware. The dialogue is intended to be humorous, but maybe it’s funnier in German (everything is funnier in German). It does reference a lot of fantasy games and movies (like Lord of the Rings) and occasionally made me chuckle, but overall it just didn’t hit me as being a highlight of the game. There is the occasional conversation puzzle, but they aren’t as interesting or dynamic as, say, Alpha Protocol. Grotesque Tactics does feature some memorable characters that run the gamut of role-playing archetypes. Sadly, you can’t team up with other humans, as Grotesque Tactics lacks cooperative multiplayer. In addition, it lacks anything beside the campaign, so there are no randomized skirmish battles or user-designed content to enjoy after you are finished with the main quests.

Grotesque Tactics is a role-playing game and has the usual role-playing features. Each of your characters has ratings in attack, defense, magic, resistance, dexterity, and movement. These increase over time with experience through combat: leveling up unlocks two more attacks and better stats. Wait, two more attacks? That’s it? Yeah, Grotesque Tactics sacrifices individual depth for lots of characters, so the game really doesn’t become all that interesting until you’ve encountered all of your teammates (there are nine total) in the course of the campaign. Each character has health, mana (for the two additional attacks), and obsession: when filled, it automatically triggers a special ability. Yeah, automatically. That automation removes a lot of strategic depth, as you should be able to use it at your discretion once the meter is full. The interface is also inefficient: you can’t double-click to perform the most appropriate action (attack or talk, in most cases). Instead, you must click on the target and then click on the action bar (or use a hotkey). This extra step becomes quite tedious after a while. Finally, Grotesque Tactics only has three equipment slots to fill (one weapon, one piece of armor, and one piece of jewelry), so your options there are quite limited. As you can tell by the amount of italics in this paragraph, the role-playing aspects of Grotesque Tactics definitely have some room for improvement.

Probably (and sadly) the best part of Grotesque Tactics is that the tactical battles take place on the same map as the quests, using the terrain you encounter along the way. The game switches between “explore” mode, where you move to the next group of enemies and unlock treasure chests along the way, and “combat” mode. You can see all of the enemies along the way, so there aren’t any surprise encounters. The combat itself is turn-based, and the game always displays the order in which people will move and attack. Success is a matter of picking your targets and using the terrain to your advantage, as certain tiles will grant a defensive or ranged bonus that will be key when you engage superior numbers of enemies that will quickly have you surrounded. The game indicates places you can move to in blue, and enemies you can attack in red. If you choose to attack, the game moves you against your will directly in front of the enemy, possibly to a tile with a lower defensive rating. Your combat options aren’t terribly varied: attack, defend, plus the two special attacks that are unlocked with experience. The automated special abilities are varied, though: poison, sleeping, blinding, improved armor, and more. The enemies you will encounter range from melee fighters to ranged archers to magical mages to giants and elite units, providing different challenges along the way. The AI always outnumbers you, but the challenge never becomes insurmountable. Your enemies move in predictable patterns and never show signs of true intelligence, simply attacking the closest target. Grotesque Tactics is far more interesting the further you go in the campaign, since you have more units with more skills, but there are too many areas of concern to make this a recommended title.

Grotesque Tactics - Evil Heroes needs to be more complete: the tactical battles can be interesting later in the campaign, but the path to that point is linear and repetitive, apart from some freedom in choosing the order of targets during each mission. The base of the game is just fine: the turn-based combat utilizes the terrain well and you can engage varied enemies using a number of special abilities and attacks. Unfortunately, that number is “two”, and special abilities are automatically triggered with no input from the user. This decreases the strategic depth of the game immensely, though Grotesque Tactics becomes more interesting when you have your full party of nine warriors available simply because of the increased variety of actions. Undesired positioning before combat is also objectionable, and you are quite limited in the amount of items you can equip at one time. The campaign is too linear, offering up the same encounters each time you play. The mission objectives are almost always to reach some target unit by defeating all of the enemies along the way. Like a lot of role-playing games, there is a lot of text dialogue to ignore and skip past, though it is occasionally humorous. Once you are done with the campaign, there isn’t anything else to do, as Grotesque Tactics lacks cooperative multiplayer and random skirmish battles. Typical role-playing features abound: experience unlocks more attacks and better stats, and there are new items to find during quests. While Grotesque Tactics isn’t technically a bad game, it just doesn’t offer enough to differentiate itself from the large swarm of role-playing titles.