Monday, January 03, 2011

Reckless Squad Review

Reckless Squad, developed and published by D2P Games.
The Good: Varied units with enemy-specific attacks, randomly generated maps
The Not So Good: Simple massed armies is usually enough for victory, can't attack and move simultaneously, vague enemy weaknesses, can’t save progress
What say you? An inverse on the typical tower defense game structure: 5/8

Because we got a little convoy, rocking through the night. Yeah, we got a little convoy: ain’t she a beautiful sight? Come on and join our convoy, ain’t nothing going to get in our way. We are going to roll this trucking convoy across the USA. Convoy! Sorry, that’s the best thing I could think of. Anyway, Reckless Squad is a kind of reverse tower defense game: here, you move your troops along a path, protecting a covered wagon (or convoy…get it?) from ultimate destruction. Let’s get this wagon train a movin’!

The graphics of Reckless Squad are typical for an independent game. Presented in 2-D, the game features simple sprites for each unit with basic, subtle animations. Combat involves watching health bars slowly decrease: while not realistic or generally exciting, it is functional. The environments you do battle in are varied (like a snowy setting complete with candy canes) but simplistic. As for the sound design, there are repetitve unit aconowledgements recycled for all of your forces, basic battle effects, and average background music. The positive thing is that Reckless Squad will function on a wide range of systems, and the simple graphics never negatively impact the gameplay.

As I said in my carefully crafted introduction (you were paying attention, weren’t you?), you are protecting a precious convoy of preciousness as it slowly traverses across hostile territory. At your disposal is a number of units, willing to help beat back the waves of oppression. Reckless Squad is strongly reminiscent of a tower defense game, except played in reverse: now, you are the ones moving along a set path on the way towards a goal. It’s a neat swap of roles that makes for a unique game idea. The game features randomly generated levels that adjust to your level of skill, adding specialized foes if you are faring well. The game also has three levels of difficulty that should test all skill levels; I found “normal” to be quite easy, and the challenge can increase as you become more adept at the mechanics. Reckless Squad also features an area mode where you can hold out for as long as possible and scripted missions that include a tutorial. I’d like to see an online scoreboard for added incentive in addition to the achievements, but intrinsic motivation is present. It’s not all good news in features land, however, as Reckless Squad lacks the ability to save your progress during a campaign.

Reckless Squad features a number of different units that you can recruit using money earned from killing and raiding treasure chests. There are basic melee units like peasants and soldiers, sneaky invisible rogues that steal cash, archers that attack from a distance, magical mages that can heal or destroy, and more powerful units like assassins, knights, and samurais. Not all of these units are available from the beginning, though, as you must progress far enough to unlock the better units intended for taking on extreme odds. You get a chance to purchase new forces every five levels or so. Additionally, you can upgrade the weapons your units wield; most items have a tradeoff, such as improved damage but a slower rate of fire. You can also choose from different types of attacks, intended to counter the more advanced enemies present along your chosen path: light, dark, fire, water, plants (huh?), and electricity. Unfortunately, Reckless Squad doesn't indicate clearly enough what the correct counter is for a specific enemy, so the supposed depth in this area is left partially to chance.

Because of some restrictions, Reckless Squad is a bit limited in strategy. And, being a strategy game, that’s a bit of a problem. It seems that units will attack automatically, as long as they are not moving. There is no “attack move” order to instruct your forces to eliminate all enemies on the way to an objective, so you have to manually queue up the killing. Reckless Squad displays all of the selected units along the bottom of the screen, making it trivially easy to select appropriate weapons and items. However, it doesn’t display all of your units, which would make it easier to organize your troops into groups. Because of this, it’s simply easier just to group everyone together and move as one giant mass, especially since magic units will use their spells automatically and some of your units will attack the enemy on their own. Reckless Squad doesn’t really feature an AI, since all of the enemy placements are determined randomly and they will always engage when you get too close. Some enemies will try to be sneaky and spawn behind you, but as long as you stick together near the wagon, everything should turn out fine.

While I like the ideas of Reckless Squad, the result is only mildly entertaining. Because the best strategy seems to be simply keeping all of your units grouped together, it’s really just a matter of moving everyone and clicking on targets along the way. The limited interface (displaying only selected units) makes this really the best way of handling the number of enemies you will encounter. While unit attack automation is definitely useful, it only works if units are stationary and it removes the micromanagement that might make Reckless Squad seem more involved. The game does provide a good mix of melee, ranged, and magic fighters, and I do like how different attack types are needed to engage different enemy; however, Reckless Squad needs to indicate more clearly the vulnerabilities of each enemy unit more clearly. Also, the limitation to only ten fighters of each type seems very arbitrary. Reckless Squad has some admirable features: randomly generated levels of varying difficulty, an infinite arena mode, and more scripted missions that include a tutorial. Strangely, you can’t save your progress, an odd limitation considering the length of the single player modes. Although I congratulate Reckless Squad on its unique elements, the game’s varying limitations in features and strategy hold it back from being a recommended title.