Have you ever said to yourself that, “I’d knee-cap my own grandmother for a cyberpunk re-skin of X-Com that allowed me to deck out a street samurai in leather Lederhosen and orange flip-flops”? If so, THIS IS YOUR TICKET!!!
Against my better judgment, I decided to get in on this Early Access with a mediocre steam rating, which was my first. Even though the reviews had been mixed and it's a $30 title, what this game is trying to achieve is pretty much within the territory of “dream game” for me personally.
With that in mind, the bottom line is that I have no regrets on dropping the $30. This is a 3-D isometric, turn based tactical game with short objective based missions. The missions are streamlined and simple but well crafted, which is not a negative to me, as it lends itself very well to quick 15-20 gaming sessions. The balance was really well done with my successful runs being nail biters and there being lots of potential to get your tail kicked if you come at them wrong (LOTS).
From a gameplay perspective, comparisons to ‘Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall’ and ‘X-Com: Enemy Unknown’ are useful. Both of those are superior titles to this overall, but if you love the setting of Shadowrun and the gameplay of X-Com I think you would be very pleased at least with where the game is going if not where it is now.
The combat here is less polished than in X-COM, but its much more like X-Com than SRR in that everyone is quite fragile and sound tactics are required to complete missions. Characters will generally get hit two or maybe three times before going down and certain enemies can be one-shot'd; this builds a heck of a lot of tension and intensity. While Dragonfall has intricate combat with lots of options that I enjoyed quite a bit, its slow paced and very forgiving of bad tactics as no single action is critical to the outcome of the individual firefights. SRR has very long story-oriented missions, so the combat had to be more attrition based with characters able to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment, sometimes seeing someone get hit with an assault rifle and it degrading their hit points by 8% at the extreme end (not to mention the med-kit mule and shaman spam healing at your disposal).
Conversely, in SRO, when you get hit with an assault rifle burst, you’re often like, “DREK!!! there goes the run!”, which pushes this to be a much purer sort of tactical game where every game-turn of combat has the potential to end in disaster. This works really well from a gameplay perspective given that the missions are short and sweet, so its not like you "wasted" 45 minutes when a mission goes pear shaped.
AI - The behavior of the enemies is solid; part of it might be the level design as they don’t have too many decisions to make, but they’re making rational choices with missile armed enemies playing it conservatively and making good use of cover while the melee troops rush you.
Multiplayer/Singleplayer? – I just want to confirm that you CAN play this as a singleplayer game with full control over your squad. Being able to play with others is obviously a huge plus, but if you were wondering, yes, you can play the missions by yourself too.
Bugs – I’ve only experienced graphical glitch type bugs and I once got stuck in the conversation with the fixer for about a minute (macbook Pro, OSX 10.9.5). Once or twice there was an issue with what looked like LOS obstructing cover being shot through, though it was kind if a gray area near a corner. But there have been zero CTDs or anything more serious like that. I’m quite pleased with the stability for an Early Access title.
The main gripe is really just “needs more content and polish” as the design decisions all seem very sound so far. Adding more story and nuance to at least some of the missions would be a plus too (though I wouldn’t want to see the short and sweet aspect of the missions dropped). Immersion and atmosphere could be enhanced with better use of dialog. Some of the effects and animations would be areas for improvement from a graphics perspective. But, overall, there’s really nothing I dislike about the core gameplay.
So, I would not recommend that everyone just jump into this game or say that its truly worth $30 at this point, but if what I’m looking for in a game resonates with you and you’ve got some patience for an early access game, I would say to go ahead and take the plunge.
Edit to add: This review was written for the December build and is now a bit obsolete after the February update. I'll change the whole review here at some point later but I would say that currently the game is more polished than I was discussing here but also quite a bit easier. With med kits, armor, larger skill trees, drones, new weapons and so on, the missions are a lot less difficult as of now (the developers say that they want the game on the harder side so this point is surely in flux).
While it was a great update with lots of content, I don't like that aspect and thought I needed to say something here to keep this review more accurate.