One of the many titles with demos available as part of Steam’s Next Fest event is Yokaicade’s Ignited Steel: Mech Tactics. This was always a title to watch, and we listed it as one of our top 20 indie games to look forward to in 2022. With the release date just weeks away and a demo ready to play, I can confidently say that the hype is real.
In this roguelike tactical game, the Humanixy Corporation has deployed its PharOS AI in a bid for galactic dominance. PharOS has overtaken every piece of advanced military hardware in known space, rendering planets helpless to resist the company’s takeover. In a desperate bid to stop the attack, Commander Igret Soryu orders the recommission and deployment of Omega-series mechs – centuries-old rustbuckets that predate AI integration and are therefore immune to PharOS’ hacking. With a handful of badly outdated mechs and a ragtag group of pilots, you’ll travel from planet to planet fighting against PharOS’ forces.
At each planet along your journey, you’ll take your small squadron of mechs to the surface for a mission. Many times you’ll just need to eliminate all enemies you encounter, but there are more complicated objectives as well. You might need to destroy or defend key generators or reach an area of the map before a specific turn.
You can activate your mechs in any order, but a mech’s activation must be completed and finalized before you can move on to the next one. Typically, a mech can choose from four actions in any sequence, provided they have the AP to execute them; move, fire a weapon, activate support equipment, and vent heat. That last one becomes important as battle rages on – taking action and receiving damage causes a mech to overheat. A little bit of heat is vented at the start of each round, but it’s almost always less than the mech will accumulate.
When a mech is overheated, it both deals and receives more damage from attacks. Letting your mechs run hot without redlining them can help to eliminate enemies before they have a chance to counter. If a mech’s head reaches a critical state, it deals considerably more damage but attacking reduces the meh’s HP. Certain weapons – notably flamethrowers – exploit this by increasing their target’s heat considerably rather than focusing on damage.
As with any good mecha game, you can freely customize your mechs with parts that you find and purchase over the course of a run. Any mech can use any part, allowing limitless combinations. Each mech has one slot each for a weapon, a support system, and an engine. The support system, in particular, allows for tricky combos in battle; the demo version features systems that allow for flying leaps, charge attacks, and energy shields, and it’s clear there will be much more in the full release. If you prefer versatile attacks, many support systems function as secondary weapons as well.
Each pilot is also unique, conferring a bonus or special ability on their mech. Finding gear that synergizes well with a pilot’s predilections will be key to any successful run. There are three pilots features in the demo. Commander Soryu deals additional bonus damage when her mech is overheated (beyond the normal increase); Edi Asaju deals bonus damage to adjacent enemies, making him an ideal frontline combatant; while Liu Min Jun’s mech doesn’t gain heat from moving.
All but the most precise weapons in Ignited Steel use areas of effect. From shotguns to missiles to flamethrowers, it’s easy to catch multiple targets in an attack – whether you want to do so or not. While any savvy tactician knows when a unit can stand to take some friendly fire, things get complicated when you’re trying to hit an enemy without also damaging a critical objective. Furthermore, most maps are littered with populated areas. Destroying civilian buildings incurs a penalty to your income at the end of a battle, so if you aren’t careful you could find yourself broke. In many missions, collateral damage is unavoidable and the impetus is on the player to minimize it.
Many planets have global battlefield conditions. In the demo, these don’t have pronounced effects, but it’s possible that the full game will have battlefields that wildly affect how you play. The two most notable conditions I saw were sub-zero temperatures, which slow heat buildup on all units, and toxic atmospheres which slightly increase the damage taken by all units. There are also terrain hazards to be aware of, in particular fire and lava. These cause damage and heat buildup to any unit standing on them at the start of a round but become extinguished after a few turns. No doubt heavy flamethrower builds will rely on strategically lighting the ground on fire to block enemy movements.
Occasionally, you’ll find a planet where you can shop rather than fight. Similar to the trade stations in FTL, these are your few-and-far-between opportunities to spend your hard-earned cash on upgrades and repairs. In addition to the standard roguelike purchases, you can also buy Contracts, which are limited sub-objectives that will challenge you in upcoming battles. Successfully completing a Contract – for example, by completing your next battle without manually venting heat – earns you a bonus that lasts for the remainder of the run.
Graphics & Sound
Ignited Steel looks and sounds fantastic. Considering that the launch date is fast approaching, it’s safe to assume the game’s presentation is in its final form. The pixelated anime look hearkens back to mecha classics like Gundam Wing and fits well with the low-poly mech models in combat. The battles are full of crunchy, satisfying sound effects that put the player in the action. The whole thing is pulled together by a top-notch soundtrack that blends boss-battle rock with sci-fi synth. If Ignited Steel was a TV series I would watch the hell out of it.
The UI is easy to use and understand – even beginning players can tell at a glance what stats mean and what actions will do, and the game’s concise, informative tooltips fill in the gaps when needed. Of particular use is a red skull that appears on enemy units when planning a mech’s activation; this means that the target will be destroyed, saving you from having to overcommit to be sure an enemy goes down. The game also allows you to easily tell if an action will destroy civilian buildings – no claiming ignorance as an excuse when the planetary government sends you a bill!
The Next Fest demo for Ignited Steel is a single, fixed run that offers a limited glimpse of what the final product will offer. Based on the game’s promotional materials, it looks like we can expect expansive, branching star maps, dozens of possible combat situations, and unlimited build options. While most of the demo missions are relatively simple, several enemies proved to operate in unexpected ways – no doubt PharOS has even more tricks up its sleeve to challenge players in the full game. It won’t be too long before we find out – Ignited Steel launches on 9 March, and frankly, I can’t wait.