Tactical combat and close-quarters battles are fought on a second by second, minute by minute basis. Soldiers and operators are always looking for that edge to put the four Fs into action: find, fix, flank, and finish. But what happens when a new dimension opens up on the battlefield and the enemy can teleport behind you? Tactical Troops: Anthracite Shift (hereafter referred to as TT:AS) explores an extra dimension in your turn-based tactical skirmish warfare!
Set in the future on a distant alien world of Anthracite, you’ll command a squad of elite soldiers fighting to survive against hostile aliens and various other enemies as you work your way through a twenty-plus hour campaign in single-player mode.
Gameplay sees you command up to four soldiers in a grid-less top-down turn-based skirmish game. You can click on any of your soldiers to command them, left click shoots, and right-click moves. Every action cost action points and these are in precious supply. You can click on the bar for action points and store some so you can leave room for directional overwatch and the game rewards you for things like overlapping fields of overwatch.
Gunfire can be done with one click at a time or, for automatic weapons, you can hold the button down and just spray lead (or later, lasers) at the enemy. The game has very little apparent RNG and most shots will hit unless there is intervening cover. Everything in TT:AS is viewed from a top-down view but it’s normally fairly obvious what is and what isn’t cover.
Making use of those last few action points to duck back behind cover is often very useful against those enemies who can shoot back. Most levels will see you maneuver your small team across the map, encountering enemies and then either shooting them up or trying your best to evade. There are often multiple routes to the objective, even early on, which is quite nice and the campaign slowly drip feeds more troops into your team, and unlocks better and more diverse weapons so you can fine-tune the arms and equipment of your team.
Each of your troops can carry two weapons and up to three pieces of equipment, ranging from prosaic things like body armour and grenades to the more exotic items that you unlock along the way. The weapons are your standard fare of SMGs, pistols, sniper rifles, and heavier ordinance. There are also some very nifty sci-fi weapons later on that are very fun to play around with.
There is a very wide array of enemies to blast away at in the game, with newer and nastier bad guys entering the game as you navigate and scrap through the campaign. Early on, the shield bug looking “Barkers” offer only a limited challenge and can be fairly easily defeated. But as the game goes on, you’ll face an increasingly weird set of enemies to fight against and need to use a lot of tactical nous and firepower to get past them.
Your troops have a decent amount of HP and fire and attacks from the enemy will drain this. Its often more of an issue of quantity of enemy fire rather than the sheer amount of damage it does, though there are heavier hitting enemies later in the campaign. Once one of your troops reaches zero on health, they are dead.
Still, this isn’t XCOM and your characters don’t level up, don’t really have names or identities and beyond their equipment, you can’t really customize them so aside from the odds of you winning dropping (or sometimes, one death is an instant mission fail) there’s little reason to care about your troops once the shooting starts.
Graphically, TT:AS is nothing special, though it does have a certain amount of character to it. The character designs are clean and simple if nothing particularly exciting and the maps are simple. There are some minor issues with figuring out where doors are and sometimes it’s not clear at first if an object blocks movement or line of sight which can be a bit frustrating.
Weapon effects are decent, though the sound effects aren’t particularly exciting. From an audio point of view, the game offers audio cues from your characters and some unobtrusive background sound and music but otherwise, there’s not much going on here.
TT:AS also offers a deep suite of multiplayer modes, ranging from online play to the increasingly rare hot-seat play to allow you to pit a squad against another with resource points keeping the rival squads in balance. It was too early to tell if there was a big multi-player following but hot-seat works just fine and it’s nice to see this mode catered for in a modern game.
TT:AS offers a bit of a throwback game but does have some unique points to it. The teleporters offer some really intriguing elements as not only can you use them to outmaneuver your enemies but grenades and bullets travel through them, allowing the enterprising player chance to pull off some rather exciting moves to defeat their enemy.
The game does have a number of annoying flaws though. As mentioned above there are some issues with sightlines as it can sometimes be unclear as to what is going to block movement. The main problem was knowing what was a doorway into a building. Once you are occupying the building, doors and windows are clear but from the outside, it’s not always clear.
There’s another mild issue with the use of left click to fire. The game doesn’t have a “fire shot” button, you just left-click and fire a shot. And this means you can accidentally shoot at a wall or even another member of your team. More than once I accidentally shot a member of my team, wasting bullets and action points as well as wounding them, when meaning to click on them to activate them. A good way around this was to click on the profile instead.
You can also accidentally change directional facing, blowing an overwatch by clicking on another character which can spoil a well-planned ambush.
An issue that’s more of a niggle about the setting is that you will often find that enemies can tunnel, fly or just move around an overwatch, meaning at times there’s no way to avoid being shot at and taking damage. Your troops can feel quite fragile at times and as a naturally risk-averse player, I found this annoyed me a bit, though I’d say this is more of a matter of taste.
There’s also the issue that you cannot modify or customize your team, beyond their gear which hugely cuts down on how much you identify with them. This didn’t appear to be part of the flavor of the game setting, which has your small team up against the odds and this is one of the key components of the X-COM or X-COM-like games that keeps you coming back.
Whilst the campaign was good and is very long, I often found there wasn’t much reason to care beyond the challenge of defeating the enemy and getting on to the next mission. Still, TT:AS is a fun game with a retro look and a lovely, low price point which makes the game far more attractive. So far, the developers, QED games, have been very active in the games community and it’s hopeful they’ll continue to support the game going forward. There is scope for the game to open up more with future DLC’s.