Every now and then it’s good to delve into the past for a bit of inspiration. Developers can often raid their back catalogues and create new twists on existing licenses, and some classics can be brought back to life. Sometimes however, you have to wonder… why?
As a big fan of the R-Type series, with the original being permanently etched into my childhood memory, I was more than a little perplexed when this strategic title landed on my doorstep. Instead of the usual all-action, side scrolling blasting action we’ve come to expect from R-Type, Tactics instead replaces this game play mechanic with turn based strategy. Yes, turn… based… strategy. What next, Street Fighter 2 Sims? Half Life: the text adventure? Or maybe even Hell’s Kitchen: The Game… Err, oh yeah, scratch that last one.
Alright, so my initial thoughts weren’t exactly optimistic, but I’ll try anything once, so I fired up my PSP and prepared to take on the Bydo Empire once again. After a pretty impressive FMV I got into the game, and went through the first few missions, the initial couple of which are billed as training missions, pitching you against other human trainers, before shipping you off to battle the Bydo.
Keeping in the style of R-Type, the game plays out like a side scrolling shooter in parts. The playing field is always left to right, and ships always face right, while the enemy and your objective are always to the right of the area. Before the battle starts, you have to position your ships into a starting grid. Ships include units such as large capital ships, R-Type fighters, bombers, AWACs, support craft and Forces (the orange spheres you collect in the other games that can sit in front or behind the ship enhancing your firepower). Once ships are placed, the game begins. You can move your ships around the field, with travel distance being different for each unit, and you can attack other units when they’re in range. Support craft can re-supply your ships, and the Force units can be attached to your vessels, augmenting their firepower, or providing extra defence. When you attack an enemy, you’ll be treated to a 3D cinematic of the attack.
Battles are totally hands off, and this is all about the tactical element. That said, there are some defensive actions you can perform, such as firing your own defensive missiles to intercept enemy fire or opting to perform evasive manoeuvres in the hopes that your ships will scoot out of harm’s way. The results are based on random luck though, and at the end of the day, you’re simply a spectator.
Different units have varying abilities. Fighters are your workhorses, and are fast but not particularly powerful, while bombers carry all kinds of powerful weapons, but aren’t as speedy and able to evade incoming fire. The AWACs have a huge travel range, and your capital ships have masses of health and powerful weapons, but are very slow. You also have to designate a flagship before each battle, and this has to be protected otherwise the battle is lost.
There’s plenty of R-Type lore in here, and the range of different units is commendable, with a collection of returning R-Type craft making an appearance. The range of tactics you can employ thanks to your fleet’s varied abilities is impressive, and the challenge on offer is steep, with some very tricky battles.
As well as the expansive single player, which includes over 50 missions and grants you the chance to play as both Human and Bydo forces (there are even recreations of recognisable boss battles from the series, which is quite cool) you can also challenge others to multiplayer battles.
R-Type Tactics was actually a nice surprise, and being a fan of turn-based games, I found this to a welcome addition to the series. Visually the game is basic, but retains the R-type feel, and the design of the combat system is good, and ship abilities are very well implemented. You really do have to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your ships if you’re going to succeed, and simply ploughing in with all guns blazing won’t always win the battle. Force units are great, and if used properly can turn the tide of any battle (feel my Wave beam of doom, Bydo scum!). The campaign is long enough, and scrapping away as the Bydo, with their unique units is certainly intriguing.
There are some niggles though. Playing areas are very small, and feel a little claustrophobic, and battles do tend to get very samey very quickly. The 3D battle scenes are practically irksome though. They look good, but take a few seconds to load each time, breaking the immersion somewhat, and this soon starts to grate. Luckily there’s an option to have battles scenes appear randomly, and not all the time, and you can also turn them off entirely, with battles represented in a basic way on the playing field. After a few battles, I can almost guarantee that most players will opt for the latter of these options, which is a shame, as the battle scenes do add to the feel, and seeing the long serving ships in action brings back memories. The game is also very slow paced, and any twitch gamers expecting all out action will return the game to the shop faster than you can say ‘Dobkeratops’.
If you can put up with the loading times, and have a hankering for some deep tactical action, then I’d recommend you give R-Type Tactics a try. If your trigger finger is more developed than your grey matter though, avoid.