Strain Tactics (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Touch Dimensions Interactive || Overall: 6.0/10

Hey, you! Yeah, you! Get out a blender. We’re going to play a game. No, you won’t lose an arm or an iPad. It’ll be fin- IT’LL BE FINE, JUST DO IT.

Alright, grab an XCOM. Any one of them will do, we’re just going for basic themes here. Dump that in. Now, scoop up some Alien Swarm (it’s free) and plop that in there, too. Now, and this is important, add a dab of tower defense. Just a bit. Trust me: it’ll make some sense. Hit “blend” and watch those mix up. Take the pitcher of your rather interesting mix of genres and pour that shit into a phone and you’ve got Strain Tactics from Touch Dimensions Interactive.

Strain Tactics is a real-time strategy game that has just as many things in common with tactical squad games, like Rainbow 6 and Door Kickers, as it does with a traditional top-down shooter like Alien Breed. The player commands a squad of up to five soldiers of varying classes–each of which have varying skills and attributes–from their mobile helicopter base. Said squads are sent on missions on a campaign against the “strain,” each mission taking place on a contained map, with objectives ranging from “kill everything” to “rescue this guy.” Troops gain skills as they participate in combat, they can find, loot and equip items they find or purchase, and you’ll often lose troops (though not permanently, as they can be revived if you recover their bodies) in chaotic skirmishes with alien-zombie guys. Thus far, this sounds just like any other game where you deploy a group of soldiers to do a mission. However, there’s an extra degree of player interaction that I haven’t seen before for a single-player squad-based game, and that’s having full control over your team’s transport and air support.

Despite most of the game revolving around directly positioning your squad members and marking targets to shoot (though they engage automatically if enemies are in range), the squad’s helicopter is fully controllable at all points of gameplay. The helicopter acts as a storage locker for gear, a transport for players and NPCs, and fire support against visible targets on the ground, which gives the player immense amounts of control about how they deploy, what their troops are armed with and what their exit point will be. Your team begins each mission aboard the heli, and they don’t disembark until you’ve decided to. It’s a refreshing amount of choice in a genre that routinely grants you limited power despite your role as a “commander” or whatever. When was the last time you had the option of landing your squad near your target in XCOM rather than running a fucking marathon from your drop zone? Oh, never? What about using your dropship to blast the shit out of dangerous enemy units before they become a threat to your squad’s objectives? What?! Never?! What a shame! It’s okay, though: Strain Tactics lets you do that. Using a minigun, a small cannon, or even some big ass firebombs, the helicopter can lay waste to outside targets. While it’s not always a viable option, what with interior locations and the occasional heavy foliage area, it’s a rather interactive way to support your squad in a way that makes a ton of sense. Why this hasn’t been done before in mainstream titles is baffling to me, but Strain Tactics delivers this sort of engaging gameplay dynamic in a tight little package. I’d dare to say that it’s something you could make a franchise off of.

Because of this, even hand-crafted levels can be approached from various angles. You are never really forced to enter or exit the level from a specific point. Characters that aren’t suited for an encounter you’ve come across can be quickly refitted before picking a place to land, or left on the helicopter while the rest deploy. It seems like such a small detail or feature, but in the grand scheme of things it makes the standard gameplay loop really interesting. You can change tactics on the fly, including redistributing your team to split them up.

However, the honeymoon isn’t long. The game has problems, one so heinously rooted that I’m not entirely sure it can be easily fixed with patches: it’s a phone game.

This game was designed for touch interfaces, and it’s painfully obvious from the UI. Everything is rather big, from buttons to text. Item information and character stats are hidden behind an extra button, making quick comparisons between characters a tedious exchange that, in many cases, requires you to pause the game if you’re currently busy with alien-zombies. Inventory management is slow, requiring a click to select and another click to move it to another spot. Using stores or the locker is a tedious process, especially when you’re trying to clean house and organize. Information is usually somewhat vague, if it is even readable (some lower resolutions are just unreadable). I didn’t even realize there was a scroll bar in the mission debriefing, as everything is so huge I figured they were just using up space. While this is probably a really good phone game, it’s missing a lot of quality of life enhancements that I’d expect from a PC game in this day and age. It’s a real gear change compared to how gameplay flows outside of the UI.

It explains why there’s some inconsistencies with the quality of art and the somewhat clunky controls. It’s a great phone game, I’d even go so far to say it’s probably one of the better ones you could play. It’s just okay as a PC port, though. I can’t call it a bad game–it isn’t–but it’s rather disappointing that something so close to being sublime stumble at some rather uncommon problems (as well as some common problems, like mediocre plot and dialogue). I mean… it technically works; it functions as intended when you click around, but it’s far from efficient. It’s like using a spoon to serve soup instead of a ladle.

At this point, I feel like I’m taking a huge dump on this game, and I don’t want to give that impression considering how good of an idea the helicopter base thing is. So, Touch Dimensions Interactive, if you’re actually reading this: keep working at it. Seriously. You are so close to something that is very much worth sinking hours into. You just need some polish, some design changes, and maybe a writer (let’s be honest: you could use one, at least for the dialogue). If Strain Tactics 2 ever gets kicked around, or you plan on fixing the UI, I’ll be back to revisit.

 

The Prefect Candy Bar

Alone in an alley, the mayor of Candybarrio in Foodland, Cassius Candybar was strolling through.  It wasn’t exactly the safest of places to take a brisk walk, considering the last five high profile homicides had taken place here, in which all of the victims were mutilated to the point of being called a different food.  No one knew what a Tomato Chocolate Smoothie was until last week when Clive Tomato and Sandy Chocandy were murdered and blended together.

“What kind of murderous, Foodlandish person would be able to exist?” the local news stations explored that question to no avail and received higher ratings than ever before.  Conspiracy theorists even started to believe the news stations themselves were propagating this uptake in mutilation-type violence — or even hiring people to commit them so there would be more news coverage!

The sad truth of the matter was, that it was not that simple… Cassius knew more than he had let on in his myriad of interviews.  To cut the mystery short, it was Cassius who had murdered the the five Foodlandish in the alley.  He was using the publicity of the murders to propel himself to the forefront of the minds of Foodlandish in the upcoming elections.

And his plan was working.

That was, until a copycat murderer decided to open his killing spree with a high-profile target.  Banana-Face the Orange had trained with his knife skills for like three hours before he came to the alley behind Roger and Jefferson’s Waffle House and Croissant Bakery.

It didn’t take too much effort to slice the ligaments in Cassisus’ legs… and before Cassius could do anything, a six-inch fruit peeler was jutted into his back.  Banana-Face twisted the fruit peeler slowly as the caramel began to ooze out of Cassius.  In his screams came more and more pain.  The nougat began to ooze out along with the caramel and Banana-Face’s Relentless Fruit Peeler began to dig at Cassius’ peanuts.  Once the hole was big enough, Banana-Face thrust his hand into Cassius and grabbed a peanut, ripping it from his nougaty center.

Cassius did everything he could to crawl away but it was to no avail.  Banana-Face enraged and began to rapidly stab Cassius in his back.  He began to bash Cassius’ head with his own peanut and caramel began to ooze from the back of his head.  Cassius’ last ditch effort was to get his Battery-Powered Blender Knife from his right pocket.  He reached for it and turned it on.

Banana-Face was in the middle of another Stab-and-Twist when Cassius flipped over, causing him to lose his balance.   Cassius raised the whirring Blender Knife into the air and came into Banana-Face’s lower extremities.  Banana-Face screamed louder than Cassius had, and orange juice sprayed onto Cassius’ face as he laughed maniacally, exacting his painful revenge on the orange.  Orange pulp began to spray, as the knife got closer to Banana-Face’s core.

Cassius removed the Blending Knife and readied his thrust again.  In that instant, Banana-Face reached and grabbed the fruit peeler in Cassius’ back and used it as a handle to get closer to Cassius before his next thrust.  Cassius screamed in pain, but that didn’t do much to offset his balance as the blending knife came from the right and into Banana-Face’s side.  They both screamed at the top of their lungs in their weird hug-like stance.

The alley was full of orange caramel juice.  It flowed like a miniature river as it ended up into a grate on the floor.  Banana-Face’s life force drained away and he eventually fell limp.  Cassius fell to the ground as well, but in victory.  He was relieved he had survived the ordeal, but little did he know, a new threat loomed beneath the alley — a fire-breathing Drah-Gun!

Shunookle the Drah-Gun was on a vacation from Nikpan and thought the sewer system in Foodland would provide for a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of Dragon Town.  Unfortunately for her, this was the sixth extremely loud murder to occur within the last week, and it was pissing her off!  She burst out of the alley’s asphalt and flew into the air, throwing asphalt all over the place and flying away.

Cassius Candybar was ultimately known for killing all tourism in Candybarrio once Shunookle the Drah-Gun posted on BizarroBook, the world’s most popular social network that Candybarrio was a very loud and unsafe place to visit.

Moral of the story: Considering the consequences of your actions is prudent in matters of politics.

 

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