By using the tag line “Is XCOM 2 too easy for you?”, Skybox Labs seems to be leading with their chin. XCOM 2 is very challenging and popular. Does the turn-based, third-person Tastee Lethal Tactics measure up to the challenge?
Tastee Lethal Tactics revolves around the exploits of less-than-savory mercenaries. Their contracts take them around the globe. These trips are represented in ten very colorful, top-down, single plane maps. The scenes include the tops of urban skyscrapers, the plaza of rural South American villages, western ranches, railroad yards and stations, walled compounds, industrial sites, slums, mall parking lots and what seems to be a waste disposal site of indiscriminate character. The details of each are astounding: concrete cubicles with windows provide great sniper sites, barrels and debris create a maze, trees and weeds provide foliage while shacks offer cover or traps. The Latin American maps have beautiful inlaid floor design surrounded by adobe and wooden walls. Palm trees and vines enhance the atmosphere. The urban scenes seem grimy with a dark atmosphere made harsher by machinery, junk and ventilation fans. The western ranch exhibits a Wild West feel. The general ambiance is always gloomy but many of the individual items stand out with orange oil drums, white partial walls, dun barricade and red-striped barriers. Fields of fire can be discovered with the game’s pan, zoom and rotate controls although a tilt function would improve views to a great degree. The lack of tilt truly detracts from the game’s play.
The figure artwork is not on par with terrain, which is a shame. The position of squad members is marked by a blue plume while enemies have orange plumes. Team members are shown top down and not even zoom and rotate shows their full profiles, making their features and stance hard to see. This graphical omission is partially made up by splashy illustrations in mission introductions and screens and videos in the help section. The black skin DLC allows units to be dressed in the usual special ops black. Nonetheless, the game emphasizes line of sight so a zoomed tilt would give players a better sense of their units’ vulnerability and field of fire. Enemy icons often have “Last Seen” tags with figures greyed. Other functional graphics work well. Fields of view are shown as large blue triangles fanning out from the merc and blast patterns from grenades are red translucent circles. Blue circles and lines indicate movement routes and waypoints that units can reach in the present turn while brownish ones indicate where they will go the next turn. A blue control arc appears above players when giving detailed orders. Small head shots of the mercs are in the upper right corner allowing a quick location of the unit on the map and their status. Compared to XCOM 2 the graphics are lacking not only in play but also in flair.
Animation is fine. Units walk or run clearly and can be seen pointing their weapons. Explosions are large orange-yellow eruptions. Metal and steel shrapnel fly all over the area when something blows up. Busting through doors yields dust clouds. Large smears of blood and gore mark the bodies of victims. The sound effects accompanying the actions are gratifying with the booms of explosions and the crack of gunfire.
The lack of a manual is partially made up for by an extensive help section and a game tip tab on the opening screen. Yet, other questions such as aim time penalties or if one order affects another must be directed to the developers. A tutorial mission does a good job explaining game mechanics. Players can practice on all maps using self-generated parameters of team size, deployment and game length.
Take the Money (Drugs, Guns, Whatever) and Run!
The word “Tastee” in the title refers to the greasy spoon where the team receives their contracts. Each of the thirty missions has a primary objective and several secondary ones. The primary is usually gathering swag while secondary tasks can include killing a specific number of enemies, losing no friendlies, and accomplishing all this in twelve turns. Teams are composed of four mercenaries from four categories: sniper, bomber, gunman and shotgunner. The first three types are self-evident but shotgunners have the ability to break down doors. The game becomes very interesting when the character types are seen. Each category has four characters, each with a special ability. For example, gunman Denton can use flashbang grenades and sniper Seraphim can track targets even when they move out of view. Successful missions unlock new characters as well as more missions so configuring teams to fit missions can be an intriguing exercise.
The mechanics of this system seem simple: click on a merc and double-click on a destination to make a waypoint. Waypoints can be dragged or a series can be made. Right clicking on a unit or waypoint brings up a control arc the upper part of which has seven common orders – bombers are an exception as they do not carry sidearms. These orders are “free fire” which allows players to target areas and blast down doors, “hold on sight” so mercs can stop during a move to engage a target of opportunity, “close look” clear in look process, :look” for changing the field of view, “sprint”, “crouch” and “wait” which delays implantation of orders using a small slider to set duration. Below these orders is the unit’s special ability. By using these controls at different locations, players can control actions tightly. A unit can begin movement normally but crouch at a waypoint then sprint to another. “Free fire”, “hold on sight” and use of special abilities gives units freedom of combat. A preview function allows players to see if their plan works as composed before committing to the orders. The lack of elevation limits a sniper’s ability to find a good perch. Again, a bit of innovation here would have added to play.
However, no plan is guaranteed as AI or opponent’s moves are not shown in the preview. A merc walking by a window can be sniped by an unseen bad guy. A grenade or rocket can make an entire area a death trap. The AI is particular tricky as, after the primary mission is accomplished, it may send reinforcements, making escape more difficult than achieving the primary objective. Over-watch tactics can minimize losses. A successful mission yields money but the money is only a marker for progress and doesn’t buy anything. Also, mercs’ abilities don’t improve as time passes.
Tastee Lethal Tactics has a nice multiplayer system with easy email notification and a leaderboard updated monthly. Multiplayer and trying to get a perfect solution to all thirty missions assure many replays, especially since no save system exists.
Is Tastee Lethal Tactics the equal of XCOM 2? Not by a long shot – the lack of rewards as missions progress gives it a one-dimensional feel. On the other hand, the tactical situations are almost as tense and challenging as its blockbuster cousin: tactical gamers who don’t care about story lines will relish their time with this game.