Thursday, June 24, 2010

Star Hammer Tactics Review (XBLA/PSP)

 06/14 [XBLIG/PSP] [1] Star Hammer Tactics

Star Hammer Tactics is a tactical level turn based game for Xbox Live Indie Games or the PSP online store (PSP Minis).  Star Hammer Tactics is not your typical tactics game.  First of all, there's a 45 second real-time limit for every player turn.  Much like a timed chess match, you are under real-time pressure to strategize and carry out your orders.  To match with the time limit, most campaign levels involve about 5-7 allied units, so you're never bogged down with too many units to order around.  I personally like real-time limits because they add an extra element of pressure and intensity to your thinking skills that isn't often seen in turn based games.

Target seeking missiles can be fired by your larger ships, which move on their own and hone in on enemies.  Missiles have their own turn separate from player and CPU phases.  Be careful though, because friendly fire is possible and you can accidentally destroy your own units.  An important part of the games strategy is making sure your missiles actually hit their intended target, while dodging the enemy missiles or blocking them from hitting your valuable units by sacrificing a weaker one or hiding behind a floating asteroid or mine.  While I thought it was hilarious unintentionally blowing up my own ships, beginners to the genre may not be so forgiving.

Each unit has a combined pool of AP to move and fire missiles with.  Attacking is done automatically between turns whenever two units are close enough to one another - the units will fight to the death in any encounter.  You can alter the attack/defense ratio of all of your ships.  This allows you to set your faster moving ships more defensively while your large, slower ships move in to fire missiles.  This does tend to slow the game pacing down if you start adjusting the slider for every unit in your army.  I'm pretty sure most casual players will ignore this function, and I didn't find it necessary to bother with it during the campaign.

The campaign is a short and fairly easy 12 or so missions.  Even if you have no clue what you're doing for the first few missions, you're likely to win by default anyway.  Eventually things start to toughen up and you'll need to make sure each of your missiles count and that you attack your target with multiple units at once.  It took me about 3 hours to complete.

So with a game that's somewhat off the beaten tactics track, you'd think there would be a tutorial, right?  Nope.  You get two how to play screens and then you're thrown straight into the campaign.  While I was informed by the developer that this game is for casual players, I can see how a casual player with little patience would become frustrated with the real-time limit each turn combined with the unconventional combat mechanics.  The game is pretty easy to pick up after a few campaign missions, but a tutorial mission would have helped.

The plot involves space-faring humanity vs an unknown alien force.  The music is limited to a single ambient track that's tolerable, but like most strategy game music I eventually turned it off.  Sound effects are decent.  The graphics are clean and colorful with that hand-drawn indie vibe.  The UI is acceptable but has some speed issues.  Switching units is slow due to the sluggish camera movement programmed into the game, and you can't turn off the movement animation.  A faster, more responsive UI would have definitely helped.

There's local multiplayer available against the CPU or a player.  You spend points on your army and deploy them on the grid, then get down to the action.  The map size and real-time limit can be adjusted.  Overall this is a decent, somewhat unusual tactics game for the price that's worth a try if you're in need of a quick fix on your Xbox 360 or PSP.

Strategic Depth: Low.  It's a simple game.  There's less than 5 unit types total.
Strategic Difficulty: Low.  Plotting your missile trajectories, dodging/blocking enemy missiles, and surrounding your foes is just about it.
Overall Score: 6.7/10.  For an inexpensive online game, it's fun if you need a quick tactical fix.

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