Monday, December 31, 2012

Tactical Insights 2012 Awards

Let's look at some of the best tactics games released this year. No big surprises this year. It was a pretty good year overall for tactics games. The indie scene on iOS/Android and PC is thriving while consoles continue to decline in importance.

3DS/DS Winner: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2

Devil Survivor 2 was released last year in Japan and this year in North America. With the DS winding down and the 3DS just heating up, there wasn't much competition for quality 3DS/DS tactics games this year. Devil Survivor 2 managed to be the best tactics game on the 3DS/DS two years in a row. Devil Survivor 2 is a solid tactics game with a unique battle system, plenty of customization and interesting bosses. Check out my review if you haven't yet.

While I haven't played Fire Emblem: Awakening for 3DS, I don't like what I've heard of it. It's more of an open world RPG with endless stat grinding, heavy game imbalance, and dating simulation. I'll see what it's like when it's released in NA next year (thanks 3DS region lock), but I highly doubt I'll like it as much as Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow.

PSP Winner: Gungnir

Gungnir is another Sting tactics game, following the Union series (Yggdra Union being the only one released in NA). The battle system is speed based and isometric 3D with height mechanics, similar to FFT or TO. However unlike FFT or TO it's a fairly hardcore and demanding tactics game with several complex and unusual systems, good game balance, rank mechanics, and a skill based scoring system.

Scoring systems and complex mechanics tend to send your average RPG player running away screaming, so it's no surprise it got a lackluster reception. Even though there's a beginner mode and you can grind, the mechanics are probably baffling to your average RPGer. I've lost count of the number of times I've read people complaining that the scoring system discouraged them from hanging around a map opening every treasure chest. That's the point of the scoring system - to encourage you to make strategic choices. Of course you can still do game over grinding, but level ups mean very little and your score will suffer if you grind, as it should. In any case, I enjoyed it.

PSP Runner Up: 2nd Super Robot Wars Z Saisei-hen

More Super Robot Wars, what a surprise! While this SRW is very easy, it's still pretty fun. I was able to enjoy it doing a no upgrade run with low turn counts. Its game mechanics are not as in depth, balanced, skill based, or polished as Gungnir, but few tactics games are.

PC Winner: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a solid tactics game that brings a much simplified version of the original X-Com to modern day gaming. While I think it's a good game, I also think it has been overhyped by people who turn a blind eye to other good and/or challenging PC tactics games out there, let alone other console tactics games.  I've written a detailed review that you can find here if you want my detailed opinion.

Honestly after beating the game on Classic Ironman and Impossible I haven't gone back to it - it just doesn't have the longevity the original had. The added DLC missions have not motivated me to play the campaign again to experience them. It would have been nice if they were also available as stand alone missions.

PC Runner Up: Battle Academy: Operation Sealion

Battle Academy is one of my favorite PC tactics games, right next to Panzer General, Panzer Corps, and Elven Legacy. Operation Sealion is another great campaign that is more challenging than previous ones, tasking you with defending a World War 2 Britian against a theoretical German invasion. Panzer Corps - Afrika Corps expansion also looks good although I haven't gotten into it yet.

PS3/360/Wii Winner: 2nd Super Robot Wars OG

Aside from some moe games from Systemsoft, home consoles continue to get almost no tactics game attention. The one exception this year was 2nd Super Robot Wars OG, the first SRW game in 720p resolution. It easily has the best 2D animations of any tactics game.

While it leans on the easy side and has a couple of filler stages, the last couple stages aren't quite a cakewalk. 2nd SRW has more depth than usual with the twin system where you pair two units together into a group. There's lots of room for tweaking and optimizing a party setup.  Turn counts are protected against game over grinding, and when you combine turn counts with the ex-hard difficulty mode you might find some challenge. SRW is still mostly about giant robots violently smacking eachother around, but it's a fun game.

iOS Winner: Hero Academy

Hero Academy sets the standard for asynchronous multiplayer PvP tactics games, which have become all the rage on mobile devices these days. It has fast paced combat, pretty good UI, and makes money selling character packs rather than heavy handed microtransactions. Hero Academy is also available for PC on Steam.

iOS Runner Up: Battle Academy for iPad

Battle Academy for iPad is a bit pricey at $19.99 on the app store, but you won't find a better full fledged tactics game experience on your iPad. I don't own an iPad but if you do you should pick this game up despite the price. I mean you paid $600 for a tablet already, right?

That's it for 2012. Thanks for reading.


Rui Castro said...

Very good choices for 2012.

I would add that XCOM did another thing, it brought the genre to many places. Its funny how things are, you can make a very good game and no one notices it but than comes a marketing giant and it comes well known and sometimes said to be the first LOL. I haven played XCOM and really wish there was a portable version but just for this world wide spread of the genre, I think it deserves its awards. Hopefully, the developers will make a better sequel, now that the main game engine is build.

Hero Academy multiplayer feature makes it a very good game. Theres another that has won awards this year and was first to have this concept and Hero Academy has been accused of coping them, it was the boardgame Summoner Wars which is now on the iOS. Hero Acadamy changed the cards into cartoon units and made it more eye pleasing. But Summoner Wars has won awards for best multiplayer game this year. If you like Hero Academy, and what another similar game or even a physical boardgame, Summoner Wars is your game.

arrr, now that you mentioned Gungnir, will need to finish it. Did you get to finish it in Nightmare mode? or is to much of a nightmare LOL?

Rui Castro said...

Oh forgot to say, If anyone wanted to do a open source TBT game, the Hero Academy model looks good, a free open game engine but polished campaigns and new unit race/class be payed. Or even tournament payment.

Mullins said...

Wow... that writeup for XCOM was a bit negative... and I'd recommend trying the online multiplayer, it is VERY interesting (needs a few fixes but hopefully they will come). Impossible Ironman is also a very different beast to Impossible (the latter I had not so many problems with, the former... wow).

Matthew Emirzian (mjemirzian) said...

"a marketing giant and it comes well known and sometimes said to be the first" This happens pretty often with people wrongly claiming that Tactics Ogre "invented" anything about the genre.

"Hero Academy has been accused of coping them" Hero Academy isn't the first asynch multiplayer tactics game on iOS, but I think it's a really good example of one.

"Did you get to finish it in Nightmare mode?" I'm at stage 12 of Nightmare mode with all 3 star clears so far. I'll pick it up again at some point.

"Wow... that writeup for XCOM was a bit negative... " Are you refering to the review I linked to, or the short bit I wrote in this article? What do you mean by "a bit negative"?

Xcom's multiplayer is an imbalanced mess that nobody competitive will take seriously, just look at the 2k forums. Civ V was a step down from Civ IV multiplayer as well. What do you want me to say about impossible ironman? If you get past the dice rolls of the first couple missions and get a solid footing you can turtle your way to victory like any other mode.

Rui Castro said...

About Hero Academy coping Summoner Wars, I meant really the rules.

The crystals are the Walls in Summoner Wars, the random units are the random cards of Summoner Wars. They share similar features, but one is catoony and the other is a clone of the boardgame.

Summoner Wars boardgame was made by Colby Dauch, which did some designing for Heroscape boardgame which is out print. He had the idea of the game and Hero Academy didn't even existe.

But both games are very good and have some unit features.

Lebowski1 said...

It's just that this is meant to be a Games of the Year article, but from "I also think" you only talk about things the game did wrong. I don't feel you found an appropriate tone there.

And I am familiar with the 2k forums: I've entered the PS3 tournament which has been organised there! While the online isn't perfect (and it sure would be nice if someone official acknowledged it), it is very interesting. There are a lot of viable builds. I roll with smokejumpers but I have a tough time versus sectoid commanders, stims, and even berserkers. I don't think it's fair to call it a "mess" at all.

I've become something of an XCOM fanboy I'm afraid! It has replaced Valkyria Chronicles. Sega blew it with the VC3 betrayal.

And I'm not so sure 'turtling' will get you through Impossible Ironman... overwatch is very innacurate for quite a long time. I think you were right when you said hard cover manipulation is a big part of the game. Anyway, I'm enjoying it a lot. Glad to see you gave it a title here, I just feel your writing comes across as somewhat hypocritical (award it but then slate it).

Lebowski1 said...

Have you seen the excellent series of tactical tutorial videos from this fellow?

Matthew Emirzian (mjemirzian) said...

Ok, so it wins an award, I call it a good game, I link to a review where I give it a decent score and list a bunch of good things about the game, but apparently "you only talk about things the game did wrong". No, what I did is not hypocritical - a game can get an award and not be perfect.

Furthermore, people overhyping the game does not have anything to do with the game itself, it's a comment on my thoughts on the game relative to other people. If you want reams of breathless praise about Xcom there are many other web sites for you to visit. At least you admit you're a fanboy.

"While the online isn't perfect" There are many more balanced and competitive online tactics games out there. Why aren't you playing those instead? I doubt the devs will pay much attention to the multiplayer. I predicted Xcom would have multiplayer and also said it would be an imbalanced, neglected bullet point months before its release and I was right on both counts.

VC3 betrayal? Sorry, Sega has to run a business. You should be glad someone is translating it to English.

"I think you were right when you said hard cover manipulation is a big part of the game." That's what turtling is. Hiding behind hard cover with overwatch spam, or using stealth armor + the overpowered squadsight to slowly snipe things from perfect safety. I looked through a few of those vids briefly and didn't see anything I didn't already figure out on my own. I didn't even use squadsight (bugged or non-bugged) when I cleared impossible.

Speaking of which, did they ever release a patch to fix all the bugs and freezing and crashing issues on either console?

Mullins said...

Seriously, a game you feel this way about won your PC tactical game of the year? Are you sure?

Mullins said...

And regarding VC3, yes of course I am grateful to the amateurs who have been working hard at translating it, but Sega? They translated the artbook but not the game. They can go do one, I'm not a fan of their "business" anymore.

Mullins said...

Ok, I have a rather more substantial point than the rather glib rhetorical question above (sry about that one!)

By awarding XCOM game of the year, aren't you contributing to the hype which you are so opposed to?

And also: isn't it a little bit justified? I mean, the fact that a game like this (a western developed, turn-based, fairly big budget strategy game) was released on home consoles is a minor miracle.

Rui Castro said...

Theres no perfect games, thats why this genre still has much to grow. XCOM was a very good step and a hard one since so many tried to coping the original XCOM and failed, i've Julian Gollop with Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars fail in some way (it is a good game).

But is XCOM is a good game? They brought some interesting ideas which also created problems, like cover feature. But the game is full of bugs. XCOM is from a very good company and everyone respects them, maybe thats why they got so much publicity. Maybe valkyria chronicles was more enovative or maybe another game befor it. But this is just a award for 2012, not a award of all times. This genre ages well, so many old games still are much better.

I've heard the AI has it problems, the 3d game and the cover system sometimes doesn't work (shots going through objects).

But it is a fun game, and many that didn't like turn based tactical games, now like XCOM and is whiling to try other games in this genre.

For enovation and world wide spread, XCOM deserved the award. But they will need to enovate, or next year someone will have something better. ;)

This are just awards and reviews, take the and decide yourself. I can't count how many times games with bad rating and I love them.

Sorry for my english, have a hard time with the word enovate LOL

rjcarello said...

Great article, great picks! I played and greatly enjoyed all of your chosen winners except for the console one.

XCOM: Your comments are fair. Having not played the originals, I still felt that the game lacked longevity and variety. It didn't take long to master the game, and I was able to complete most battles without even taking damage when I did my Impossible run.

The Slingshot DLC came out the day I finished my Classic Ironman run, so I was able to try it on my impossible playthrough. The new missions are fun, but it's a very small addition to the game. No new aliens, gear, research, facilities, etc. Doesn't fix the fact that the second half feels empty.

As a previous commenter suggested, I too would like to see the developers refine this formula in a sequel using a similar game engine.

I loved your Gungnir writeup. You did a good job of addressing a lot of the complaints I've heard, and effectively highlighted the game's strengths.

I was disappointed by Gungnir's poor reception. Apparently that is what happens when you release a Tactical RPG that caters more towards Tactics players than RPG players. Most Tactical RPGs (FFT, TO, NIS games) seem to be the opposite, and the result is usually an unbalanced grind-fest that is difficult to take seriously.

Rui Castro said...

Heres a XCOM review which also says its faults but still in the end loved playing it.

XCOM isn't perfect but it has something going for it and can be much more.

Matthew Emirzian (mjemirzian) said...

All the award means is that it's the best tactics game I played on the PC platform in 2012. It's a good game on PC for sure. That doesn't mean it's perfect nor does it mean it hasn't been overhyped elsewhere. Btw I think the PC version is far better than the console version.

rjcarcello by "the console one" I assume you mean 2nd Super Robot Wars OG? Yeah you'd have to import it, and that's kinda expensive. And in Japanese. Did you check out the playthrough log?

rjcarello said...

Yes, I meant 2nd Super Robot Wars OG. Lacking a PS3, that game wasn't really an option, but it looks potentially interesting in the videos. I will certainly give it a look if I have a PS3 someday.

For the record, I loved XCOM (on 360), but it cannot be denied that the game has many flaws.