A simple statement, but evident the second that you sit down to play the game, and the elephant in the room of any conversation you might have about it. You simply cannot talk about Shock Tactics without talking about XCOM, and unfortunately any comparison between the two games doesn’t do Shock Tactics any favors.
Like XCOM, Shock Tactics is a turn-based strategy game where you manage a squad of futuristic soldiers trying to secure control of a distant world. Available missions are displayed on an overworld map, being either side missions or story missions that have to be completed within a certain length of time. Navigation and controls on the map are virtually identical to XCOM in concept, with soldiers having a fixed pool of action points that can be used on movement or one of the soliders special abilities that have various effects like faster movement, better aim, or attack bonuses. Mousing over a solider on the map will show the maximum range that a soldier can move and still fire, or sprinting distance if the solider doesn’t attack, and any movement will be interrupted if a previously unseen enemy comes into view, allowing you to attack if you have enough AP left, or at the very least try to find suitable cover. Chances to hit an enemy are displayed over them, affected by distance, cover and weapon used. When moving one of your soliders, a shield icon will pop up to indicate when you have cover and from which direction.
Complete all your objectives to complete in order to advance to the next map, and each mission awards credits or rewards in one of several different resources. Between missions, you can return to your base and spend your earnings on base improvements, training, or building weapons and armor for your troops. Like XCOM, you can build structures on the base but rather than deciding what you prioritize based on what you build, each building has a fixed location, and you can only built each one once. Most of the buildings on the base have multiple levels that you can purchase however, unlocking better equipment or improving the bonuses they provide. Similarly your troops will level up from their missions, unlocking additional slots for training. Each solider has a specialization that will inform how you use them, but the skills you assign to each slot are up to you, as is the armor and equipment they use. You can customize the armor color and variants, but you only ever see soldiers in their armor (which completely covers their face and head) so there is very little individuality to each model.
Unfortunately, that is where the comparison to XCOM ends. In almost every other aspect, Shock Tactics falls short. Though it is an indie game, it isn’t an indie game in early access, and as such some of the issues that I experienced while playing are highly disappointing. The game is not well optimized, performing poorly even on a beefy system. Load times are interminably long between levels, and waiting for enemy movements between turns takes an excessive amount of time. The game is also surprisingly unstable. Complicating the review process was the fact that the game is still very unstable, even after patching (v6162 as of this writing) crashing four times in my first few hours of play. Since the first two missions are tutorial missions and you cannot save during a mission, only on the world map, I was forced to replay the tutorial multiple times before I could even save the game and record my progress. The missions themselves can also be quite long as well, so any crashes can set you back a significant amount of time to your last save.
The few cutscenes presented are little more than concept art sliced into planes to create a 2D parallax effect, similar to what you might see in a “motion comic”. The art is serviceable but uninspired. Unfortunately that’s better than what can be said about the UI and menus. Menus and tutorial windows are little more than black squares dialed down to 50% opacity, with square grey or green buttons, all with no decorative elements or visual flair. The graphics themselves are lackluster, with bland character and level design. Areas are very blocky with few unique terrain features to break up the monotony. Most enemies are just other humans shooting back at you, with little variation in tactics or strategy. There are a few different alien creature models to add a dash of variety, but nothing particularly noteworthy.
The voice acting as well is uneven, with some performances being decently delivered, but others clearly not professional voice actors and potentially with English not being their first language. It was noticeable and distracting when some words were given strange emphasis, or on those occasions that the faint accent became more pronounced. The story being told by the voice actors wasn’t terribly memorable either, mostly composed of characters relating events as though retelling history after the fact, especially surrounding the mysterious artifacts that make up the mission rewards that you get.
All told, Shock Tactics isn’t necessarily a bad game. It just doesn’t tread any ground that XCOM didn’t do first, and better.