Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 06, 2023
Phantom Brigade - First Impression

If you are a regular on this blog, you will know that I vastly prefer turn-based games over real-time games. I have always felt that if you just have a split second for every decision, that necessarily limits how deep the game can be. Having said that, some aspects of turn-based games definitely feel a bit strange: One unit moves and shoots, while everybody else is fixed in place; the only reaction is something like an overwatch system. If you think about it, this is because both the planning and the execution of your move are turn-based. So what if you could split that apart? What if the planning was turn-based, and the execution happened in real time? Then you would get something like Phantom Brigade. (And yes, I know this isn't the only game that works like that.)

Phantom Brigade is at its core a tactical combat game with mechs, big walking robots that shoot. That is already a win in my book, I do like mech games. What is special about your mechs is that they can see 5 seconds into the future. That is to say that you can look at the battlefield and the enemy mechs and tanks, and see what they are going to do in the next 5 seconds. And at this point the game is turn-based: You can spend as much time as you like to study what the enemy units are going to do in the next 5 seconds, and plan out your actions accordingly. Maybe you want to wait 2 second, then move a bit forward, and then shoot at the enemy right as he emerges from cover. While your second mech starts his 5 seconds running around a building and near the end of that 5-second block is shooting the enemy in the back. You can fiddle around with the timing of all this and plan the next 5 seconds in great detail. And when you are finished, you press execute, and those 5 seconds happen in real time, with everybody moving and acting simultaneously. And then the game pauses, and the next 5-second block starts. You can even replay the last 5 seconds repeatedly, while watching different units on the battlefield.

A battle might just last 6 "turns", or 30 seconds, but with all the planning that might have taken you half an hour to play through. Or much less, depending on how thorough or impulsive your planning is. At the end of the battle you get loot, which comes in the form of weapons and mech parts which you can use between battles to upgrade your mechs. Over time you get more mechs, more pilots, and you conquer territory on a large world map. But the battle action always remains at squad level. You can build anything from light to heavy mechs, and equip them with a variety of weapon types. And, as usual in this genre, you need to take heat generation into account. There are also a lot of options on a more meta level: Instead of a simple difficulty setting you have a whole screen full of sliders where you can tweak different aspects of the game to create a difficulty that is just right for you.

Phantom Brigade just left early access, and is still available for 20% of the regular $30 price until tomorrow. Steam reviews are "very positive". However, there are definitively still some negative points: The exact planning of your actions over the next 5 seconds is a bit fiddly; I don't think the different weapons and other components are perfectly balanced; and the story is a bit generic. Still, I am enjoying the experience for the time being. I'll have to see how I feel about the game in the long run.

There is another option for single-character action games. The most famous example is called Superhot, but I have played one called Book of Demons in this mode. In these time (including enemies) moves only when you move. If you stop to think, everything freezes in mid-action.

It probably only works when you have a single character, though. For mechs, Into The Breach (turn-based puzzle-heavy tactics) is more my speed.
And now for something completely different: There is Rise of Industry currently free on EGS which you might like.

It's a builder/planner game, so not really my cup of tea but the tutorial was alright (well, besides the stupid road logic) and you have quite a few knobs and dials to fine tune stuff.
I believe they have a campaign and I saw a sandbox mode, so maybe something for you.
@Camo Thanks, I already had checked this weeks free Epic game and got this. And I am still playing Against the Storm, so I’m covered for builder games.
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