The inaugural Anaheim, CA, appearance of DreamHack succeeded in promoting over 50 video games by independent developers, despite its renown as a convention heavily geared toward online competition. I demoed works in progress Delphyq and WaveBreak, which I cover below, as well as Cepheus Protocol, Adventures of Chris, Undying and Kynseed, which I cover in other posts.
This RTS shooter by Beyond Red Wave Arts is designed with a real-time/pause system to provide more realistic tactical combat than available in a turn-based game. The core gameplay mechanic has players controlling a squad by issuing commands to them while the game is paused, then unpausing the game to have the squad execute the commands.
Your squad is made of rebels, seven outcasts trying to overthrow three oppressive corporations that rule the world. They're fighting for a good cause in an epic story about corporate power that is relevant to the modern world, so the developer hopes players will relate to their principles and what they're fighting for and become attached to them.
I'm a console player, so had to get used to the WASD camera controls, including rotating the camera with Q and E. Thankfully the camera can shift to virtually any perspective so monitoring the squad while scouting maps and enemies is helpful. At the start, I clicked and dragged over the entire squad to advance as a group, though detection meant a hasty retreat and more careful tactics.
I didn't pay attention to begin with to abilities or skills like medic, sniper or assault, focusing instead on orders including call, sprint, stance (standing/crouched), engage (attack/stealth) and wait. (Call and wait can be used to chain commands.) Once engaged, I ordered an attack. But also sent some members forward to cover (movements can be plotted, with body outlines indicating if cover is an option).
Enemy units were defeated, but managed to injure squad members. Health and energy can be monitored via gauges, and replenished with area of effect actions, whereby the medic can perform a group heal or the tech can refill energy bars (energy is for shields and a power source for abilities). But resources can run out. For instance, if using power for abilities, the shield is being depleted.
It's therefore important to find charging stations for replenishing one's health or energy. But be aware that only one unit can be selected at a time to use a charging station. When trying to use a charge station on one wall, I inadvertently sent my squad around the wall right into enemy forces, a mistake that can happen at times.
It's especially important to keep gauges full because incapacitated squadmates can bleed out if a timer expires or the unit tending to them doesn't have enough energy to revive them. They are then lost for the rest of the game. There are no reinforcements or recruits. Therefore, as the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. Careful strategy and tactics are key to making progress.
Part of a good strategy is infiltrating with stealth as far as possible before the squad is forced to engage the enemy (keeping in mind that when in stealth, units won't fire). Once any member is detected, a reinforcements timer will count down. When that happens, it's important for players to get their squad out of danger before the timer runs out.
Once the squad finally engages the enemy, the full game will allow players to implement an auto pause if a squad member is shot. That member might be doing something critical when shot, such as facing something important or about to kill an enemy, and if shot they might turn around. An auto pause will ensure engagement is a conscious decision by the player.
But if all goes according to plan, players will be able to dictate the terms of engagement with the enemy. The call command can be used to coordinate their raid, effectively chaining commands such as using code A to send a unit to one corner to throw a flash bang while using code B to send another to a different corner. When the game is unpaused, the player can watch all the action unfold.
Of course, I learned of all this the hard way when it was time to infiltrate a building. Besides struggling with how to open the door (a unit has to be selected then asked to interact with the door), I didn't realize players can queue commands past the door so as soon as it's opened, the squad can rush through and carry out their respective orders. Though apparently that wasn't working well for the demo.
At this point I was still moving my squad en masse so inadvertently alerted the patrol inside to our presence. I was able to position a few into cover but spread units too thin and some became incapacitated. With the reinforcement timer counting down, I desperately tried to revive units only to place others in danger and my mission quickly fell apart.
This was due in part to enemy AI, which has been in development for more than a year and a half. The studio has worked hard to make enemies intelligent, giving enemies a way to score their actions to determine what is the best thing to do at the time. In our firefight, they immediately took cover, then spread out and advanced under cover, attacking as the opportunity arose.
My squad, on the other hand, was not only handicapped by my ill-advised foray into enemy territory and limited familiarity with controls or gameplay, but by realistic consequences that involved squad members being unable to fire back when hit by enemy fire and moving slowly when injured. Pressing the Z button can undo commands, but even that can't help once the mistakes have piled up.
It's a hard lesson to learn, especially when playing a demo for a limited amount of time and learning controls on the fly, but the key to the game is getting the drop on the enemy to avoid the reinforcement timer and then, once it's triggered, beat it. Players have to get their squad in, conduct their mission, grab everything that they can and get out before reinforcements arrive.
A big part of every mission is collecting intel during primary, secondary and optional objectives. Intel provides key information for future missions such as blueprints, enemy types and charging station locations. When selecting missions, players should choose the one with the most intel gathered. Then they can plot routes based on all the available intel.
Intel will also help determine what units to bring. Each unit has its own specialization and upgradeable abilities. Some have a very short range but when in range they are fast to the trigger; the heavy is for farther distances, but less accurate; while support units are for medium distance. This is to encourage tactical choices, such as engaging with longer range units before flanking with close quarter units.
Beyond Red Wave Arts wanted to give tactical minds a game that's not available. Delphyq is inspired by X-COM, Jagged Alliance and Full Spectrum Warrior, but is a very complicated game that is designed to appeal to a specific kind of gamer. And while it might not appeal to mainstream players, the studio will adjust difficulties later on to make the game more accessible.
The studio also holds out the possibility that a very tactical e-sports type challenge might be possible in the future. But multiplayer is not an option right now as the small studio is focusing all its efforts on the campaign. The team has grown from eight to 11 in the past six months (prior to that, five people were working on it), so the rigors of developing a rich single player experience takes all their time.
The Steam demo is free, so interested gamers can try it out. The game is a deep dive with lots of options for players who prefer complete control from planning through execution. Controls are comprehensive, the presentation is detailed and polished, and gameplay is solid and suspenseful. With time to learn controls and gameplay, Delphyq's take on tactical shooters should find a dedicated niche.
It was a pleasure to see and demo this game again, after having tried it for the first time when visiting the Funktronic Labs booth at IndieCade two years ago. In this competitive on-rails stunt game inspired by classic arcade skating games like Tony Hawk, Wave Race and Rocket League, gamers try to earn as many points as they can in a single round by playing modes such as the main mode of Trick Attack.
Players begin by selecting their character from among six choices of bear, otter, raccoon, dog, owl or crocodile. They can choose from Trick Attack, Free Skate, the multiplayer Deathmatch and Turf War, or a campaign that will feature a very light story and several missions per level. At launch the game will likely have five levels, with one added soon after; all will be quite a bit bigger than the demo level.
There are tasks to complete, collectibles to find and a variety of tricks at players' disposal. X/B buttons allow tricks to be performed while in midair. A lot more moves are planned, with at least four for every face button on the controller and combo moves. MP weapons include a rocket launcher, AK, M4, Uzi and shotgun, while a flamethrower and melee weapon might be added.
The busy booth meant I had to reacquaint myself with the demo controls so eventually figured out some tricks but not soon enough to prevent ill-timed jumps or wayward wipeouts. The reasonably sized map had abundant rails, jumps and landmarks to trigger stunts, plus interior and exterior settings to explore, so players with more game experience could take advantage of the many options.
And while I didn't get to try the multiplayer modes, I did watch the developer demo one of the modes and was impressed with some of the different weapons and the respective particle effects and explosions. The demo certainly is more comprehensive than the last time I saw it, and it speaks well for the production in general that everything is more polished and benefits from greater content.
As players progress, they earn money to purchase stat points for themselves or to upgrade their character. There are also customization pieces that have some stats on them. Some boats can drive or handle a little better, some can jump higher, etc. Boats are the main vehicles and can be bought as players go along, but there are other water vehicles like jet skies or speedboats.
In general the boats handle well, a variety of tricks are a button press away, and map design offers multiple stunts and scoring opportunities in single player. The bright, colorful presentation and animated characters provide a charming setting, even when characters are gunning for each other in multiplayer. The fun foundation is strong and Funktronic should continue to grow the game in exciting ways.
For more photos from the show floor, visit here.
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