Meridian4’s Frontline Tactics is a pretty simple concept: gridded, turn-based, tactical combat in a modern warfare environment. However, there are a lot of details in the game that differentiate this seemingly basic idea.
Note: This preview is based on a pre-release build of the game.
The single-player campaign is presented as a series of missions over several different maps. Each mission has a different description, and each map has a series of different obstacles mixed around. The positions and types of enemies vary widely, making for quite a few different missions, even with only a few maps to work over.
The player begins the campaign with only two team members with very basic equipment. Throughout the game, each mission—even if the player fails—awards money that can be spent on better weaponry, armor, accessories, and skill training. Slowly the player gains access to better and better stuff, though each category of stuff must be earned in a particular order. You cannot, for example, save up to buy the best gun right off. You must buy all the guns below it first. In this way, it is more like leveling up the equipment rather than purchasing it. For the impatient, this in-game money can be purchased with real dollars, but there is nothing that cannot be done equally well by simply playing enough to earn the credits. The player’s team also grows in size as the campaign progresses, and with the various skill and specialization options, the player will build a team that is varied and customized to their play-style.
Inside the mission, players are first presented with an overview map, and some limited options as to where the team may be deployed. Once placed, the figures in the combat take turns from an initiative list in the corner, similar to the system used in the Heroes of Might and Magic games. Each figure gets to move and act or ‘sprint’, which moves a bit further but disallows action. Choosing to fire a weapon brings up a series of concentric squares, showing range,which determines base damage against opponents.
There are no actions other than firing weapons, but there are various weapon types which are used a bit differently. Grenades, for example, use a slightly different layover on the map, simply showing which squares the grenade could be thrown to.
One of the most interesting decisions they make here is a complete lack of dice mechanics. It’s certainly not unheard of to eliminate the random element—in fact more and more tactical combat games are taking up this idea lately—but it’s worth noting. There are no random numbers. Every hit is a formula: (base damage) – (cover) – (armor) = (total damage). I found it odd that, despite the static nature of the combat, there is no undo button, even within the same turn, but because of that static nature, it’s easy enough to calculate the results of combat several turns ahead if you’re willing to put the mental work into it.
The mission continues until one team has been eliminated, then the credits are earned based on the number of survivors. Winning enough missions opens new missions that are worth more, but hold more difficult opponents.
The game does have a multi-player option, and even allows for asynchronous turn-taking—in versus or co-op—across all release platforms, but as I was playing a preview build, I was unable to test out the multiplayer personally, and can’t tell you how it works. If I get a chance to try it out, I’ll let you know, but I imagine that it’s very much like the single player experience, just with other people.
Frontline Tactics is coming soon to Windows, Mac, and iPad.