Early Access Preview: Attrition: Tactical Fronts15 Aug 2017 0
Ironically, there's probably an age-old war going on about when and how exactly to use the words 'strategy' and 'tactics'. They seem like more or less the same thing, right? Sure. But in most cases, if you hear a game being referred to as a 'tactics' game, it's best to assume it's a turn-based affair - like Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. Alright, maybe that's not the best example, but Attrition: Tactical Fronts backs me up on this one.
Released into Early Access just a few weeks ago, the latest from Cardboard Keep - the folks behind last year's Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth and the upcoming Witch Thief - this one demonstrates a rather different approach to their regular offerings.
Through and through, we're looking at a war game that keeps its boots firmly on the ground - a line we're all learning to loathe this year. Being a World War themed turn-based tactics game, it certainly isn't as graphically intensive as Steel Battalion nor as narratively focused either. It flaunts its ability to have a match finish in as little as 5 minutes - but that doesn't always play into its favour.
Being an Early Access title, we have to give it the benefit of the doubt here. Currently capping out at 12 missions with the 13th being slapped with a handy 'Coming Soon' notice, there really isn't a whole lot to sink your teeth into at the minute. Roughly 8 of these missions feed you boxes of tutorial info as you're guided through familiar topics like terrain advantages, counter-attacks and a prediction system that seemed to miss the mark on a number of occasions. While handy for the most part, having a system essentially reaffirm a good decision only to have it lie to your face isn't much fun; especially when the game goes from 0-60 on its last currently available mission.
The rules are simple: you and your opponent take turns spending your unit's movement points to slide along a hex-based battlefield, while weighing up whether its worth firing first or repositioning for a stronger defence. Certain units carry type advantages on the field, but these aren't always very clear. For the most part, you can expect AT Guns to take on light and heavy tanks relatively well - so long as they're attacking from a safe distance. Should the two go head-on, however, your man won't be standing for much longer. Similarly, it's rare for any mounted unit to withstand much fire from a more mobile offensive, with AT Guns and Machine Gunners feeling more like a liability than much else due to how they're unable to move and fire on the same turn.
The only saving grace that keeps Attrition: Tactical Fronts from feeling like just another turn-based tactical game is the suppression system. This essentially factors in to how unit damage is calculated and means some may go end a turn looking strong in their placement, before having their attack power reduced severely without taking any damage. Think of it like shell shock. A mortar strikes, your head's a mess, and you're probably having a hard time lining up a shot. A unit capable of inflicting 'suppression' can reduce the enemy's effectiveness in battle without hurting them - but actually losing health also reduces a unit's outgoing attack as well. It's a two-way system than can stack to mean a soldier is utterly useless on the battlefield and can effectively be ignored for a time. A blessing for some, but a nightmare for the afflicted when map space is severely restricted.
There's barely a whisper of any compelling reason to fight the battles presented in what is essentially a paid demo right now, with each available mission only containing a quick snippet of rationale before you click into them. The campaign map also lacks any features you'd typically consider staple and/or necessary - like the ability to see which you've cleared in the past. After exiting the game from a break and forgetting how many I'd cleared, there was no noticeable graphic alerting me to that information when I fired it back up after lunch. There was, however, two coloured arrows pointing at one of the missions, though I came to the conclusion that this was, unfortunately, simply just part of the map design.
On that front, graphical fidelity has to come into question here. While the map is, understandably, barren in terms of looks, unit design is severely lacking as well. The idea to coat your army in team colours means units regularly clash with terrain elements making them difficult to notice at a glance. The staple fog of war seems to sits somewhere between dry ice and turning the battlefield into an actual frozen wasteland, and there's absolutely no sound other than units moving and firing in a battle. We'd give points for realism if there was at least troop or general chatter, but it seems like most of the budget went on the cringy quick-message animations or the main menu sequence.
Early Access Promises
According to the developer's Early Access segment on the game's Steam page, they're considering this one 'mostly complete' already. Expecting to exit 2017 with another fully released title to add to their catalogue, it's difficult to really understand how they can consider it practically ready to roll despite a campaign that's essentially a glorified demo with no real driving force behind it.
Perhaps of more concern is the fact the team currently advertise having no plans to increase the price of the game as they go into official release. At £10.99 already, it doesn't sound like a whole lot of money to be throwing down at any game; but I feel incredibly uncomfortable thinking late-comers might pay the same price for a 'complete' game when early adopters paid the same for far less. At the minute, there's barely any reason why this shouldn't be considered a demo. Instead, it's one that asks for both your time and a double-digit entrance fee.
Bug fixes and 'general polish' are on the agenda here, but Cardboard Keep doesn't even bother to mention how many more Campaign missions will be available to players further down the line. The current placeholder only makes mention of 'mission 13' in-game. The worrying idea here is that if not enough players buy into the finished product, the game's core idea of quick-fire skirmishes with other players will essentially be a moot point. What's left after that? An unnecessary map editor, randomly-generated AI matches as a 'campaign' that won't take you longer than an hour or two to complete at the time or writing.
I wholly believe Attrition: Tactical Fronts has a long way to go for it to be considered a feature-rich indie title. For the asking price of this particular, unfinished, project, you can pick up the stylised SteamWorld Heist, the anime-esque Phantom Brave or the 4X classic Galactic Civilizations III - all fully finished, and strongly recommended titles. There's even Shadowrun! If you're looking for vastly more engaging Early Access titles, look no further than our own reviews of both Iron Tides and Acaratus - both of which feature noteworthy takes on the turn-based strategy genre while offering substantially more depth and evident hard-work at the exact same price.
The only situation in which we can recommend Attrition: Tactical Fronts right now is if you're really craving a World War-styled take on the genre; but we can imagine there just has to be something more deserving out there for this price.
Attrition: Tactical Fronts entered in Steam Early Access on July 14th, 2017. At the time of writing, the devs expect Version 1.0 to be released before the end of 2017.