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Hands on: Line of Defense Tactics (iOS, OS X)

updated 03:25 pm EDT, Sun March 9, 2014

Squad based strategy comes to mobile and desktop worlds

Trying to mash tactics and strategy into a game that spans computers and mobile devices is no easy task. Not only do the controls need to be precise enough to use with a mouse and touchscreen, but the game must offer a consistent experience. Best known for Battlecruiser 3000AD in the late 90s, 3000AD has offered gamers a tactical, squad based strategy game in Line of Defense Tactics across multiple platforms -- OS X, Windows, iOS and Android. The game focuses on strategic thinking and resource management to get a squad of four through their missions in one piece. Does the game hit all the right marks considering its ambitious reach? Or will Line of Defense Tactics end up a frustrating game because of it?

Line of Defense Tactics heralds an experience back to the heyday of isometric action experiences not unlike Crusader: No Remorse. Players explore futuristic military installments, open environments and the depths of space through the management of four characters, each with a unique attribute that helps tell them apart outside of their color schemes and naming conventions. Galactic Command (GALCOM) Marines such as "Roach" take positions along the hallways filled with crates and barrels in order to shoot their way through to the victory objectives for each scenario. LDT offers two styles of gameplay: throwing characters into the fray with the campaign, or focusing on defense and survival in the skirmish mode.

There is no story so to speak within LDT, but as the game borders on casual experience that anyone can jump into with a spare minute, it doesn't really need it. There are brief mentions of what the squad must do to meet victory conditions within the campaign portion, as well as a little background as to why -- but it can be argued that this isn't necessary to play or understand what players are expected to do. However, gamers should pay attention to some of the text, as it does spell out some important things to be aware of such as making sure that a specific character is alive in order to complete objectives.

Combat and exploration are the focal points of the game, leading players towards specific points of the map for the mission objectives. Simply destroying all the opposing forces or taking over a key strategic asset to ensure the survival of aerial support are just a few of the tasks that are offered. Bonus objectives play off the exploration aspect in ways such as demolishing all of the crates on a map. It gives players a reason to look at all of the nooks of the map, considering that the crates contain experience or items that can be used.

There are consequences to the combat as well. Rather than being able to charge into rooms with guns blazing, there is a cover system that the game utilizes noted by yellow and green markers. Placement in these areas becomes extremely important when trying to keep losses to the squad at a minimum. Firefights never last long, and cover means the difference between making it out alive or being riddled with holes. This is important, as certain squad members have more health than others.

When focused on by enemies, it tends not to last long anyway -- making decisions and flanking positions important. Grenades can stun or damage one's own squad. Resources are also finite, as guns need to be reloaded and items like healing charges and revive items are limited to what is found on the map or the few charges that the squad starts with.

An appealing feature of Line of Defense Tactics is that it doesn't take a single approach to fighting modes either. While the bulk of the gameplay is focused on the GALCOM squad members, some missions feature the ability to conduct ship-to-ship space battles, and tangling with vehicles and mechs on the ground. It makes sense as well, given that some of the soldiers you maneuver have specialties in those areas. It's vaguely reminiscent of how Starcraft mixes it up the other way around, putting players in control of hero characters in a specific scenario.

As neat as the combat switch-up can be, there are some issues with the game that can keep players from enjoying it to its fullest. The controls can be an issue when it comes to some aspects of the game, leaving optimum squad placement just "close enough" when it comes to ducking into cover. Squad members don't always tuck in or move to the exact spot clicked on with the cursor. Some of this is due to geometry, while most times it's just down to less-than-ideal controls.

The controls feel very much like they were intended for the mobile platform first, and then ported to the desktop without upgrading them to be more accurate. It becomes frustrating, because placement is so crucial to surviving each small encounter. Taking the time to move in the middle of a firefight means decreased damaged done, a de-syncing of reloading times, and more damage done to the soldier as they try to move. It can only be imagined that this problem is exacerbated with small touchscreens. The zoom and orbit controls to gain the best viewpoints is a nice touch though.

There is also the fact that the game doesn't take the idea of geometry into consideration at all times. Sometimes a grenade will go straight through a wall, while other times it'll bounce back and do damage to the thrower. Squad members level up through their melee and range actions, but the main way to improve characters is through their abilities and weapons.

GALCOM marines are outfitted with two weapons and a special item and can swap between them with a click in a rotary menu. Different configurations are allowed due to skill sets, so one member may have a sniper rifle while another may have a heavy machine gun. The problem is the currency to upgrade things like weapons is in earned small amounts. However, more currency can be purchased in-game.

While it is entirely possible to make it far into the game without having to buy currency, after a while it starts to border on the idea of "pay to win," considering the difference an upgrade can make -- or in the option to spend credits to revive characters at the end of a level. Yes, all characters must survive to complete the mission, and the game will give you the option to revive them for a currency cost in order to avoid repeating the mission.

That may be the greatest error of the game, but it doesn't help any that that AI just isn't that smart. Telling the entire squad to fire on an enemy will see them rush towards them without consideration of previous actions. It makes micromanaging -- issuing commands one by one -- the best course of action. Squad members don't all flood to a point, but will wait for one to get there with the others stopping short. This means having to move the team around a lot, which brings more focus onto the frustrating controls.

The enemy AI likes to bunch up at choke points, making drawing them into fire easier if players are willing to sacrifice a squad member at times. On that note, sacrificing a squad member becomes a valid strategy when weighed against the use of healing charges or revive items, as reviving means coming back with full health.

Line of Defense Tactics offers a fun gameplay experience even with some of its setbacks for strategy fans. The changes between mission styles and character setups make for interesting playthroughs to help break up the monotony that may be found in other strategy games. In-game currency is there for players who are having a tough time or want to play into the "pay to win" scheme, but it isn't necessary to enjoy the game. The controls and troubled AI are the greater concern.

Given the number of platforms and price points for LDT, starting at $5 for mobile, $20 for desktop or a demo where the first few levels are free, prospective players should have ample reason to give this squad-based strategy game a go, even with the issues for a decent take on squad based strategy.

Who is Line of Defense Tactics for?
Fans of squad-based shooters that like to micromanage their soldiers, develop careful strategies and are somewhat forgiving.

Who is Line of Defense Tactics not for?
Players looking for fast-paced action that don't think much about mobile-style gaming or are easily frustrated.

By Jordan Anderson

by MacNN Staff



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