Review: RAD Soldiers

Right, so maybe these medics ARE breaking the Hippocratic Oath…

Oh, bless RAD Soldiers. Here’s a title with all the right intentions, cribbing notes from its big brother and sister games—all good role models themselves—and just trying so goshdarn hard to be a game of high-minded tactics by doing anything and everything that’s seemed to work in the past.

Bright colors and chunky Tonka-style characters out of XCOM? Check. An array of battle-hardened mercenaries like the rogues gallery of Jagged Alliance? Check. Actual tactical gameplay and interesting decisions? Um.. did I tell you about the bright colors yet?

To recap: rockets of some indeterminate value are dropping out of space for some indeterminate reason, and competing squads of mercenaries are the only ones willing to salvage (and, naturally, fight over) these bits of cosmic scrap. Because those mercenaries are flippin’ rad. As in radical. Or radioactive. Both, perhaps.

Here’s where RAD Soldiers, a smile in its heart, jumps in front of you and starts tugging on your coat. “You like Team Fortress, right?” it says, “Well, I have some wacky grunts too. Multiple ones for each class! And they’re all brightly colored and visually distinctive and-”

“Well, hey, that’s great RAD Soldiers. Do they-”

“YOU DIDN’T LET ME FINISH. Ahem. And we have multiple ones for each class, and they’re not very different from each other except some have better starting weapons and maybe a different ability, but they cost more coins to unlock.”

“Oh.”

Still, the starting squad plus one “free” character supplied after giving the game an active email account is functional enough, and can be upgraded, eventually, with better weaponry. (Emphasis on “eventually.” Without going too much into RAD Soldiers’ free-to-play model, grinding coins for medium-tier unlocks is a slog, and the real-world pricing for in-game currency is a bit steep—though most everything can, in time, be had for free, just by playing.) It’s what you do with those soldiers that matters, after all.

Dave finds time for both loving and fighting.

This is where RAD Soldiers comes bounding at you again, clutching a copy of the new XCOM. “My big brother said this was the best new game for strategy and I really liked it so that’s what I play like now too.” Oh, the little scamp.

Now, this isn’t to say that RAD Soldiers is unforgivably derivative, or that copying from other games is wrong. It’s not. Fact is, RAD Soldiers could stand to borrow a little more from Firaxis’ latest. Because something about its take on turn-based squad combat is a bit… off. Perhaps several somethings.

There’s cover here, for starters, and varying levels of it too. Red is next to worthless, yellow better, and green is the best. Except, you can’t really shoot from green cover. You need to move your character one space around it, into the open, like no soldier does, fire some shots and then move back behind the cover. And overall, cover isn’t nearly as protective as it should be. Your team don’t so much hunker down next to cover as much as they just sort of stand by it. So where you might expect a low wall or pile of debris to provide 180 degrees of front-facing protection, it’s more like 60 degrees. Enemies directly in front of you will fire with reduced impact, but a few steps to the left or right and they’ve flanked you. Even though they’re… still pretty much in front of you. Ugh.

Outfitting your squad is a more complex affair. Commander units can be equipped with typical leader powers like supply drops or artillery strikes, and soldiers, depending on class, can wield melee weapons, pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, SMGs and sniper rifles—all with their own situational benefits. There’s a range system too, which distinguishes between actual and ideal ranges on weapons. Fire a shotgun four spaces away, you do damage. One space, you do crazy damage and knock your opponent back a space. It’s a neat way to limit some of the more powerful weapons (snipers come to mind), and the game has a feedback system which tells you, in-match, which locations will give you your best damage.

Multiplayer matches are ostensibly all territory-control numbers, highlighting the aforementioned rockets you’re meant to be fighting over. Strangely, the rockets don’t come into play at all – your real goal is to eliminate the other team. This works like mail chess of yore. You send out a turn, and wait for an opponent to reply with their turn. This is actually pretty fun at first, and with any committed opponent you’ll fall into a rhythm of “play turn, wait fifteen minutes, watch opponent’s turn, play turn, wait fifteen minutes.”

The initial rush buzz of the multiplayer game wears off very quickly. Your tactical options are so limited and the combat is so simplistic, every game boils down to trying to catch a single enemy out of position and having your squad wail on them in unison, like schoolyard bullies taking the small kid’s lunch money. You’ll win, but damn if you’ll feel all that satisfied about it after the fact. There’s a relatively chunky offering of single-player challenges to earn you in-game currency and to serve those who eschew multiplayer, but they’re just as dull. It’s amazing that a game this eye-catching can be so boring.

Damn! They have a peace-loving ginger guy too!

The problem is that unlike say, Hero Academy, RAD Soldiers battles aren’t tightly balanced tactical puzzles, but flabby, over-long gunfights – little grip, little strategic purchase that players can grasp onto and use to leapfrog an opponent. All you do is shoot back and forth over and over -no one ever misses a shot in RAD Soldiers. Line of sight? Nope. Fog of war? Um.. did I tell you about the bright colors yet?

SCORE

3 out of 5

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