Review: Strike Team Hydra17 Aug 2017 8
Review: Strike Team Hydra
Released 14 Aug 2017
While Strike Team Hydra could easily be panned as Demon’s Rise In Space, that would be a disservice because the strongest merits of either game have nothing to do with the pretence of setting or plot, which can at best be described as 'generic'. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; A specialised team of six squad members gamely suit up and go out to answer a distress call, cutting through swathes of vaguely insectoid aliens and arachnid robots. They become stronger and better-equipped with each victory but face increasingly deadly foes for higher stakes and lower odds.
The good news is that Hydra’s core battle system here is likeable and satisfying. Add to this the game’s extensive customisation options and easy interface, and those of us craving the latest turn-based fix have a worthy, if somewhat uninspired, game to fill that void.
After a perfunctory introduction, you assemble your strike team from a dozen potential classes, allowing duplicates of the same class if desired. The squad classes can roughly be divided into archetypes of all-purpose tanks, glass cannon damage types, and specialist supports. Each have different base stats and special abilities, as well as distinct, expressive character models along with forgettable names. I spent a needlessly long time fussing over my team composition, reading up on the differences between a Psi Operative and a Spectre. Perhaps the most important goal here is to internalize which classes are more adept at melee versus ranged combat, and which are more valued for their status effects (i.e. buffs/debuffs) than combat prowess. My favorite ended up being the Command class, who was handy with a pistol but could also refresh the Action Points of distant teammates, setting up some fun combos.
A couple missions in, I learned that you can swap out team members at will between missions, transferring experience and items completely. This is just one of the many ways Strike Team Hydra is quietly generous with the player’s decisions; my only regret is so many of these tiny quality-of-life bonuses remained opaque for me for so long. Here’s another big one: characters that reach zero HP during a mission lose out on all experience they could have gained from it but do not suffer permadeath.
The isolated stats of each role seem obvious and preordained when it comes to combat, almost like laws of nature to those familiar with turn-based strategy. Critical Hits, Action Points, Abilities, Evasion all function just as you’d expect. A few are novel tweaks or additions to the genre standbys. Examples of this include Morale’s ability to gimp a shell-shocked squad member’s battle effectiveness, or Critical Immunity’s conferred resistance to critical hits. All of these cases and more are explained properly in the game's tutorial and at length inside the rules menus, which provides a good mixture of general knowledge and specialized sources of reference.
Holding all of the game’s many factors and numbers in consideration simultaneously is a difficult feat, though. My trusty robot's laser blasts half of the enemy's health, but if I spend a whole turn giving it a 'system upgrade' buff, I suddenly have a forty per-cent chance to crit and eliminate each bogey in one shot, which means my wounded Medic can retreat and heal in a corner while her metal sidekick provides covering fire. That's only a fabricated, sanitized example there, but plenty of actual opportunities in-game challenge the player to assert their cleverness and calculation to shape the course of battle. This conflux of class synergies, various enemy types, environmental bonuses, missions objectives and equipment slots provides for a mind-boggling number of possible combinations and strategies. Sometimes the sheer variety feels tiresome and superficial, but at other times it is indispensable, for an innovative combination is the only way forward.
That Hydra threatens to stall a player's forward momentum is a testament to its rigour and design chops. Alongside this sense of unrelenting challenge, however, the game presents many friendly alternatives to relieve the pressure. If an individual mission proves too vexing, the game's difficulty settings can be adjusted between missions, ranging from Casual to Extreme. Replayable older missions as well as bonus side missions provided additional opportunities to grind out better levels and gear. Also deserving special mention and praise are the controls and layout, which variously allow for tactical views, close-ups for vanity shots or fine targeting, and quick navigation of side menus for abilities and the like. The movement and action selection of the squad were always fluid and easy, which is no mean feat for a game of this depth on a mobile platform.
So much to love. Then I hit a lull in the game’s campaign, growing disillusioned around the time my team stepped over several dozen foes' corpses. I had long since accepted the mediocrity of the story and purpose; what I actually craved beyond bigger numbers and more ornate systems was some sense of constraint. It began to grate that I was constantly presented with so many outs to the game's seemingly ingenious problems. When stymied, I could switch classes effortlessly, outgrind and brute-force the mission, lazily deploy a proven powerful combo, or simply cry uncle and reduce the difficulty. The alternative to these often relied too heavily on RNG for my taste. I suppose some latent sadomasochism ached for some sense of binding structure.
I kept plugging away at the game, and while successes were always hardscrabble and the missions interesting from a dry, technical standpoint, my initial bright-eyed enthusiasm never really returned in full force. Still, Strike Team Hydra remains an objectively impressive turn-based strategy game, chock full of challenges and the tools to surmount them. It is but fraction of its XCOM 2's DLC's price, for example, and can easily provide comparable hours of entertainment, on a mobile platform to boot.