[dropcap size=big]D[/dropcap]eveloper Grenade Tree’s X-COM inspired American Revolution Sci-fi combat crossover is nearing the final stretch in their Kickstarter campaign. Now is as good a time as any to take a crack at that demo that can be found on Gamejolt and IndieDB. They’ve already succeeded in getting Greenlit on Steam, so all that’s left is to hit that reasonable sounding goal of $10,000. The game already has the framework set to be a tactical combat game with a good arsenal of weapons, armor, and skills, so with the proper funding Outland 17: Void of Liberty is set to be quite an expansive and replayable strategy game.
In the Outland 17 alpha, the interface isn’t over-populated with options and settings, it’s fairly straightforward, allowing players to select their mission, outfit the squad, and jump right into the action. The fully-animated cinematic intros to the missions can even be skipped entirely, moving straight into the battle. The squad will move to their initial positions, and the turns are played out using the action point system, which feeds the movement, skill, item, and attack commands. Each squad member has unique skills, weapons, and equipment that immediately builds the first step in your strategy. A close range swordsman, for example, can bear the weight of the frontal assault, though it leaves him completely vulnerable to the attacks of the entire enemy force. However once within range, he’s extremely deadly, able to attack at least twice in one turn if already within range. This is one point where player skills can be a lifesaver, as one of the available techniques allows the player to move to cover without spending action points.
One of the other default squad mates in the Outland 17 alpha is a sort of tank character, with a heavy armor skill, a close-range, spread fire boomstick, and several options available to beef him up. A skill can be chosen to up his max health, or increase the amount of health given when using med packs on either himself or his teammates. Combine that with equipping grenades in his arsenal, and you’ve got a support man at your back when things look grim. The only thing that I found was difficult was keeping his character within range of the enemy and his squad, due to using up too many action points just by moving. It comes down to either spending his whole turn on using an item, or moving to cover. Forget firing off that Blunderbuss at the marksman on the other end of the field, anyone who plays video games should know by now that shotguns aren’t typically ranged weapons.
One of the characters I got the most use out of (who consequently ended up my favorite) was Jimmy Kimmel, the rifleman. With a Musket in his grip, his attacks are accurate and powerful. Hide him behind a crate, use his Hold the Line ability to jack his armor rating up, and a stationary sniper is now at your disposal. Though this alpha has a decent amount of skill upgrades available, the final game will see even more, and it will allow players to greatly alter the roles these characters play. Even through a couple level ups, my rifleman gained an ability to taunt enemies into targeting him instead of the other squad members. The tide of battle does not tip in your favor when your sniper yells “hey I’m over here, hit me!” but with the right loadout, that sniper could switch roles in the middle of battle by equipping that shotgun or grenade, run up to the enemy line, and cause a seriously hindering distraction.
Finally, the man pictured below this paragraph with that killer rifle is Sergeant Jackson. Sarge is extremely versatile, and the most valuable member on the squad. He’s the Sergeant for a good reason, as his rifle skills surpass that of the rifleman Jimmy. His backup pistol is wielded with fair accuracy and damage. But one of the most standout features is his presence on the battlefield. The Sergeant’s demeanor gives players and squad members confidence to push through even the goriest of battles. His Eagle Eye skill assures the squad’s attacks stay long and true, as the enemy marked using this skill is truly just that: marked for death. Sarge’s carry weight is at a decent level as well, allowing him to hold two weapons, and up to three items.
The missions in Outland 17 play well, lasting a decent length and rewarding players well for completing the mission. Skills for squad members level up during the mission, like movement range, armor, and attack skills. However after the mission, bonus points are awarded to squad members, as well as items like guns, armor, and consumables. The game isn’t stingy with dishing out the reward items either, so there’s heavy incentive to complete those missions to bulk up the loadout for future endeavors. Knocking out campaigns on a planet will open up travel to other planets, hosting more missions in varying degrees of difficulty. In conclusion, Outland 17: Void of Liberty is a uniquely-styled tactical strategy combat game that offers plenty of features to the player, motivating play-through after play-through. Why not run through the game, unlock a bunch of weapons and armor, and then go back and run the old missions again? Sure the scripting for missions are solidified in a linear manner, but the unpredictability of enemy movements keeps the experience fresh every time.
What would be nice to see in the finished game? The camera in Outland 17 is rather static. Something more dynamic with a zoom and rotate function would be a great place to start. Adding dimensions to the battlefield would be interesting, allowing a bit of exploration to take place making the experience a little more interesting. As it stands, the maps are one long strip that moves in a Southwest to Northeast plane, so branching off or adding extra levels above or below would be quite a twist. Aside from these suggestions, the game is pretty solid as it is. The combat handles well, the UI is well-designed and non-invasive (perhaps a hide UI command would be convenient for certain situations). Outland 17 is a worthy strategy title, certainly more than worthy of the couple hundred megabytes of space the free demo takes up.