Hello. Do you like XCOM? Do you like the recent and excellent MechWarrior Tactics game? And most importantly, are you interested at all in the passage of time? If so, then there’s someone I’d like you to meet.
This is Phantom Brigade, a turn-based tactics game that came out last week. It’s a game of two halves, one where you command a squad of mechs on the battlefield, the other putting you in charge of strategic stuff like conquering enemy regions, managing pilots and upgrading/repairing your mechs.
These are all things I love and things I will test out in even the most basic attempt at a turn-based game. But Phantom Brigade is really setting itself apart in a few key ways.
First up, it looks amazing. It’s got a very Virtual On kind of vibe happening with its mech design (and animation, even), and I just love how slick and cool the whole thing looks. Even the interface is amazing, taking cues from games like Endless Legend, and showing that just because a game is about strategy doesn’t mean it also cant look nice.
Next, this isn’t strictly a turn-based tactics game. Like Broken Lines, which I liked and wrote about a few years back, Phantom Brigade is kinda turn-based, in that you definitely get all the time in the world to line up your moves, but the actual resolution of those decisions plays out in real-time.
The story’s narrative foundation is that you and your crew of mech pilots have got hold of a secret prototype weapon that lets you see briefly into the future. Just long enough to see how far an enemy unit is going to move in the next five seconds, and what they’re going to do while they’re getting there. Convenient!
It works like…a video editor. The developer walkthrough below takes you through it in detail, but the planning stage of each turn involves lining up a series of actions on a timeline, on which you’re able to “scrub” backwards and forwards to see how everything is going to go. When everything is to your liking, you hit
play execute and the whole series of moves plays out.
That might sound easy. If you can see into the future, then you can see what your opponent is doing, and you can simply react accordingly. But there’s challenge and unpredictably inherent in this, since every time you shoot, or move, or come into physical contact, or deploy a shield, these actions are timed, and play out during an animation sequence.
Fighting game fans might know where this is going; it’s all fine seeing what your opponent is doing and setting up something to defeat or counter it, but if you get the timing wrong, then you’re fucked.
You might also have noticed from that video and gif that Phantom Brigade is, as a result of this emphasis on timing, always moving. There’s very little prolonged use of cover here, the game wants to make this more of a dance than a gunfight. I’m very much into this at just a click-by-click level, as it always gives me a lot to do, even on turns where it looks like not much is happening.
The game released in Early Access on the Epic Games Store a couple of years ago, which is when we first covered it, but has now reached version 1.0 status and dropped on Steam as well, looking a little slicker and playing a little tighter in the process.
This post was originally written in 2020; it has been updated after spending time with the 1.0 release.