It's hard to believe that Vactics took just a little over 3 years to fully realise from its initial inception to its final release out of Early Access. Much of it was simply a hobby project to build something that the game's creator, The Lemur Conspiracy, wanted to create and enjoy in their own time. Influenced by the likes of Into the Breach and other tactical rogue-lites, Vactics eventually evolved into a neat little tactical combat game that is challenging yet highly replayable due to its simplicity and smooth flow.
Vactics isn't just an intentionally clever misspelling of the word tactics, it's also a reference to the army of robots that have gone rogue, and it's now up to you and your custom-designed mech to get rid of these bad machines and save humanity. The basic premise has an uncomplicated setup, and the campaign isn't necessarily narrative-heavy, but there is substance to the game's lore, which is covered mostly by the codex the player must complete via multiple playthroughs.
It takes only moments to learn the almost chess-like gameplay as players move their custom mech through the grid in turn-based combats. It's almost hard to notice the turn-based structure, as the flow is so seamlessly integrated into the gameplay. The press of a button reveals the turn order, and it's worth noting as you figure out the best way to effectively and efficiently clear out enemies whilst conserving precious energy.
Inevitably, your mech is going to fall, but early defeats aren't just inevitable, they're also productive. Each gameplay accumulates a high score which then goes into leveling up research capabilities in order to unlock new upgrades for the mech and other features. In other words, you almost want to spend the first hour or so with the game simply losing and hoarding up points for incremental upgrades, and before you know it you're far better equipped for lengthier and more successful runs, with progress being signposted by various achievements and other unlockable challenges.
Upgrades come in the form of new tech and abilities for your mech, as well as increasing slots to which these can be equipped. It all comes down to a fine balancing act of using the right skills at the right time, and thankfully the game allows plenty of opportunity to adjust your mech even during combat.
The actual combat flow is swift, as players not only deal with a number of enemy types but also terrain hazards and other challenges. It's almost easy to let your guard down and not feel threatened by it all, thanks to the brisk and relaxing pace, but any ambition to last beyond a few randomly generated map layouts will demand a little more player intensity.
In some ways, it can also feel like a puzzle game. Sure, players can choose a more organic action and reaction approach to enemy movements. Taking a step back to study the map layouts and planning ahead based on the enemy turn cycle and expected actions, all of it can go a long way to really reveal the hidden depth of the combat system. And yet, once you become strategically proficient to the point where everything becomes second nature, there is almost a melodic rhythmic flow to the combat. Suddenly you're not attacking enemies, instead, you're almost dancing with them in Pomp and Circumstance on the battlefield.
Simplistic and minimalistic, Vactics is really more about having just one more run, but no matter how quickly you may fall in battle as you learn the ropes, no effort is futile as your mech continues to become stronger and better equipped for the next run.
Vactics is a beautiful execution of a highly playable concept. Pick this one up if you fancy chess-like replay value blended with the tactical approach of something like Into the Breach.
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