Hello, reader. Reader, here’s Strategical Showcase. Strategical Showcase, here’s my favourite reader. What kind of cryptic concoction is this? Well, my dearest, Strategical Showcase is a new feature by yours trully. Expertly crafted- afters years of study- to feature games that might interest you, but I can’t fit it in my review schedule. Strategy Showcase will run alongside it’s twin brother “Wargaming Showcase” where “wargames”, in a more traditional sense, will get the same treatment.
Disclaimer: A key was given by the developers to Strategy and Wargaming for press purposes.
What’s the deal with Black Powder: Red Earth, you murmur? If you, like me, haven’t heard a whisper about it then that’s because they’ve done a terrible job marketing themselves for such a neat, cheap little game with a badass artstyle. What is Black Powder: Red Earth (from now on BP:RE), then? It’s an isometric, fixed-view, turn based-tactics game that focus exclusively on the tactical experience, ditching the usual unit customization that other games to the genre are known for, going for a very direct and simplistic approach to tactics. I wish I could say that Black Powder was better off without it but that isn’t the case. Let us not give up on it, yet.
Here’s how it plays, you control a squad of mercenary special operatives (Kinetic Force) that works outside the lasso of the law eliminating High Value Targets and exfiltrating VIPs in a middle eastern setting. So far, so par for the course.
Turns happen at a I GO – YOU GO Pace, XCOM style. Each soldier can move a pre-determined numbers of squares and fire, or move further a couple of steps and sacrifice the opportunity to fire. There are also a couple of active skills (kinetic actions) : drone strikes, phone calls to distract enemies, nothing too interesting to name but fun to use nevertheless, with the player being able to call drone strikes into islamists hideouts to flush the HVT outside for a swift kill, for example. What’s trully interesting, on the other hand, is a system of enemy “readyness”: everytime the player is expose, directly or indirectly to the enemy, they will react, so descrition is of the essence. A civilizian just spotted your team right across the alley and filmed you? It’s all over social media and the level goes up, more enemies come out. A body was found? Smack it up a notch. Used a drone strike to level up a building? Disregard for subtlety can turn easy extractions into long and painful city wide exchanges of fire that will most certainly spell disaster.
BP:RE art is downright beautifully stylish, with cutscenes equally impressive. The game is no slouch on the art department.
So far, so good, right? Well, not so fast. Let me explain a couple of things that make me weary about recommending the game? This right here:
“Black Powder Red Earth® has no tech trees, base building or R&D mini-games. It focuses entirely on meaningful tactical decisions that influence the outcome of raids in urban environments.”
In principle, prioritizing meaningful tactics should be lauded, not frowned upon, but BP:RE is built under the notion that a squad of (always) 4 operatives that (always) sport the same gun while (always) using the same tactics is something that can make the game more appealing. Unfortunately, I don’t think BP:RE achieves this goal. And it’s all due to the lack of options while playing. I sincerely believe that there’s a difference between simplistic and simple gameplay mechanics. Take for example, one of my all time favourites, Into The Breach; It’s perfectly acceptable to say it’s a simple game, because it is. But within the confines and limited ruleset, i.e. Turn-based-IGO-UGO; 8X8 Square-tiles; Enemies have their moves telegraphed before they take place. Within such confined space, Into The Breach packs a tremendous amount of choice in how to approach and interact with said overarching rules. Friendly units are very distinct from one another, with a very specific role; Friendly units skills create satisfying sinergies that lead to those “eureka” moments when the player manages to snag a victory out of the jaws of defeat; there’s a sense of progression across the various campaigns; enemies offer a significant challenge, not based on a number advantage but because they test your abilities to react to problems they themselves present by telegraphing their moves before hand. The point is, some design decisions help build the stage for intricate and nuanced gameplay while others don’t. A game like BP:RE should be right up my alley but I just can’t get over the fact that repetition sets in right after a couple of missions. This is amplified also, because turns and unit animations take too long, a two times or four times speed would go a long way to help ease some of the pain.
It might seem that I’m railing against Black Powder: Red Earth, but that’s not actually true. The game has some amazing style and the pixer art is sublime. It’s faithfull to it’s source material and the threat of missions always going awry will always keep you on your toes, with every move. Black Powder Red Earth has a very clear and noble goal in mind: it’s just that it offers a very specific experience for a very specific audience that, unfortunately, I don’t think I’m part of. But if Steam reviews are something to go by, it’s sporting an impressive 92% positive rating.
The game costs 16,79€ or your regional equivalent. Check out it’s Steam page here.