App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Strain Tactics is a game about preparation. It’s also a real-time strategy game where you fly your special forces team into hot zones full of infected enemy hordes and mow them down, but it’s much more concerned with the very deliberate steps you take in advance of these encounters. Using this approach, Strain Tactics feels filled to the brim with potential given the layers of systems it presents, but it comes at the cost of being a volatile experience. The trade-off here creates some frustration, but is ultimately worth it.
The hot zone
The world of Strain Tactics is one where humanity is fighting desperately against a virus that essentially turns people into dangerous, fleshy monsters known as The Strain. Your job is to head up a team of five and airdrop into places that have been overrun by Strain in order to secure important objectives and keep the virus from spreading.
You control your team from a top-down perspective in a way that feels a lot like Door Kickers. Using line-drawing and taps to move and command your troops, you can do all kinds of things like prioritize targets, lay suppressing fire, enter overwatch, and throw grenades, to name a few, all while the action plays out in real-time. With all of these tactical considerations, things in Strain Tactics can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly. Thankfully though, the game offers the ability to slow down or even stop time in the middle of a fight so you can queue up actions and think about your next moves.
In addition to all of the tactical micro-managing you’ll be doing with your team of five, Strain Tactics layers on a multitude of systems for you to contend with and consider while fighting. First is your gunship, which you actually pilot to take your squad in and out of combat and can fire from to bring some air support to your ground troops. Next is your actual squad composition, which can consist of a ton of different unit types, all of which have enough individual strengths, weaknesses, and sub-classes to make your head spin.
If that weren’t enough, Strain Tactics also equips your troops with their own set of morale abilities that you need to constantly manage. If things are going well for your team, then you may trigger stat bonuses that make them more durable in combat, but if things aren’t going so well, your troops could run, fire at random, or even turn on each other. There are other systems at play here too, like status effects, weapon types, and infection management, and their interactions with each other give Strain Tactics a very dynamic feel that implores you to prepare for the worst on every mission.
The sheer amount of systems in Strain Tactics sets up a world of possibility when playing, but sometimes that world feels random, unfair, and even broken. Occasionally, in the safety of the gunship, the morale of your soldiers could drop suddenly, resulting in them turning on each other. At other times, a Strain tentacle could trap a troop in an infinite neurotoxin loop while also being at an angle that prevents other squadmates from saving them. Because there are so many things happening in Strain Tactics, a lot of weird things can happen, and the game isn't always prepared to handle them well.
To make matters worse, Strain Tactics also has a rare bug that can turn the battlefield completely black and prevent you from progressing. Whether it’s because of a technical issue or the random nature of so many systems clashing, Strain Tactics is a game where you’ll be reloading old saves a lot, which can be infuriating. So, while the dynamic nature of the game can create some incredible emergent gameplay moments, it can also completely wreck your forward momentum through the experience.
The bottom line
Strain Tactics has a ton of stuff going on in it, which makes for a game that feels really chaotic. One second, everything could feel totally manageable and predictable, and, in the next, your whole party can literally be on fire. No matter what is happening though, it is hard to deny the rich, strategic depth that Strain Tactics offers. It may have quite a bit of jank and rough edges, but Strain Tactics can still be a heck of a good time.