Shock Tactics, a turn-based strategy game developed and published by Point Blank Games, released for PC on April 11, 2017. Employing a sci-fi atmosphere, tactical combat, exploration, squad management, and base-building, Shock Tactics is certainly not a groundbreaking strategy game by the independent German developer. While not all games can break the mold when intriguing gamers, Shock Tactics could have at least met the standard. Unfortunately, the game leaves much to be desired, and a single playthrough is all that is required to define the game as a digital catastrophe.
From the outset, the graphics are noticeably subpar, mixed with fuzzy specks that almost flake, like dead pixels, around the screen—flakes that are not part of the game world’s effects. The terrains, while intriguing upon first glance, are run-of-the-mill to the point of near-irrelevance. Rocky blocks covered in sand look like they were placed on screen by someone playing with Legos or tinker toys, and the various constructs (facilities, player-built bases, even ships in-game) are analogous to the army bases found in green-and-tan plastic soldier bags at toy stores. When establishing itself in terms of graphics quality, Shock Tactics does not even come close to appearing unique. Indeed, the game’s visuals are several steps backward, as if the days of PlayStation 2 are looking to resurface. When a game only looks promising in screenshots, a problem exists.
Equally depressing, Shock Tactics fits the model of lousy audio. The weapon sounds in Shock Tactics are embarrassingly mediocre, afflicted with a monotonous dull rhythm befitting firecrackers going off in a hollow tube. Footsteps, when they can actually be heard, sound like squirrels scraping through walls or trudging across pliant surfaces that are supposed to be solid (concrete, metal, rock, etc.). With a monolithic rift between meeting the video game industry’s standard and churning out a product in a swift manner, perhaps Point Blank Games should rethink their development approach for future titles.
If Point Blank Games reworks its process, the company should also consider putting more effort into its next game’s mechanics. In Shock Tactics, the tutorial, enemy detection and base building systems, gear upgrades, and combat are all bare bones at best. Even the UI is a clunky, barely passable mess. Of all these abysmal misfortunes, however, the AI is undoubtedly the biggest disappointment. On multiple occasions, the AI dawdles, forcing the player to do all the work. Allies in need of protection act as if enemies are not present, content to be surrounded on all sides by danger while the player takes care of everything. While wanting to have players as involved as possible in a game’s world is understandable, users are put on the fast track to being ripped out of their immersion when they have nearly-unresponsive AI. Shock Tactics, in its infinite wisdom, achieves this unworthy goal.
Shoddy mechanics, graphics, and audio are not all that plague Shock Tactics, however. Alongside these absurd excuses for a quality video game, Shock Tactics sports a substandard story that neither infuses adrenaline nor inspires confidence in Point Blank Games’s desire to deliver a polished product. The story is straightforward: explore a newly-discovered planet and excavate resources while fending off hostile aliens and mercenaries. Unfortunately, this ridiculous attempt at meeting the industry’s standard of telling a decent story falls defectively short. The suspense is nonexistent, underdeveloped character progression leads to a foregone conclusion, and the dialogue is dull and unimaginative. In fact, the dialogue is the most disconcerting aspect of the story. The narration and character dialogue is delivered as if being read from a piece of paper. Shock Tactics contains horrendous voice acting, and this failure makes one worry for the future of story-driven gaming, particularly in the realm of single-player projects. To make matters worse, story mode is the only mode available in the game. Thus, players are forced to experience this dysfunctional anathema. For a game that claims to follow in the footsteps of the XCOM series, the developers seem to pay little attention to the polished mechanics that exist within said series, particularly in XCOM 2.
Continuing down the path of pitiful functionality, Shock Tactics is one of the most unstable new releases in recent history. From the moment the game is pulled up, players are thrust into an experience marred with crashes—instances where the game shuts down without warning—at different junctures, whether at the main menu, on a loading screen, or in the midst of a mission. Point Blank Games recently put out an update to remedy this annoyance, but new reports are still submitted claiming the issue has not been resolved, even on computers that are well above the specs recommended to run the game.
Point Blank Games is a relatively new independent developer based in Berlin, Germany. Shock Tactics is the first game the company has produced. While a learning curve is often necessary for new developers, publishing an inadequate product fresh out the gate can be lethal to their survival within a competitive, cutthroat industry, especially video game production. As consumers who spend their hard-earned money on something they are passionate about, gamers deserve high quality games worthy of their price tags. Holding developers, whether veterans or amateurs, to the established high standards is imperative to ensuring the video game industry continues to improve and thrive, and to maintaining the satisfaction of gamers who pay to immerse themselves in quality products. If developers are not held accountable, more abominations like Shock Tactics will infest this beloved market. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” comes to mind. Similarly, ignorance of the standard is no excuse.