Release Date: December 7th, 2017
Price as of Article: $11.99 USD, £8.99
ACORN Tactics takes place in the future, where a massive flood has covered the world in water. Luckily humans were able to build large oil rig type structures to ensure mankind’s survival. All seems well until one day an alien blob species attacks, hell bent on invading earth and destroying the human race. That’s where you come in. As a new commander, you take control of a squadron of mechs, defend our structures, and try to drive off this blobby alien menace.
One of the high points is the sounds this game makes. When the mechs walk you hear a mix of mechanical sounds and steel footsteps that makes you feel you are ordering an actual mech to do your bidding. Gunfire has a real heft to it, with the sniper rifle giving off a satisfying explosion on impact. Guess they are using explosive tips. The aliens attacks sound goopy, which definitely fits their look perfectly. Unfortunately the music isn’t up to the quality of the sound design, with rather generic tracks you hear in many war style mobile games.
For a small title such as this, the visuals are rather impressive in a lot of areas. They have opted for a 3d game here with a rather kiddy look. It can be a bit cutesy in a lot of ways, with the humans looking like knock off Lego characters. The aliens look adorable, being one eyed blobs that bounce around like jelly. There is a rather harsh contrast to this however, with the mech you control having a realistic look to them. The oil rig style stages you battle on also have a realistic and industrial style to it which matches the mech, but nothing else. These clash of styles really destroy any cohesive art direction the game has, seemingly never settling on what it wants to look like.
There are realistic explosions and muzzle flash from the mechs. The way the legs move when they walk is also quite detailed. It ends up looking real bizarre when a realistic mech is firing machine guns and explosions at big blobs of goop that are straight out of a kids movie. It is also a little disturbing when the aliens die, and they explode, leaving their one eye, brain and a single bone to bounce lifelessly to the grated flooring.
Thankfully the game runs beautifully in both docked and handheld mode, never dropping frames or having any real performance issues. Even though this isn’t a very demanding game, it is always appreciated when a game runs well and deserves to be called out.
This game is a turn based squad shooter in the same vein as Xcom or Mario + Rabbids. You begin by deploying your squad in the designated space. This is a little problematic as you place your entire squad in one clump, and you cannot rotate units so that they are in a preferable setup. Often you will find after deploying that your sniper unit is in the front with no way of maneuvering your units so that it is at the rear of your formation. This is devastating on levels where the enemy can close the distance on turn one, as they will get too close for your sniper unit to attack. This also makes your shotgun mech useless as they don’t have the range to hit anything from behind another unit.
After deploying, you then trade turns with your enemy to move units and fire your weapons. The goal of each encounter is to outmanoeuvre and destroy all of the opposing force. Unlike other squad based tactic games, there isn’t a cover system, meaning all of your shots just require line of site. This is quite disappointing, as it lowers your movement options and lessens the amount of tactical thinking as a whole.
Your mechs have two health values, green denoting armour and blue showing your shields. Before an enemy can destroy your mech, they must first eat through your shield, then attack your now vulnerable hull. Different enemies have attacks that are more effective against either armour or shields. Thankfully these are colour coded, with blue enemies effective against the blue shields and green against armour. This adds some layer of tactics, as you need to decide whether to try to destroy all the green enemies before the blue ones sap all your shields, or kill the blue enemies so the green ones find it harder to kill you effectively.
During your turn, you select your units one at a time, and you can choose to either move or shoot your weapon. Once you select a unit, blue dots appear showing you where you can move to. There are also red dots that show your mechs firing range from the spot you have currently selected. This can be a bit misleading at times, and I found some units that are said to be in range then appear not to be once I commit the move. Unfortunately you cannot take back a move once you’ve committed either, which can cause these annoyances to have real dire consequences.
As you kill enemies, your own units will receive promotions. These promotions raise your mechs armour and shield values, making you want to take only fully promoted units into battle. Once a mech is destroyed, you lose that unit forever, having to build a new mech and start promoting them from scratch. You can replay previous missions to help level up your new units, but unfortunately you have to go through the mission dialogue again instead of getting straight into the action. Yet another frustration the game presents.
Eventually you are able to use random abilities on one mech each turn. What ability you can use is determined by a deck of cards, with the ability available being selected at random out of the cards you have in your deck. You find new cards inside crates that are scattered throughout the missions. The system doesn’t feel great, as you have no agency over the ability you will get to use. This leads to situations where you must pray to the RNG gods to bless you with a healing or defensive card to save one of your units.
Between missions you can buy, sell and upgrade your mechs. Upgrades are doled out as part of the main campaign, and you must buy them with money you earn from completing each level. Luckily you will have more than enough cash to buy whatever you need, assuming you aren’t losing most of your mechs each mission and having to constantly buy new ones. The upgrades apply to all of your mechs, so you don’t have any individual purchases or upgrade trees to tinker with, which is a bit of a shame.
The menus in this game are clunky and a pain to navigate. The way the cursor moves from menu to menu doesn’t feel great, and you will unfortunately have to deal with quite a few menus. They have the appearance of being optimised for the touch screen, but this game doesn’t offer touch controls. This is a bummer as it seems like it would have alleviated some of the problems.
To be brutally honest, there isn’t very much here. There are 25 levels that have very limited variation and no real enemy diversity. At £8.99 ($11.99 usd) ACORN Tactics is a rather budget title, and that does show in what you get here. There is an end game loop, with a daily mission and randomly generated battles that can extend the life of the game, but unfortunately these vary little from the standard missions and become stale very quickly.