It must truly be frustrating for developers of the strategy genre, no matter what they do, they will always find that they are compared to the king of the peers Xcom. Whenever I review games I try my hardest to be fair and unbiased, but my love of Xcom, unfortunately, makes me jump to instant comparisons, and this is what I started doing with 1971 Project Helios. This isn’t a bad thing, because, if a game can get anywhere near the brilliance of Microprose/Firaxis’s work, then it will be a winner and an amazing title. 1971 Project Helios has been developed and published by Reco Technologies S.L, this turn-based strategy game mixes exploration with turn-based combat. You control a team of 4 mercenaries who must use their individual skills to overcome a mixture of enemies to achieve a common goal.
Set in a brutal frozen tundra, you will have to battle against wave after wave of ambushing mercenaries, as well as the harsh elements. If you are successful you will finish each level, and get one step closer to the end goal of your main mission. The story revolves around a group of 8 individual soldiers, they must all come together and put aside their differences in order to save the one thing they all have in common, and that is to protect the life of Dr. Margaret Blythe.
The 8 characters are not all available from the start of the game, in fact, they are formed of 2 separate teams where each group happens to have a friend in common. Once the groups eventually cross paths, this is when the true strategic nature of the title comes to the forefront, and you as the player have the ultimate choice of how you want to complete each stage and each battle. The custom options for each character is extremely limited, and though a skill tree is available, you’ll find that it’s more of a sapling than a mighty oak. This lack of input for the gamer will upset the serious fans of the genre, and many will feel that their opportunity to create their own strategy has somewhat been compromised by how the developer wishes the game to play out. That being said, each character does have a specific form of attack, whether that’s a; long-range weapon, melee tool, grenade, or dog. Certain secondary skills will complement another teammate, and choosing to combine these in your lineup will have devastating effects on your opponents.
The opening few levels really have a feeling of luck about them, rather than strategy. Of course the gameplay mechanics of using the cover as extra protection, and moving your player apply, as they do in pretty much all turn-based strategy games. But, the intelligence of the AI is pretty low. You create your plan thinking that one thing will happen, and the enemy rarely executed their turn as you’d expect. A player is left in the open, and they will shoot one hiding away, one character is one hit from death, and they will turn their attentions to someone else, it was all very strange. If you then mix in the fact that its mission over if one of your players is knocked down, then this Russian roulette of combat approach can be slightly infuriating.
This improves vastly once you collect an item called “The Fulgor Tank” this is a game-changer. This small object has somewhat of a Sci-fi feeling to it, it has 3 game-changing elements that suddenly spark this title into life, and adds a new layer of approach to each battle. No longer do you fear being taken down by your foes, a sip of this delicious tonic, and you are back in the fight. You can also use it to reduce the cooldown timer of any task, and ward off the ill effects of the freezing environment. In my opinion, this should have been implemented much earlier in the game. As it is, the opening stages are like a long-winded tutorial, they are fun to play through, it just feels like you are not in control of the situation, and are merely going through the motions.
Though the addition of extra characters and “The Fulgor Tank” add layers of interest and an element of ownership over your team, I couldn’t move away from the reality that each battle was quite repetitive, and most of the action is quite slow-paced. The pace wasn’t an issue for me, it gave me plenty of time to contemplate moving, and form a plan. But after the 5th ambush where you just repeated what you had done previously, I was desperate for more. I wanted the environment to explode and be destroyed, or additional troops from both sides to come in and act as reinforcements, but it never happened. This part of the game felt like it was somewhat lacking in fresh ideas as the game advanced. It’s a shame as the gaming principle is very good, and for the most part, each of the levels were fun to complete.
Presented in a tabletop view, you have limited visibility of the surrounding action, this added some tension as you ventured around the level. I found that the pale colours emphasised the cold and lonely environment that the protagonists call home. The developers have given you the freedom to move the camera, this helps you to understand the natural obstacles of the arena, and where the best positions are for both attack and defence, enabling you to plan much more effectively. The distance at which the action plays out makes each of the player models harder to identify from one another, most of the time you will have to read the name of your opponent to be assured of the best approach to take. This was disappointing as the text narrative was represented with a delightful jRPG image which was colourful and full of details, giving each character a distinctive look and personality, unfortunately, none of this transferred to the models which you controlled.
A story that has a lot of drama, twists and turns deserves fine audio to drive it forward. At times this was achieved brilliantly, but during battles it let itself down. So let me expand on those points for you. The background music while you explore is not overpowering, but it does add a sense of danger and despair, this combined with the sound of the wind whipping around the mountains, created an amazing atmosphere. However, you come crashing back down to earth when you encounter any fights. The high tempo electric soundtrack aims to drive excitement and panic, but it’s at complete odds with the slow pace of what transpires in front of you. Not only that, but, it’s the same track on loop for every encounter, this doesn’t help with the repetitive feeling of each battle, and the developers really should have had a number of songs to accompany each fight. If the developers could add a few more tracks, it would certainly go a long way to improving the shortcomings of what is otherwise a pleasant and enjoyable area of the game.
This has clearly been optimised for the PC first and foremost. There isn’t a massive amount of controls to focus your attention on, yet the ones that have been mapped are oddly placed. You are asked to move characters, select which team member you want to use, and scroll through a list of available tasks. The expectation is to use both the LT and RT buttons, and the left and right bumpers. No matter how much I played, I wasn’t able to get my head around which one selected the actions, and which selected a teammate. It felt a little backward, and I instinctively pressed the wrong buttons all the time. Without the option to set your own control layout, you just have to put up with it. It’s not the end of the world, as you have as much time as you wish when it’s your turn. It just makes the game not flow as nicely as it should have.
Whenever I’m playing a strategy game I have an expectation that it’ll keep me coming back for more, and 1971 Project Helios certainly does, but probably not in the traditional sense. Reco Technologies S.L has created 3 possible endings to the storyline, that require you to play the full story each time. This was great, as the tale is very good, and the majority of the gameplay is extremely enjoyable. If you then add in the achievements, and the almost impossible to find items that have better camouflage than a chameleon, then, you’ve got quite the game to keep you playing.
Before I downloaded the game, I decided to look at the Steam page reviews and was left a little disheartened by the comments. The consensus is that there is a lack of creative input for the player, and that they believe it unfinished. Now I don’t agree with these statements, and here’s why. For me, the developers have restricted the custom options to ensure that the player has to choose between the available characters, other than the one they like the look of. You have to consider how your team works together, and combine the best people for the job at hand. The statement that the game is unfinished really didn’t resonate with me. The game looks great, the story is interesting, and the text narrative shows the characters’ personalities, even if the English is a little broken in places. Having the ability to choose how you wanted to end the game was excellent, and really gives you an empowered feeling. The only thing that this title is guilty of, is that it doesn’t mix up the gameplay enough, making it feel repetitive. This was then emphasised by the poor application of the same music during every battle. A few minor tweaks and this will be a strong title that won’t compete with Xcom, but will certainly stand on its own merits. Even in its current build, I’d recommend it, I enjoyed my time in the bleak wilderness, and can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t find it equally enjoyable. Grab your winter coat, you’ll find that trying to save someone in a frozen tundra is a difficult and cold task.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 6/10
Replay Value - 8/10
Working as a team isn’t always enjoyable, in 1971 Project Helios you have no choice. You must put aside your differences as Dr. Margaret Blythe’s life depends on it.
- The background music and sound effects are great.
- The levels are interesting, and well designed.
- Excellent replay value, with 3 different endings to choose between.
- Battles, and the accompanying music is repetitive.
- The controls could do with a player custom choice.
- A limited progression tree.