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Crave Entertainment



Zed Two



T (Teen)



Q2 2004



- Innovative turn-based strategy gameplay

- Gutsy take on a well-worn story line

- Effeminate British robot actually a badass



- Cartoonish enemies don't jive with dark story

- Cheerful sountrack doesn't jive with dark story

- Pace can become sluggish



Review: Future Tactics - The Uprising (XB)

Review: Wrath Unleashed (XB)

Review: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (GC)



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Future Tactics: The Uprising

Score: 6.7 / 10


In the future, cute, bug-eyed creatures set on eliminating humanity will overrun the world, but against the odds, a rag-tag team of rebels will band together to fight against them in a guerilla war set to the tune of music from the Weather Channel. At least, this is the post-apocalypse as envisioned by Zed Two studios in their new turn-based strategy "Future Tactics," a title whose deliberative style of gameplay can become very addictive, despite its awkward meld of a dark story with peppy music and cartoonish character design.


future tactics the uprising review          future tactics the uprising review


First, I've got to say that I have nothing against the music on the Weather Channel. It features tight, cheerful tunes -- played by what must be a talented group of studio musicians -- that are never really intended to be noticed as you stand in an airport, watching your chances of making it home within the next ten hours evaporate on screen.


Veteran soundtrack writer Tim Follin's score for Future Tactics is similar in both quality and tone. Its tight, jazzy loops can get repetitive at times, but receding into the background as they're meant to, they never become grating. And, if I had the arms, I would give him four thumbs up for not resorting to the swelling crescendo filled crap that permeates many "serious" titles.





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But the music is one symptom of a larger problem in the game. It's good; the character and enemy designs are good; several of the level designs are very well thought out; the story is well written, and the development team has essentially designed a new type of turn-based strategy, opening up new possibilities for the genre as a whole. Unfortunately the end result is a bit of a jumble.


For example, dozens of reviewers have panned the game's story as forgettable. (In the time it takes you to read this sentence, 18 separate 


Powerpoint presentations, in gaming industry offices across the country, have opened with the line "What we have here are a tiny group of humans--banded together to fight overwhelming forces of mutated evil.")  But that overlooks the stark, gutsy approach that the game takes to that admittedly worn premise.  Several key characters die violently during cut-scenes, and, in what must be a first for interactive entertainment, an unexpected pregnancy plays a key role in the plot, acting as a sign of hope for the future.


Also, much of the story is told through a child's diary. Her simple entries, such as one in which she says she sometimes "feels bad" about killing the aliens that have taken control of the planet, are a subtle, compelling record of the confusion and desperation felt by the survivors of a horrible war.


Basically, the story--and more importantly the way it's told--isn't kiddie fare. When Zed Two Studios commissioned the script from Paul Rose, best known in the U.K. for his tele-text game-review program "Digitiser" on England's Channel 4, I can only imagine that they expected the cult-hero to showcase his surreal, irreverent sense of humor.  Instead, they got a serious script that's commendable on its own terms. But that difference of expectations may explain why evil here assumes the guise of fugly-cute purple muppets, why the little girl who recently lost both parents to Armageddon is wearing such a goofy grin, and why a spirited pan-flute duel always seemed to be playing as I targeted my rocket launcher.


future tactics the uprising review          future tactics the uprising review


These inconsistencies destined Future Tactics to its release in the bargain bin, which is unfortunate, because on a handful of levels, such as one in which your team must make it from one end of an old freeway overpass to another while under attack, the game really showcases its potential. The music there is moodier, and the image of rusted, abandoned cars littering the road lends it an eerie feel more in keeping with the dark story line. Using Criterion's Renderware engine, the game allows virtually everything on each level map to be blown up or destroyed, and in this case, a well-placed shot can make quick work of enemies by flipping cars or buses onto them. Similarly, destroying sections of the road to create foxholes for taking cover becomes key for survival.


Low, a young man whose father is killed by aliens early on, and his young sister Pepper, are on this level assisted by Scallion, the game's token every-ghetto-man, and Wardwarf, a pint-sized robot who, despite his effeminate voice and overclocked toaster-oven looks, quickly becomes one of your team's best fighters.


Unlike most turn-based strategies, where you can move a set number of paces and then strike, Future Tactics is about guerilla war--taking cover, running out to attack, and then taking cover again. The game allows you to do this by setting a range of movement for each character at the beginning of their turn, with a border of flashing green dots illustrating how far they can move in each direction. Smaller, more vulnerable characters such as Pepper and Wardwarf are "faster," and begin each turn with a much larger range of movement than slower, more powerful characters such as Low and Scallion. Stopping to attack during a turn limits how far you can move afterward. Since your enemies are all crack shots, taking cover after every attack is critical, and each move requires planning as a result.


It's a great design, but it can easily be abused, since characters are restricted only by those flashing borders and can roam within them as long as they want during each turn. So, it's possible to run halfway across a level, pick up a health pack or a weapon upgrade, transfer it to one of your teammates, scope out several possible locations for a sniper attack, climb onto a rock, shoot, and then hide.


The design and gameplay can be a lot of fun, if you are the type of gamer who prefers planning to action. Although the title isn't at all similar to Eidos' Hitman series, the pace (and frequently the frustration curve) is comparable. It's difficult to win many levels without planning, which often requires playing through levels several times to figure out what works.  Fortunately, characters accumulate experience points and upgrades even during failed missions, and, as a result become more powerful every time a level is retried. That may sound like a soft approach -- maybe it is -- but given the game's linear level by level progression, it seemed necessary. Otherwise, players who breeze through the first quarter of the game would become hopelessly stuck when facing larger groups of enemies later.


Overall, Future Tactics is a good game that could have been much better. As it is, the game brings a lot of great ideas to the table, but its lack of cohesion will distract fans of turn-based strategy, while action gamers are likely to be frustrated by the game's slow pace.


- M. Enis

(September 9, 2004)

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