Has anyone done this before? A turn-based shoot-'em-up? We really can't think of one.
Before we find out either way, let's marvel at R-Type Tactics for what it is: a semi-remake of the R-Type saga where each side politely waits for the other one to have a go. And instead of one solitary ship blasting through the Bydo Empire, you have an armada.
As regular shmup tradition dictates, you start on the left and make your way to the right, encountering and attacking enemies through the fog of war en route to the main objective, usually the opposing flagship. In fact, one of the first few missions is a fight against Dobkeratops, the infamous first-level R-Type guardian with the large tail and the weak-point in his belly. Except this time with less bullet-dodging and more hit-point management.
The action takes place on a hex-based grid, with each ship in your fleet given the choice to move and attack as points and fuel allow, and there's an impressively generous selection of units, some of which you may recognise from R-Type Final. Ships range from fighters, long-range support types and powerful yet ammo-limited bombers to close-combat mechs with improbable laser axes. Each unit comes with a selection of three or four weapons varying in power, the stronger usually having a lower-percentage chance to hit, the trick being to gamble if the risk warrants the outcome. With no base-building and only a few decent shielding options, however, the game naturally encourages a tactically offensive approach.
Less impressive is the means of investing in new ships, which makes up the meagre resource-management. You do this by harvesting minerals from spots on the maps: etherium, solonium and bydogen (or space wood, space gold, and space oil, if you will). Previous missions can be revisited at any time to do so, but it's a bit of a grind. Still, the effort helps, even though you can muddle through without too much backtracking.
In another favourable tip of the hat to the original series, Force powers also play an important part. Attached to your fighters and powered up, they become one of the most powerful weapons in the game. The various Forces on offer automatically charge up their power to unleash a beam shot that can wipe out several enemies at once. Given that it takes a few turns to get up to strength and any enemy hit will reset the charge, most of your time is spent getting them into position for a worthy assault.
There are around sixty missions in all, roughly divided between the humans and the Bydo. For all its units and levels, however, the game can be a little too dry, sometimes bleak. It's not quite the artful melancholy of R-Type Final, either, but the empty frustration of one too many filler missions. For every couple of good ones, another handful drag on, there to make up the numbers. The computer AI can often fail to pick the pace up, too, being pretty boneheaded at times and often deciding to shoot through its teammates in order to get at you. It does look rather pretty when it wants to, at least, although as with Advance Wars each battle is depicted by an animation of your units attacking the enemy, which is something you'll want to turn off after the first few minutes.
As it stands, Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea still remain leagues ahead in the PSP's turn-based action stakes, but the stark space setting and the dedication to extracting the best elements of the R-Type universe and placing them in a new genre isn't entirely disagreeable. Indeed, with a better ranking or medal system this could have scored much better. A level editor, too, would have been nice, or maybe more than just ad-hoc two-player battles.
But let's not ask for too much here. R-Type Tactics lies among that enjoyable second tier of turn-based games currently occupied by the likes of Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command. If you can forgive the fact the campaign isn't entirely tight, it's a decent stab at something new. Or - if it turns out we've forgotten something obvious - as good a turn-based shoot-'em-up as we've played.
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