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Future Tactics: The Uprising (PlayStation 2) artwork

Future Tactics: The Uprising (PlayStation 2) review

"It's really fun to experiment with tactics and ideas that aren't even on the table in most strategy games, such as blowing through cover, hiding in craters the crossfire has created, knocking enemies off cliffs, dropping cars on them, etc. The game's flaws are really glaring in a modern light."

I recently played a few minutes of a couple of my favorite weird PS2 games from back in the day. Gungrave: Overdose was a stylish, action-packed shooter that I adored back in yesteryear, but it felt too clunky for me to play for more than a few minutes today. Alter Echo was a game full of original ideas when I played it years ago, but today it feels pretty cliched. Future Tactics was the one game I loved when I was younger that I still wanted to play more of when I tried it for a few minutes along with these other former classics. So I decided to run through the campaign once more and review it.

Future Tactics is a turned based strategy game along the lines of Disgaea or Front Mission, but with some very heavy, very obvious tweaks. First off, there is no grid. Secondly, although the game is turned based, almost every command involves action-game style controls.

For example, just like in a normal tactics game, when it is your turn, you move and shoot with each of your characters. But when you move, you walk the character around with the left stick and make them jump with square, just like a 3d platformer. A big ring shows that character's movement limit, but within that limit you can run and jump freely. When you hold still, a second ring appears showing how much you will be able to move after firing your weapon. This allows you to run over near some cover, fire off a shot, and then duck behind the cover with your additional movement. All this is performed while everyone else is frozen in space. It's great to be able to fully use three dimensions in a tactics game. Hiding on roofs, climbing up hills, and jumping over walls are all things you can do in some tactics games, but they are usually abstracted down to a simple stat bonus or save percentage while here they are fully realized parts of the 3D space the game takes place in. Interestingly, there is a stealth element to the game where you can stay hidden from enemies while running around, but if you run into their line of sight they will know where you are and will be able to shoot you. This is a great idea, but I wish it was a little more fine-tuned. In most levels the enemies will see you immediately, and they use telepathy so that when one sees you, they all know where you are. There were, however, a few moments in my most recent playthrough where I was able to use stealth a bit.

Firing your weapon is also an action-based affair. When you select the fire action, a first-person view shows you your reticle. You aim at the enemy, trying to hit them in the head or at an angle to knock them off a cliff or into a certain postion (more on that later). The reticle is very floaty so that it is hard to get it exactly where you want it, but easy enough that you'll almost never end up totally off target. When you press X to lock in where you want the reticle, a horizontal line sweeps over the reticle over and over. You want to stop the line as close to the reticle's center as possible. Pressing X again starts a vertical line sweep, with the object again being to get as near to the center as possible. The intersection of the two lines determines a percentage: if the cross hair you create with the two lines is dead in the center of the reticle, you are at 100% and will do the most damage. The further off you are, the less damage you will do. You character then fires the weapon. Most characters are able to boost the damage by pressing X just before the firing animation finishes. These animations are timed just right to make that tricky, but it can be very rewarding. A handful of characters use a different firing system where they match up a pulsating ring with a spinning radar line for indirect attacks that can go over walls and buildings as well.

At the end of each character's turn, you choose one of 3 types of turn end. Normal just ends their turn. Shield makes them put up a force field that significantly reduces damage. This option can only be used every 3 turns. And there is a healing option, which lets them recover health but makes them take more damage if they are hit while healing. These three options are really well thought out and balanced. They force you to make interesting decisions, like using the shield when a character is in the line of fire, or ending your turn out in the open and then shielding up to draw fire away from an injured team-mate. And trying to find just the right hiding spot to huddle in and heal is fun and hard as enemies are really good at finding a way to sneak a shot through at you even if you think you are out of sight.

Scattered throughout each level are health packs that fully restore a characters health and upgrade packs that give characters new abilities, like the option to shoot twice in a turn, infra-red vision that greatly helps in locating enemies, and even more exotic attacks and options like health-leaching beams, teleport shots, and giant cluster bomb attacks. These power-ups are often well hidden and require you to blast your way through walls and objects to get to them.

Once your whole team has taken its turn, the enemy does the same thing, running around and firing. The weapons in Future Tactics are all extremely powerful, at least in the amount of collateral damage they cause. Almost everything in the game is destructible. Shots into the ground cause giant craters, shots into buildings blow giant holes in them, and shots into even giant objects like buses and boulders can cause them to go flying wildly. The game really encourages you to experiment with the destructible environments in some great ways. Craters can be used to break enemy line of sight and keep you safe. You can blow holes through bridges and overpasses to make enemies fall through them. And if a flying object ever hits an enemy, it does massive damage. This really incentivizes taking risky shots to knock cars and boulders into enemies. The boulder might miss them and do nothing, or it might hit them and cause a ton of damage which is really helpful as many of the enemies take quite a few shots to kill. You can also knock enemies off cliffs and into water for instant kills, so you are encouraged to do things like use multiple shots to blast enemies toward a cliff edge, or even use tricky tactics like standing on a cliff edge, then using an ability that lets you switch places with an enemy, and then blasting them off the cliff. The game really excels at merging the deterministic ideas of a turn-based game with the wild unpredictability of a physics engine. It's best moments are when you pull off something amazing like dropping a car on an enemy's head or blasting through a wall to damage a guy on the other side. I guess it's sort-of a lot like Worms, actually.

All of the good parts of the gameplay are still fun and interesting today, but unfortunately the game's flaws only look worse in this day and age. Foremost among its problems is the camera. You can move the camera around while moving your character, and you can also switch it to free-flying mode, which lets you fly around the level and look at everything from every angle. At least that's the theory. It works great about half the time. But the camera is stopped by any object in the level, so levels in interiors or containing big objects are very hard to look around. This is really frustrating, especially when you just cannot get the camera to check out the angle you need to see to make an important decision about your move. The camera can also get stuck in weird ways while you are moving around, causing you to not be able to see where you are going, making you loose your sense of direction, and even leaving you at weird angles where your character's command selections are off-screen.

The other big problem is the game's weird pacing and balance issues. There are a lot of examples of this. The second or third level is bizarrely the hardest in the game by far. Some characters are almost totally useless. They do minuscule amounts of damage compared to other characters that can take out a big chunk of enemy health and some that can even one-shot weaker enemies if you aim well. This seems to be unrelated to their level, they are just weak. Other characters are randomly killed in cutscenes, meaning any upgrades you've given them are permanently wasted since you can choose which character to upgrade every time you find an upgrade kit. This is especially annoying with one character who is really weak so you want to upgrade him, and then he dies off really quickly. Other characters don't die, but you only use them in one or two missions, so you can have the same weird problem there.

In general though, the character selection is quite good, with a few options for tactics depending on how you upgrade the characters. I was surprised to find that this time through the campaign I was able use some abilities that I never got around to messing with when I played this game as a youth to great effect. I also had a few opportunities to screw around with the physics engine in ways I hadn't thought of before, which was great (protip: use teleport shots to group enemies tightly together so that attacks hit all of them). It would have been great if the game had stats and equipment to mess around with. That would have added another layer of depth and perhaps helped to fix some of the character balance issues too.

Like so many games out there, Future Tactics' has a cool story concept with terrible execution. It's about survivors of a creature invasion that has wiped out most of the population of earth. They steal the creature's immortality engine, which lets them come back to life when they die, and they use it to try and turn the tide on the creatures and take them out for good. Great idea, but the dialogue and voice acting are horrible. The cutscenes are a mess: it's hard to tell what is going on in a few scenes, and the animation is terrible. 90% of the characters are completely hate-able idiots/jerks. The story arc is actually pretty good, with some great twists and turns, but it's hard to tell through all the bad writing and direction. In better hands, the same story could have been really great. Character and creature design is thankfully really good. In fact I'd love to have action figures of a few of the characters and enemies, which, as you know, is the best compliment you can give a character's design. The graphics in general are pretty good as well. They have a sort-of half cell shaded look to them.

The music has aged pretty well. There are some really upbeat and fast songs with an edge of tension to them that add to the atmosphere, and other really folksy songs that are pretty whimsical. These then clash with the more metal sounding songs that crash in when the enemies' take their turns.

The game has pretty robust multiplayer options that are unlocked by doing specific things in the campaign. You can only have 2 characters per side, but other than that you can adjust every little setting to your heart's content and have at it. I imagine Future Tactics would be really fun against another human due to the ways you can come up with to mess with the physics system, but I unfortunately haven't played too much of it.

Future Tactics has elements that remain unique to this day. It's really fun to experiment with tactics and ideas that aren't even on the table in most strategy games, such as blowing through cover, hiding in craters the crossfire has created, knocking enemies off cliffs, dropping cars on them, etc. A lot of the main ideas are well done too, especially the three methods of ending your turn. The game's flaws are really glaring in a modern light. The camera ranges from working great to broken depending on which objects and walls are in the level, and the janky balance on some of the game's difficulty and character strengths and weaknesses (and the way characters drop dead in cutscenes taking precious upgrades with them) give the game a bad feeling at certain junctures. The good outweighs the bad, though. Future Tactics remains fun to play and remains a really interesting game for tactics fans who want to try something quite different. The fact that I was still discovering new tactics and abilities on this my 3rd playthrough of the game, the deep multiplayer options, and the way the campaign plays quite differently your second time through due to some interesting manipulations of the turn order (just one character takes a turn rather than a whole team before the other side gets a go, giving the side with the least amount of characters a big advantage as their characters go over and over while the other side must wait for the whole team to get a turn before looping around) means that it also has a lot of longevity. I'd love to see a sequel or re-make that addresses it's flaws but hangs onto its great ideas. As it is, it's a 7 out of 10.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (April 11, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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