Who doesn’t love a bit of turn based strategy? From the early pencil and paper role playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons and Runequest, to RebelStar Raiders, Chaos and Laser Squad on the ZX Spectrum, to the X-COM games, RoboSport and Vandal Hearts on various other systems. It’s quite exciting when a game in the same vein gets a release on the ZX Spectrum Next.
In Xeno Brigade your mission is to take a team of veteran soldiers, equipped with the latest high tech weaponry, into battle with the returning xeno hordes, once thought to be extinct, who are again ravaging the galaxy. Pretty run of the mill but fortunately this game isn’t really about the story, it’s about mission battle tactics.
It’s a one or two player game where players take the role of Humans or Xenomorphs, or the player can face off against computer controlled Xenomorphs. You can control the game via keyboard, mouse or gamepad. The game has three difficulty levels, which are all difficult. There is a tutorial scenario, which should be played, especially if you haven’t played a game of this type before, and six other unique scenarios. There’s also a fairly detailed instruction manual, complete with all seven scenario maps, which should be given a read too. Each scenario map contains objects which can be used, such as weapons, key cards, medical kits and scanning devices, to aid completion of your objectives.
You start off by choosing a scenario, details are given about the objectives of each one as you cycle through them, and then deploying your characters in position during the deployment phase. Once this is done each side takes turns using movement points to perform actions like walking, shooting, in the main phase which is repeated until the game ends when a specific scenario objective is reached or either side are wiped out. They can be approached in any order.
A cursor can be moved around the screen and the entire area when a character hasn’t been selected. If a character is selected you can move them instead. When you wish to fire you must move the receptacle over your target and then select the shot type to be used. This can be snap which is not accurate but uses very few movement points, aim which is more accurate but uses twice as many movement points and opportunity which fires a snap shot should an enemy move over your selected target square on their turn.
To the right of the screen is a panel of icons which shows the name of your character, the currently held object, detailed character stats and various icons for movement and other actions. Turning 45 degrees costs one movement point and moving costs two or three. It should be noted that facing in the right direction is rather important when performing actions and attacking enemies. You can’t open a door if you’re not facing it. The forward arrow icon is also used for initiating hand to hand combat and accessing vending or medi-kit machines. You can pick up or drop objects and open or close doors with other icons. There is also a ‘cycle to next character’ icon which has a small arrow indicating the direction the selected character is facing.
One multi-purpose icon is for loading ammo or using the currently selected object, e.g., food, medical kits, armour or a scanner (used to show enemy locations on a tactical map). It’s also used to unjam your weapon should this occur. There’s an icon for your inventory and a couple of arrow icons for next and previous pocket. Another icon shows friendly unit locations on a tactical map. There’s also a useful save / load / quit icon and finally an icon to end your turn.
In keyboard mode certain keys on the keyboard are assigned the functions of each of the icons mentioned. The Action Menu is another way to select actions, this time from a list of options which differ depending on if you’re in character selected mode or unselected mode which has just next character, end turn and load / save / quit options.
There’s four or five different units available to either side and also a whole host of weapons such as knives, pistols, grenades, shotguns, laser rifles and robo guns which can be used. When you stand over a pistol use the pick-up icon, go to your inventory to select it, then don’t forget to click the multipurpose icon to load in the ammo clips. Your units can occupy the same space and pass each other in narrow corridors. But shots will damage the first thing they hit so you can’t aim where a friendly is standing to hit the enemy.
So, to begin with the tutorial scenario is just to get you used to things. You have to blow up some barrels with your two guys against two Xenos. The other six scenarios are a bit more complicated.
‘Moonbase Moldon’ – A rescue mission to access a secure vault containing Captain Caruthers with a key card and escort him to a teleport.
‘Mine Mayhem’ – The mines are under attack as Xenos look for fuel. Evac is necessary. You have to wait for the evac shuttle to arrive.
‘The Abominations’ – Seek out and destroy the feared Xeno bioguns, half human and half Xeno, all abomination.
‘Academy Anarchy’ – The imperial academy has been invaded. A message for rescue must be sent via the uplink.
‘Mainframe Malady’ – The archives have been infiltrated so four mainframes must be destroyed to avoid data falling into enemy hands.
‘Hive Alive’ – The final battle. The Xeno hive, where Xeno queens reside, has been located. Assault teams must attack and wipe out all Xenos in the area.
It’s a very tactical game, like chess with assault rifles and laser swords, and it doesn’t pay to rush or mistakes can creep in that can cost you valuable movement points. You have to be meticulous in your planning and movement of units and familiarise yourself with the corridors and rooms that make up the current scenario. You have to be aware of what each of your units is carrying. Knife, laser sword, pistol, grenade, assault rifle, scanner, etc. Which units to move first. Who is at the lead of your group and who is guarding your backs? It’s a lot to think about but fortunately there is no time limit as to how long you take to plan and make your moves.
The Xeno are highly intelligent even on the lowest level. Completing a scenario let alone the entire game will not be easy for most players. It can be a little frustrating but it’s part and parcel of a game this tactically complex, although no less fun. A feeling of satisfaction sweeps over you when just a single scenario is beaten. Even when in my case it’s the tutorial.
The graphics and sound are adequate and the least you’d expect out of the Next. But they’re not what makes the game interesting anyway. It’s all about the turn-based gameplay and the fun you have planning a winning strategy to defeat the Xeno scum.
Xeno Brigade is available in Digital and Physical format HERE
I have to say I’m no Laser Squad veteran. I’m not even any good at Chaos. So, although I had plenty of fun playing Xeno Brigade the only mission I managed to complete was the tutorial. I imagine massive fans of the genre will fare a lot better. If that’s you then you should definitely play this game. It’s a solid addition to the ZX Spectrum Next software catalogue.
Retro game player, creator, reviewer and lover, especially ZX Spectrum, Amiga, PlayStation, PC and Arcade Coin Ops.
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