As rewarding as it is difficult.
TASTEE: Lethal Tactics is one of the most challenging, and often downright hard-as-nails, games I’ve played thus far this year. A turn-based strategy game that foregoes the modern urges of game developers to dilute the complexities of the genre in favor of producing a more accessible, streamlined title, TASTEE is completely unafraid to strike you down within a moment’s notice.
Though developer SkyBox Labs attempts to outline its game’s fundamentals by way of a lackluster and woefully short tutorial, it won’t be enough to effectively ensure immediate success. Controlling a team of four mercenaries, you’re tasked with maneuvering each of them around various maps to fulfill objectives across 30 missions in the game’s story mode—though I use that word lightly, given the throwaway plot and caricature characters on offer here—taking down fleets of enemy mercenaries as you do so. However, with your enemies remaining concealed until you line them up in your sights, the key to completing each objective is to successfully predict their plan of attack before they get the chance to root you out and take you down.
To do so, you’ll inevitably need to be knowledgeable of each of your mercenaries’ different strengths and weaknesses to determine which merc you should use for which task. Divided into four classes—Gunmen, Bombers, Snipers and Shotgunners—each character also his or her own unique abilities, from being able to dish out explosive impact grenades through to scouting out the surrounding terrain for hidden enemies. Successfully juggling each character in the heat of battle to maximize their effectiveness is a difficult task, and one that isn’t made any easier by one of the most unforgiving difficulty spikes I’ve experienced in a game in quite some time.
While the abilities wheel you use to select each character’s actions in a match helps to explain these abilities, there is a considerable lack of guidance offered to the player in the early stages, with the aggressive nature of the enemy A.I. not helping you acclimatize to your surroundings. Thrust into the deep end with startling immediacy, I found myself repeatedly failing to even make it past the opening missions of the game as I wasn’t given an ample amount of time to get used to its mechanics, making for a frustrating experience from the get-go.
Fortunately, once the basics have been learned TASTEE becomes far more satisfying. Successfully navigating a map, taking out enemies and completing each objective you’ve been given in a mission is very rewarding. On the rare occasion that you storm through a stage on the first attempt without withstanding any punishment, it’s a tremendously triumphant moment that almost makes up for the exhausting amount of trial and error that has taken place before it.
TASTEE is a game that rewards the patient. With turns split up into two stages—planning and action—you can easily spend up to five minutes in the former ensuring that each of your mercenaries are positioned just right, attempting to cover all of your bases should an enemy try to flank you or lob a grenade in your direction. This is also where TASTEE’s most helpful addition comes into play: the preview button.
Though the addition of a button which effectively allows you to see how the next turn will play out may seem like too large a helping hand, in actuality it only provides a reasonable assumption of the upcoming series of events, based upon where your enemies have previously been seen. It can therefore sometimes stand to throw you off course, with enemies able to slip back into the shadows, maneuvering away from where you were aiming and popping up in another position, taking you down as you blissfully point your gun towards no one in particular.
This button swiftly became my best friend, because while it is relatively unreliable so as not to provide the player with an unfair tactical advantage, it still provides you with a reasonable estimation of how the turn will play out. Also, rather than detracting from the strategic element of the game, it actually adds a new layer of it into proceedings, particularly in the game’s multiplayer component.
TASTEE’s multiplayer plays out much the same way as the main game, only the enemies are human-controlled players and there are equally-sized teams. It’s good fun, though exponentially more difficult considering that you’re up against an evenly powered squad of enemies. In this mode the preview button, while still your closest ally, can also cause you to come unstuck, with a tactful opponent able to successfully dupe you by way of you incorrectly guessing their movement patterns after they pop up within your radius.
Considering the length of time it typically takes to orchestrate a turn, it’s also nice to see that SkyBox Labs doesn’t force players into making swift decisions in its multiplayer by way of introducing a timer, with them instead opting for asynchronous play in which opponents can effectively back out of a match, dive into another one with a different player and then receive a notification when their opponent has completed their turn. While it’s a little weird to basically have a PC strategy game adopt the multiplayer setup of Words With Friends, it’s really the best possible solution to retaining the same thoughtful, methodical planning of its offline mode.
TASTEE: Lethal Tactics may not be the most welcoming strategy game around, but once you manage to crawl your way over the seemingly insurmountable hurdle it initially places in front of you, there’s a great sense of satisfaction when you finally start racking up those victories. While the humongous difficulty curve and dissatisfying, barely-there will be off-putting for many, for some ardent strategy game enthusiasts it might be worth checking out.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PC version.