[Originally posted on PopMatters]
Line of Defense Tactics is a spinoff game based on the Line of Defense MMO and follows the events of the DC comic series of the same name. Perhaps it is because the game is based on two disparate sources—one in beta, the other in issue #0—that it feels so aloof and ungrounded. It’s a hard game to review because everything works, but it seldom astounds. It isn’t boring, but it isn’t compelling either. The moments that I grew frustrated also found me quickly calmed, but the moments that I grew excited were quickly dulled.
Line of Defense Tactics is a real-time tactics game set in deep colonized space. Many classic real-time tactics games like Commandos and Desperados are stealth-based and depend on the player mastering highly specialized characters to circumvent threats rather than simply overcoming them in battle. Line of Defense, however, is far more combat heavy. Yes, the player’s team of four is made up of a medic, heavy, sniper, and jack-of-all-trades, but they are all able to learn the same skills as they level up. Mostly, then, they are distinguished by their initial abilities. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the game is more interested in how the squad fights than in how it moves or effects enemies in a combat-free sense.
The game is available on mobile devices as well as on computers, which might explain the brevity and directness of many of its levels. Again, because the game is based on moving from gunfight to gunfight, it benefits from having no dead air to lengthen the experience. Levels eventually become bigger and more open, which forcibly changes strategies without creating unnecessary space. This also helps since players are either fighting or setting themselves up to fight. Levels basically involve players moving from a starting point to an ending point with a few secondary “destroy n objects/enemies” objectives added for the sake of padding.
The main mechanic that Line of Defense uses is a cover mechanic. Different types of environmental objects serve as cover, which reduce damage taken. The player’s strategy usually boils down to keeping their characters in cover while luring enemies away from it. Fights tend to look a bit like brief spurts of trench warfare in which each side scrambles to their line of defence before shooting into a line of enemies. It’s a strangely gentlemanly mode of combat that looks and feels interesting given the game’s deep space sci-fi setting.
However, character AI often has the characters move out from cover to do their own thing. The game can be paused to give individual commands, but it’s still generally obnoxious to set up an ambush only to have the entire squad charge the line the second that the enemy detects them. Furthermore, though the cover system fills space with objects and doodads that make each level look lived-in, the game never really appropriately uses its own space. On the one hand, confined corridors feel too confined, leaving what feels like loads of unnatural emptiness in between splitting hallways. On the other hand, wide open areas feel too open, making the active sprites seem inappropriately tiny and insect-like.
Otherwise, it’s a good looking game, even if its aesthetic is fairly derivative. The coloured power armour helps distinguish characters from one another, but enemies and enemy types all look alike. Everybody wears the same Halo inspired blocky metal jumpsuit. Inside and out, spaceships and planets look uninspired and bland. Characters “yes, sir” and “go, go, go” their way through missions while unseen commanders pass along an “atta, boy” or a “capture the target” during briefings. Even the enemies, the insurgents, are never built up as anything more clear than the bad guys. The attitude seems to be that we’re the good guys and they’re the bad because if things weren’t that way then there wouldn’t be a game, so just go with it. The only reason why I knew to trust my superiors contention that the insurgents were in the wrong was because they’re too boring to lie to me.
Line of Defense is derivative and bland. Switching to vehicle sections breaks the monotony a little and hopping a squad from cover to cover while managing space and resources is often exciting enough even if it does prove to be shallow. Finally, the game is surprisingly short; not as though it feels incomplete, more like there just isn’t much to it. It’s the kind of game that would be great on a tablet for a long flight but that doesn’t really offer more than that.
LOD does little to inspire passion. Which is fine, not every game needs to be life-changing. However, Line of Defense’s lack of ambition harms it in the end. It never fails but only for its own low standards. It’s the gift card you give a distant cousin on their birthday.It’s the free coffee you get with an oil change, appreciated for what it is but quickly forgotten.
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