Developers are constantly looking for a way to make their games stand out from the crowd, and between the rising popularity of Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) and the decades of online shooters and sports games, that can be difficult. Atlas Reactor’s multiplayer does so by basing itself around simultaneous turn-based multiplayer.
It’s a rather uncommon route to take, with only Frozen Synapse springing to my mind for its similarly simultaneous turn resolutions. However, Atlas Reactor has a much faster pace, and has to contend with two teams of four players battling at the same time.
The first clever twist comes in having each turn resolve itself in reverse to how you would commonly see in turn-based games. Where XCOM has you move first before performing actions, here your actions precede you moves.
This conceptual reversal of a turn continues with the actions, as well. The game’s tutorial sets out the three kinds of actions – Prep, Dash and Blast – in reverse order, first explaining how you attack, before stating that you might prefer to try and use an evasive ability to counter a suspected incoming attack, which can in and of itself be countered by laying a trap in a dodging character’s path.
While the Freelancers are always confined to the grid of the one map currently in the game, the same isn’t true of many of the abilities and attacks. A clever part of compensating for the uncertainty of where players will be comes in having areas of effect and attacks which will hit multiple characters along a thick line. It rewards you for guessing right, without requiring you to be too precise and exact.
At the same time, you’re always kept guessing and extrapolating. The map featured a lot of areas to try and hide in, letting you obscure yourself from view as long as there weren’t any enemies in the immediate vicinity.
You only get to perform one action per turn -outside of a handful of free actions – and so there are plenty of mind games that play out, as you try to consider your next move, based on the state of play at the end of the preceding turn. With a team of others to play alongside, there’s the potential to work together, either with a support oriented character healing or providing buffs and debuffs that precede an attacking action, or simply in ganging up on an opponent to kill them quickly and remove that player from battle for a couple of turns.
The game keeps rattling along at a high pace thanks to a timer that gives you just 20 seconds to decide what you want to do that turn and lock your moves in. It then plays out all the actions, either letting you control the camera yourself or switching between characters as they take their turn. However, that presentation is a little white lie to help players keep track and watch events unfold. All of the actions in a stage are actually simultaneous, so a character that is shown to have been killed by an attack move will still get to perform their own attack before keeling over.
The only mode at this point was a kind of Team Deathmatch, scaled to last around 15 minutes for a match. There’s a set turn limit, but victory goes to whichever team reaches five kills first, with any player deaths punishing you with two turns on the bench before you respawn. Of course, with actions playing out simultaneously, it’s entirely plausible that both teams could hit five kills at the same time, with the game then playing out more turns before turning to sudden death to find a winner.
Perfectly on trend for videogames in 2016, Atlas Reactor features an array of MOBA-like characters. Each has a unique and distinctive style that makes it easy to pick them out in a fight and know what their strengths and weaknesses might be – especially if your familiarise yourself with the roster. There’s Titus with his large sword, who’s obviously all about getting up close and dealing damage, while Nix looks like an overweight alien mobster with a ludicrously large sniper rifle, and Aurora floats and shimmers with energy, as more of a support character. There’s the typical mixture of character styles blended together.
Aside from their standard attacks, the other abilities will often use up some of your energy gauge, and have potentially game changing effects for the most expensive abilities. However, there’s also a system of mods, which let you modify or tweak the effects on an ability. Balanced by only giving you ten mod points to spend, there’s everything from giving you health back alongside an attack, increasing the area of effect, adding extra buffs and modifiers, and so on.
There were already a good two dozen Freelancers in the alpha sneak peak, with a small selection available to play as for free, with the others to be unlockable with either in-game cash or via microtransactions. Of course, Trion will be adding more and more characters over time, but this week long test was just a sneak peak of what’s to come, with something called Seasons on the way. However, I also hope that more maps and modes are brought to the game, as well.
Atlas Reactor makes for a fascinating new blend of gameplay. It leans heavily on some ideas that are common to MOBAs, but as a game it’s completely different and stands out with a fast paced take on turn-based combat.