WTF might be a popular initialism across the internet, expressing surprise, dismay, anger and plenty of other emotions, but Drakkar Dev are using it to mean something completely different. Instead of a vulgar expression, it stands for War Tech Fighters, alluding to the giant mechs that battle it out in their game.
Heading into Steam Early Access today, it drops you right into the heart of the action of a galactic war, with the rebel colonies of Hebos and Ares building War Techs to help them rise up and fight against the cruel Zatros Empire. It’s a rather hammy story, if the voice acting in the trailers is anything to go by, and there’s more than a few allusions to Gundam and other popular franchises with massive robots and mechs fighting.
You start the game with three base robot sets, trading speed for weight and armour, or picking a middle ground War Tech. From here, however, you level up, gaining experience through combat and can then earn or research new weapons, parts and general improvements to customise the War Tech to your liking. On top of that, the game also gives you access to extensive livery customisation, ranging from different colours to patterns, so you can look simply fabulous as you battle in space.
“You can specialise in more than one way,” explained Manlio Greco, the Lead Developer. “The first way is to choose the class of War Tech, and you have the pieces you mount on the War Tech that push it in one direction or another. For example, you can have more energy to shoot and less health, or have more resistance and less speed. You can then have research projects to enhance certain parts of the War Tech in terms of aiming, such as with a larger reticule, or laser weapons, damage with the sword, or reducing the time you are stunned when someone breaks your guard while in close combat.”
These War Techs have to be all-round masters of combat, as you’ll not only be fighting against other giant mechs in space, but you’ll also be fending off attacks from enemy fighter craft and other more traditional ships. To that end, you’ve got two forms of ranged attack, light and heavy, alongside a shield to protect yourself. That said, you should really take every possible opportunity to engage in melee combat, again with both light and heavy attacks, but also with bombastic finishing moves and the ability to crack out a massive sword. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a massive mech drop kick a space ship?
Battling in 360º space is fairly intuitive on a gamepad, and you can happily blast away at enemies as they come at you, shifting from one engagement to the next and dealing with different types and sizes of foe, but there is one minor nuance that stuck in my craw as I played. For some reason, upward and downward motion is handled by clicking in the right analogue stick and then moving it, which is simply an awkward design decision and often leads to also turning the camera at the same time. Remapping that function to a shoulder button might not be ideal, but when there are certain mission types that need dexterity on the controls, it might be worth making the change.
Even within the Early Access release, Drakkar are keen to avoid having the game become too stale and repetitive, and that leads to a number of missions that diverge from being straight up arcade space combat action. Stealth and giant mechs might not seem the most obvious combo, but it’s less about line of sight and more to do with signal codes and ship identifiers. Trying to navigate a minefield, you have to hack a cargo ship’s transponder – this features a simple twin-stick positioning mini-game – and then stick close to it as it moves, while positioning yourself to avoid getting too close to the mines. Another mission sees you try to harvest materials while close to a neutron star, flitting from the shadow of one asteroid to another to minimise the time you’re exposed to its deadly radiation.
“You don’t play only with the main character,” said Domenico Greco, the team’s artist, to which Manlio explained, “For example, you might be waiting for your fleet to arrive, but meanwhile you play another side in the war, another colony, with a character that has another War Tech. You cannot choose your robot, because it is the robot of that character, so you have to adapt your style to him, but in this case he’s much more powerful because he’s the hero of the other colony. It’s basically what you will become by a certain point.”
Those are just a few examples of missions from the single player, with twelve included in today’s Early Access release, following Captain Nathan Romanis’ campaign across the galaxy. “The story is subdivided in sectors of the galaxy, and in each sector there is more than one mission and you can choose the order you play them in,” Manlio said.
Between missions, you can head to the Simulator Bridge to replay missions or take on challenges to gain more experience and improve your machine, and there’s also a straight up Survival Mode with its own rewards for testing yourself against waves of enemies.
At first glance, WTF could easily have ended up as a straight up action romp with giant robots fighting it out in space, but what I’m really glad to see is that Drakkar is that they’re pushing to have that variety alongside over the top robot combat.
If there’s one thing I’d love to see, however, it’s the return of the placeholder voice acting that they had in a much, much older build, provided by the Italian developers themselves. When I mentioned this to the two of them, Manlio simply said, “No, you’re lying.”