Strike Team Hydra is the latest from Wave Light Games, developers of the highly acclaimed Demon's Rise and Demon's Rise 2. This is a small development house that has specialized in one thing: tactical role-playing games, and this focus has resulted in games that are both instantly playable yet challenging in the long-term.
While the first two games were fantasy themed, Strike Team Hydra has shuffled-off the fantasy coil in favor of a hard sci-fi theme. Far more than just a re-skinning, it feels fresh and distinct from its older siblings thanks to a re-worked interface, an emphasis on ranged weapons (and the need for cover), and interactive map elements such as force fields, etc. It compares favorably to X-COM because it doesn't try to be X-COM, preferring instead to stick with what it does best by bringing you hours of diverse and tactically challenging squad-based battles without a lot of distractions such as base-building or a strong narrative. Personally, I see this as a plus, however many of you may find that you miss these sort of bells and whistles. If so, keep that in mind as you ponder your purchase.
As you make your way through the 27-mission campaign (and the 20 or so side missions), you will assemble your team, buy equipment, and head into battle. Moving around on the map couldn't be easier, thanks to the multi-colored grid that appears for each team member. Move within the green hexes and you will still have enough movement points to fire. If you move into the yellow, though, you'd better be sure you're not exposed. Tap on an enemy to attack and access special abilities when available to turn the battle in your favor. As simple as that sounds, however, there is so very much strategy in deciding who to move and where. Each team member will have different abilities and weapons so placing them effectively based on the enemy's location is the key to victory. It all works very well, and is so intuitive that the single-mission tutorial is plenty to get you up to speed. However, I did find myself missing some features found in other tactical RPGs. For example, I would like to be able to see how far enemy units can move so I can more effectively plan my deployment. This may sound like cheating but other games offer it, and besides, you can bet the AI knows exactly how far my team can move. Second, it's not always obvious when you are in a position of cover. In particular, during the tutorial, I recall an enemy turret shooting through a wall to hit me. Since using cover is such a big part of the game, it should be more obvious when you exposed to enemy fire and when you are not.
The visuals of Strike Team Hydra look fantastic on my 12.9" iPad Pro. It feels like playing a desktop game with all that screen real estate. On the iPhone, however, it felt a bit cramped but not any more than other similar games I've played. While it wasn't perfect, I'm probably just spoiled by playing on a large screen, and I'm certainly not going to ding the developer for offering a universal app rather than restricting it to just the iPad where it really shines (as does X-COM et. al.) I found the sound effects to offer just the right amount of audio feedback and atmosphere to the interface and the firefights. The music was also well-done, although I ultimately found it a bit frantic for a turn-based game, and ended up turning it down quite a bit.
Mobile gaming fans of tactical RPGs should consider this an insta-buy. If you're new to the genre, however, you will find Strike Team Hydra to be surprisingly accessible thanks to the slow ramp-up of complexity and the extremely flexible skill-level settings. Highly recommended.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Silky smooth 3D modeled visuals and a clean, uncluttered interface. Sound: - 3 Good sound, but not the game's best feature Controls: - 5 - Dead-simple and intuitive controls. Experienced gamers won't even need to play the tutorial. Gameplay: - 5 - Highly enjoyable TRPG. One of the very best on the App Store.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Don't rush in! Use cover and advance cautiously. Remember: The enemy moves too, so stopping just out of range will likely mean you are in their range after they move. Remember to use your team members appropriately for their skills and weapons. Don't be afraid to turn down the difficulty slider. If the campaign starts to feel out of your reach, use the side missions to raise skills and earn money.