Need to know
What is it? Simultaneous single-player turn-based mecha tactics
Release date Feb 28, 2023
Expect to pay: $30/£24
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Publisher: Brace Yourself Games
Reviewed on: Windows 11, Nvidia 2080 Ti, Intel i9-9900k @ 4.9ghz, 32gb RAM
Steam Deck TBA
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
At its heart, Phantom Brigade is a solo small-scale squad tactics game. You command up to four Gundam-esque mechs in small skirmishes against larger forces. While often outnumbered, you have the huge advantage of knowing what the enemy will be doing in each five-second turn. You plan your actions on a timeline, while projections show you where enemies are moving and who they’re targeting, like a more granular take on Into The Breach.
It’s satisfying to exploit, dodging out of a sniper’s aim at the last second, juking around incoming missiles or interrupting a charge with a swooping melee attack. Like you’re leading a squad of anime protagonists against an army of faceless goons, and it works great for the first couple dozen battles. After each fight, your little guerilla squad can salvage mech parts and weapons from the battlefield, melt down unwanted gear for resources, and upgrade your mobile repair base and strategic options. It’s an exciting progression loop, working your way across a strategic map of increasingly tough provinces, absorbing new enemy techs into your arsenal and then using it in a push to liberate that region, making it a safe place to retreat to and restock.
Possibly the most threadbare part of the whole game is the story, because there’s effectively nothing here. Outside of a couple lines of dialogue during the tutorial, there’s no voice acting, no cutscenes and no plot arc, just the broadest strokes of a narrative with no juicy lore to chew on, or characters beyond the generic pilots that you name.
You lead the Phantom Brigade, an independent partisan squad liberating The Homeland (a vaguely Nordic nation) from The Invaders, who have come from somewhere else and taken over all your stuff. You work alongside the Home Guard army to liberate one province at a time, while occasionally picking options in FTL-inspired multi-choice vignettes that often boil down to ‘sacrifice morale for speed or boost it by cheering up pilots or farmers’.
The story’s skeletal nature mirrors the rest of the game, and echoes its own modular mech endoskeletons. There’s a smart, forward-thinking system here that’s elegant and impressive to watch when working as intended. But once you attach all of the other elements to make a working game out of it, Phantom Brigade begins to creak and show its limitations. There’s the foundation for something great, but it will take a few expansions or an active modding scene to realize it. Phantom Brigade is an intriguing prototype, even if not quite ready for mass production.