Phantom Brigade Brace Yourself Games

Review: Phantom Brigade

Growing up I had a ton of experience with RTS titles like Warcraft 2, it was one of my very first PC games. Years later, I found a similar joy and rush from playing tactical RPGs when XCOM 2 arrived on the scene. I found myself sinking over 200 hours into that game on my Mac Pro in between classes and assignments while in college (oh, and another 100+ on PS4 a few years after that).

Since then, games like Phantom Brigade have popped up on my radar (or Steam homepage). Coming from the minds behind a very different and successful franchise, Brace Yourself Games has thrown in their version of tactical battles with giant mechs and a war-torn land needing to be liberated. In short, I love the mechanics and most of what the game has to offer, but with some small inconveniences that prevents this game from becoming a true all-timer in my books.

You ARE The Phantom Brigade

Right away (as part of the tutorial), you and your team are tasked with stopping an invading enemy that is taking over provinces and regions across the map or land in front of you. Phantom Brigade starts you off with just a couple of mechs and pilots, and along the way, you’ll recruit new fighters and giant battlers in order to stop the enemy forces.

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Nothing about the overarching story struck me as unique, but there are some nice character moments that are delivered through a rare cutscene or a brief text-based discussion with fellow fighters that fleshed out the world. Early on, the cutscenes do a great job of conveying just how brutal the war-torn area really is, with the evil red-coated evil-doers rounding people up, destroying their homes, and patrolling their lands. So now it’s time to suit up and stomp them out.

5 Seconds At A Time

That’s how long each turn is in Phantom Brigade. Whether you have a team of 2 or 4 on your side, each and every action is taken within that brief time frame. Unlike many other tactical RPGs where you can move within a grid pattern or a certain distance, Phantom Brigade restricts your mechs through time.

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But you’re not the only one working within these constraints, and so is the enemy. With a timeline displayed at the bottom of the screen, you can scrub from 0:00 to 5:00 before even deciding on your next move. I found this to be a great way to plan my next attack, dash, run, or block. The complexity of each move becomes more intense, and the more crowded the battlefield gets. Mech 1 might dash to the left before firing, but now Mech 2 needs to fire and hide behind cover, while your third is now a sitting duck. These decisions were nerve-wracking and many times what seemed like a clear next move ended up being 10-15 minutes of planning for 5 seconds of in-game battling.

On one hand, I enjoyed just how much strategy was needed to make even the slightest of moves, but on the other, I do wish many of the battles and instances were settled quicker. 40 seconds of game time might actually translate into 30-40 minutes of your playtime.

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Even though a battle may have taken me that long, it never felt like a waste and always felt rewarding to come out on top. Sure, there may have been some casualties (RIP Striker), but that’s how these battles go, especially in tactical RPGs like this.

Additionally, the mechs and tanks all have a great sense of scale and impact. When my mechs were getting hit, I heard and felt the crunch of the collision or crash of the exploding missile that just zipped by. It’s fun to see it all happen in small chunks as well. Phantom Brigade also gives you the option to immediately replay your last move, giving you the chance to further examine and analyze the battlefield and your enemy’s potential patterns.

Overloaded

Though the battles are a ton of fun, there’s still a whole bunch of time spent out on the overworld map and in menus before and after shots and missiles are fired. For one, the map is navigated by a mobile base you control with a simple click of the mouse. It moves very slowly to start, with some boosts and bonuses to unlock down the line. While doing this it acts as a clearer for the fog of war on the map and allows you to choose where you want to fight next. Sometimes it’s helping an invaded village, other times it’s attacking an enemy base, or it could be dodging a patrol unit that’s coming right for you.

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When you do load up for the fight, there are lots of options and customizations at your disposal. The issue here though, is there are almost too many. Phantom Brigade does have a decent tutorial on the battlefield, but it falters in teaching you many of the nuances outside of the mech fights. What is available to unlock is interesting, fun, and makes a difference when the going gets tough, but I had to discover far too much of it through experimentation, not knowing what it really meant.

For example, replacing a mech’s Heavy right arm with a Light piece may have brought their weight or mass down, allowing them to move a little further, but what are all the other statistics I’m altering and is the trade-off worth it? The only way I could find out is by jumping into a fight and potentially losing that very same mech.

Mighty Mechs

The mech pieces themselves are frankly, for lack of a better term, cool! I loved how switching out the head, legs, and even weapons all had their own style and size. It made the massive fighters feel real and made my decisions feel at least a little more interesting.

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Early on, you begin with a few extra parts. As you fight your way through the map, you can salvage parts from busted mechs for parts or take components that haven’t been damaged to install on your own units. It’s a great idea, but the execution is quite confusing. There is so much information on the screen and associated with each mech part, that I found myself whipping through this aspect of the game faster and faster as the game went along.

Verdict

Despite its sometimes overwhelming and cumbersome UI execution, the core gameplay in Phantom Brigade is still a lot of fun. The mechs pack a punch that jumps out through the screen and feels impactful.

If you can get past some of the shortcomings off the battlefield, Phantom Brigade is still a worthy addition to the modernized genre that was defined over a decade ago by XCOM2. Load up your mechs and get ready to sink dozens of hours into liberating the land you call home!

Recommended

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PC

Phantom Brigade Brace Yourself Games
Summary
Phantom Brigade has a strong sense of scale and great core gameplay. Despite being held back by a cumbersome UI, it's still a fun addition to the tactical RPG genre.
Liked
Good variety of weapons and mech parts
Lots of options to customize your mechs
Fun 5-second battle mechanics
Didn't Like
Item lists and UI are overwhelming at times
Some story beats miss their mark