A developer who has found celebrity amongst the earliest of modern virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts, E McNeill designs videogames with a very contemporary passion. Both his first foray into the medium, Darknet, and now Tactera are videogames built with a singular vision: they are videogames he wanted to play in VR. It just so happens that there’s a large number of other people who want this, too. A lucky situation for any independent developer.
Much like Darknet, Tactera is a videogame built upon the ideal or learning, reacting and eventually tactical planning and execution. It’s a real-time strategy (RTS) inspired by the simplistic beauty of 1990’s addictions such as Command & Conquer and Total Annihilation; it’s less concerned with giving the player an overwhelming number of troop types and special abilities, and more so in offering them an opportunity to enforce a powerful strategy with limited resources. It’s not about how powerful you can become, it’s about how you use that power.
Tactera actually plays out in two phases: grand battle strategy and real-time combat. The player is first greeted by a grid-based map which plots their advance on enemy territory, taking it in turns to deploy troops and move across the map until combat is initiated. Once enemy units meet yours, the player may choose one of the combat instances (if more than one occurs simultaneously) to play in direct command of, whilst others will be simulated. While still learning the ropes this may seem like an unfair advantage on behalf of the AI enemy, however once some knowledge has been attained planning and forethought will avoid any unnecessary weakness in your strategy.
The second aspect of Tactera arguably plays more like a real-time version of Risk than Command & Conquer. The player begins with a number of bases equal to that of their opponent which generate new troops at a pre-set time allotment. These troops can then be given orders, such as move to a position, attack enemy units or attempt to take control of another base. Once another base has been captured the player can elect which troop type is to be constructed at that base and watch it automatically join their production timeline. The real-time aspect of Tactera is most certainly a tug-of-war, battling for a push across the map whilst being cautious not to overreach and leave yourself without the resources necessary to deal with a counterattack.
Tactera is a frequently tense experience with balance that would make most strategy videogames envious. Sadly, reaching this point takes a considerable amount of time as Tactera’s tutorial system is lightweight at best, awkward or non-existent at other times. While McNeill is in the lucky position of being able to develop the videogames he wants personally and finding an audience for those experiences, Tactera has quite obviously been developed with the expectation that most people investing their time in the videogame will also be on the same wavelength.
In addition to the campaign mode, Tactera also features skirmish battles and multiplayer. It’s the latter of which that will likely be of great attraction to most. Finding a like-minded strategy enthusiast to learn the ropes with (though Private Matches were not yet available at the time of writing) is most obviously the best way to get to grips with Tactera, and will eventually lead to a rewarding experience as battles reach back-and-forth across the map, capitalising on each of your opponents’ mistakes whilst trying not to make your own vulnerabilities too obvious.
Tactera is a great example of high production values on the Samsung Gear VR’s limited hardware (though Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR versions are also in development) and is a showcase piece for the strategy genre in VR. The fact that it stumbles almost immediately upon beginning may well prove to be too great a hurdle for less committed gamers, but beyond the unwelcoming opening lays a deep, satisfying videogame experience. Invest in Tactera, and you will eventually be rewarded.