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Phantom Brigade – The Front Mission You Have Been Waiting For – PAX East 2017

Many years ago, particularly in the PlayStation days, there was a deluge of titles dealing with mechanized warfare. Carnage Heart put players in control of a robot in fuel wars set in the Solar System. Armored Core let players customized their own unit for large-scale robotic destruction on an unimaginable scale. Among them, was a very special strategy RPG series, known as Front Mission.

Front Mission put players against the backdrop of a realistic war, mirroring the massive scales set in conflicts such as WWIII. In this war, the primary war machine used is the Wanzer, a giant customizable mech that can be tailored for any combat operation. The giant behemoths were capable of holding a large variety of weapons and defenses, and any battlefield with the unfortunate luck to see these wonders would be met with complete devastation.

The Front Mission series utilized these wonders in a tactical sense, as players played the game on a hexagon-based grid. Players then engaged in turn-based combat, seeing their wonders obliterate the enemy. The series was a classic hit, seeing numerous installments for various platforms. However, the last time a Front Mission game arrived in the U.S was Front Mission Evolved, which dismissed the strategy combat for a more direct action approach, more akin to a third-person shooter. For those that have been sorely missing this style of game, there is hope, as Phantom Brigade, by Tetragon Works, is looking to bring back tactical strategy with mechs.

Phantom Brigade

Phantom Brigade was available for demoing on the show floor at Pax East in Boston Massachuessets, as part of the PAX RISING booth. As I was scouring the booth, which consisted of multiple games, this particular one caught my eye. It’s safe to agree that in all of us, there is a small love for giant combat robots. For me, having grown up in the age of Armored Core and Front Mission, as well as the hit anime Gundam Wing, I had to check the game out.

As I made my way to the booth, I was greeted by a representative of the dev team. I was given instructions on what to do first, before embarking on my mission. Before that, I had the option of customizing my mech, with an entire assortment of weapons and physical assets at my disposal. I could also change the color.

Each choice would make a significant difference, especially for those that would prefer two handed weapons or one-handed weapons. After tinkering with the customizations, I went to the briefing room, selected my mission, and was quickly dispatched to hostile territory.

Phantom Brigade

My mission would involve a search & destroy operation. The goal was to scour the city and eliminate opposition. As we deployed, the dev team informed me of the basic story, and that is that I am a member of small, but incredibly resilient resistance movement that is determined to bring down a larger empire.

Immediately, I decided to go head-long into the fray of battle. The game’ gameplay took place from an isometric view and on a regular, square grid. There were streets and buildings, providing areas for moving, as well as places to take cover. The game was similar to Spacehulk or X-com in that players have a certain amount of points, and that action will expend those points.

For this demo, my objective was to move and shoot. My first enemy was right around the corner, I immediately lined up my shot, and proceed to perforate him with machine gun fire. Visually, while the game is in an early state, the explosions and particle effects were quite a sight to see. Each bullet that was fired had an effect, and every bullet that landed on the enemy was met with the explosion of metal colliding with metal. It was quite a thrill. From that attack, I proceed to reposition the rest of my team, some armed with machine guns and rifles, and one armed with a long range sniper rifle.

Phantom Brigade

While I got my team into position, the enemy proceeded to get in position as well. It was soon that I quickly underestimated my advantage in the fights. The gameplay in Phantom Brigade is quite detailed, as I saw the enemy landing shots right around corners, barely in line of sight.

The enemy was armed with the same armaments as me, but I was too busy maneuvering my units, instead of dishing out a variety of offensive firepower. The enemy moved across the grid, fired their rounds, and did significant damage to my units. I noticed that the details of the mechs were very important.

For example, one enemy managed to cripple the firepower of one of my units. Basically, one of my machines was in no way able to deal offensive firepower, leaving him essentially a sitting duck. Weapons, stats, and the element of chance, traits that reminded my of my time with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, all play a significant factor in combat. As I struggled in the fight, the dev team informed me of another mechanic, one that would play a vital role in the future.

Pilots have the opportunity to eject and abandon their mechs, in the case of an emergency. This is something the players has to order in avoid losing them in future battles. As players play the game, their pilots will become more experienced. At first, the pilots are rookies, and with their greenhorn status, they are incapable of doing much. However, over time, they will gain the experience necessary to become formidable warriors on the battlefield. Players can save their lives with the eject button and preserve their combat experience. For one of my soldiers, I enabled the function, allowing my pilot to escape.

The rest of the battle would be a losing struggle for me. The game is definitely going to have the impression of brutal difficulty. I witnessed one of my mechs assault the enemy, seeing their arm damage and their chassis significantly perforated with bullets.

However, the enemy fired a few shots at my center got lucky enough to strike the core, and destroyed one of my units. It was a bit crushing, but I resigned to the fact that I would lose, and it was all about fun. My last unit wielded a two-handed sniper file. I managed to bag one of the bad guys with this massive weapon, but inevitably, I was dealt the final blow. I lost, but the match was absolutely engaging. With that, the demo was over.

I talked to the development team at the booth, and they are progressing with the game quite nicely. They are building a full-fledged campaign for the game and hoping to bring online multiplayer. They mentioned that the campaign would be quite authentic to war and combat experiences, and they noted that they would like to consult real-life veterans and military advisors as a means to generate the feel of war in a combat zone. Additionally, I brought up my thoughts of how Phantom Brigade compared to Front Mission. They remarked that I may have been the very first one that ever brought up Front Mission, and the tactical gameplay the game had. It was quite a moment.

Phantom Bridge is currently in development at Tetragon Works. The game will be released sometime this year on PCs. Other platforms have not been confirmed but may be possible, given the hopeful success for the game. But, if there is any indication, this game will certainly be one to look out for. From its solid visual design to its incredible combat, Phantom Brigade is looking to recruit players for a hell of a combat experience.

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May 29, 2021

I had no idea Phantom Brigade has been in a playable state this long. Honestly its a bit discouraging. I'm afraid the game will never leave beta. 30$ is way too much money for a game advancing at a snail's pace. It really looks like one of those projects that get way too much polish too in highly specific areas early on and the devs lose interest before its content reaches a non buggy state.

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