Developer: Silent Dreams
Creating a parody game is very risky. On the one hand, poking fun at gaming culture and clichés guarantees a ready-made and cynical audience, but most manage to spectacularly fail simply because they fall into the very same annoying habits that they attempt to mock. Parody only works from a position of strength, and the likes of Deathspank, Eat Lead: The Return Of Matt Hazard and even Bulletstorm didn't manage to quite pull it off. Over the last few years, only Magicka and Cthulhu Saves The World have succeeded where so many have faltered... as well as an unassuming PC title called Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes. Can lightning strike twice?
The sequel picks up a few weeks on from the original game, after a mysterious ravening fog engulfs the revelling realm and banishes its inhabitants underground. Hapless anti-hero Drake, now cursed with "Hero's Amnesia," needs to rally some supporters, form a guild and sally forth against this dangerous menace. All while frolicking with buxom wenches and making light of anything in sight.
So when it comes to judgement, we have to answer two distinct questions. Is Grotesque Tactics 2 a good game? And just as importantly: is it funny?
At its core, Grotesque Tactics 2 is a traditional grid-based SRPG. Drake can explore the dark warrens using free mouse controls, but once you enter within range of an enemy, your party assume their positions on the familiar grid. Characters and enemies take turns in order of their initiative statistic, able to move a certain distance, attack, defend or delay their action until the end of each combat phase. Each member of your team possesses their own unique roles as well as special attacks, meaning that you'll need to position and deploy each unit effectively in order to take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses. Creating chokepoints, luring enemies into vulnerable positions and setting up advanced formations works extremely well, and though plenty of big-budget games do it with more depth and panache, Grotesque Tactics 2 more than lives up to the second half of its name.
It's a good thing too, because the RPG elements are surprisingly light. Party members automatically gain attributes when they level up, leaving you with the sole responsibility of allocating a limited number of skill points into small skill trees. Equipment is in short supply, and items are locked to a single character. The system is streamlined and functional, sure, but many RPG fans will be left disappointed.
When you're not dungeon crawling, Drake and pals hole up in the subterranean town of Sanctuary to take on quests, d0 a little shopping and interact with the indigenous population. Sanctuary is a fairly desolate and overly-large environ, a few little faction enclaves here and there interspersed by a shocking amount of absolutely nothing. The three major factions, while claiming to be a major game feature, essentially just dole out petty quests here and there; with reputation systems doing little save limiting the most interesting dungeon crawls for later in the game. There's lots of fetching. There's lots of talking. And there's lots of tedious backtracking thanks to the fact that the hub should have been a whole lot busier or a whole lot smaller. The new focus on food-crafting is a fiddly and fairly uninteresting feature as collecting ingredients and taking them to a chef is as exciting as it sounds. Since many foodstuffs are key quest items, it's essentially just an extra layer of busywork on top of the usual grind.
Visually, Grotesque Tactics 2 is a seriously mixed bag. Some pleasingly rounded character models and smooth animations are accompanied by muddy textures and a grimy, low-budget fuzz. On the whole, though, its colourful art direction and sense of fun manage to convey the action without offering too much in the way of eye candy beyond the aforementioned buxom wenches. On a mechanical level, though, Grotesque Tactics 2 betrays its budget aspirations with a whole host of niggling weaknesses - including some patchy pathfinding, counter-intuitive controls and a clunky interface.
All things considered, then, Grotesque Tactics 2 is a purely functional experience that goes through the RPG motions and just about deserves its budget price tag. But as we stated at the beginning, there's one last question we need to deal with... and it's arguably the most important of the lot.
Is It Funny?
The humour is where Grotesque Tactics 2 really comes together, becoming more than the sum of its parts and a title worthy of contention. Silent Dreams poke fun at everything from genre clichés such as mandatory protagonist amnesia, pop culture icons like Pokemon and traditional RPG tropes with a surprising degree of effectiveness. Expect plenty of cringe-worthy innuendo to boot. Not only are the observational humour and references absolutely spot-on, but the dialogue itself is witty and driven home by some memorably hammy voice acting performances. You won't necessarily laugh out loud, rather, you'll spend most of your time sporting a wry grin and chuckling under your breath. It's an impressive achievement from a smaller outfit, and one that puts the Deathspank and Matt Hazard to shame.
The funnies aren't enough to make Grotesque Tactics 2 great. But they come thick and fast enough to make the low points worth soldiering through while enjoying the reasonable highs.
- Effective humour
- Hammy voice acting
- Enjoyable tactics
- Burdensome RPG grind clashes with lack of RPG depth
- Sub-par visuals
- Feels cheaper than it is
The Short Version: Grotesque Tactics 2 delivers the parody, gift-wrapped in a light tactical experience that's probably worth sticking with despite several major flaws. It won't blow your mind, but it won't blow the bank either.