Spy DNA Pre Alpha Review

I love strategy games. I spend way too much time indulging in SRPGs, building empires in 4x games, trying to become the best trader in merchant style games, getting my squad out alive in tactical games, and clicking faster then other people in real-time strategy games. I recently got a pre-alpha copy of Shy Snake‘s Spy DNA to play around with. If you are not familiar with it, Spy DNA is a squad based tactical role playing game that prides itself with being grounded in real life mechanics. If you want some examples think Syndicate or X-COM but with a more free moving system rather than turn movement.

The Demo

main

The pre-alpha demo provides two previews of game play. The first being Crolimax Lab and the second being the outdoor combat demo.

Crolimax Lab

introThe lab demo takes you through a bit of the story. I talked with a number of folks working at the lab and learn what the lab is for, the history of the organization, and what I would be doing for them. I ended up using this area to get used to the controls. One thing that got me over and over was the camera movement. I kept wanting to use WASD to move the camera with Q and E to rotate. I’m not sure why I kept gravitating towards those bindings but, for me, they would make more sense than the arrow keys. In any case I’m sure Shy Snake will either add similar bindings or will be able to explain why the arrow keys make more sense for Spy DNA.

It was during this demo I noticed the bottom left camera. This is known as the “body cam” and is quite interesting and useful. As the squad member moves around you can watch their movement from their point of view. This is helpful for when you want to make sure you are covered or verify you have a clear line of site while still keeping your eye on the over all tactical view of the theater.

Outdoor Combat Demo

fightIn the outdoor combat demo you get a three member squad and are faced with an encampment of enemies keeping patrol. For some reason one of the members always started far off the screen, but this is pre-alpha after all! In any case, this is where the fun really begins! I was able to sneak in and around a few guards before needing to start taking out some of them. By default you move quickly from point to point but, by clicking and holding, you can change how you traverse terrain allowing for sneaking and other options.

As I played I picked up the mechanics around the sight cam. At first I misinterpreted what I was seeing and didn’t understand why I kept missing almost every shot but after a few more tries it became clear how it works (and it totally makes sense).

aim

The pre-alpha manual states that the innermost green circle is where 50% of shots will land, the yellow circle is where 90% will land, and the outermost where 99% of shots will land. You can tweak the shot making the entire circle larger or smaller, move it around the target, select the type of shot you want to take (from single shot, burst, and auto “spray and pray”), as well as the amount of bullets to be used.

Following the realistic vibe you don’t have infinite anything and landing a shot causes real damage. There are no over the top 40 shot kills here and it’s a breath of fresh air!

One thing I found myself doing a lot was making use of the pause. I think this is due to how many other games in the past relied on turn based movement and my brain wanting to keep trying to fit Spy DNA into that pattern. With a full manual or tutorial map and a little practice I believe I could really get into the more free movement system. Until then I can’t stop myself from wanting to use pause.

Conclusion

Obviously, being pre-alpha, there were a decent amount of bugs present (mainly camera placement/control related) but the basic ideas came through and came through well. Many people who enjoy games like Jagged Alliance or Silent Storm are still playing them as the AAA or indie game industries have not really kept up with the game style. It’s a pity as well as tactical games can be very rewarding. Spy DNA feels like it could become a very refreshing entry into a genre which needs a revival.

War Games: Opinions Needed

Years ago I played a little game called Warhammer 40k by Games Workshop. While I only had the two starter armies (Space Marines and Orks) I enjoyed playing out futuristic war scenarios and thinking through the best tactics I could. Fun times!

I’ve been thinking of getting back into war gaming. Since Warhammer 40k was in my blood I’ve spent some time looking at the army lists and what options are available for army building. But to be honest I’m not totally sold on coming back to GW due to two main reasons: price and copyright bullying.

Price is the easy one to talk about. Warhammer 40k supplies are expensive. Not only do you need to pay about $30 for each squad of miniatures but also fork over a good bit of dough for the current rule book. Add another $30 if you want to keep a codex for your army (hint: you do). In effect one must drop around $200 to start playing.

The second thing is copyright bullying. Earlier this month it made news that Games Workshop believes it owns the term “Space Marines” and blocked an author on Amazon from selling an unrelated book. Isn’t that crazy? It’s as silly as someone thinking they own the term superhero! Luckily Amazon reversed it’s block decision but the whole thing leave s a bad taste in my mouth. Would my purchases help reward the previous behavior or, worse, aid in funding such overreaching behavior in the future? Either way I’m not sure it’s a good idea.

So, what games are good alternatives to Warhammer 40k? Do things like Dust Tactics cut it? Or am I stuck picking up GW games with a hope they don’t further such overreaching and unfair ownership tactics?