Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes is the first release by German indie developer Silent Dreams. You play Drake, the most emo soldier the nation of Glory has ever almost produced. You see, Drake is such a noob he failed the military academy entrance exam, and the beginning of the game sees him preparing to end his miserable existence by jumping down the throat of a carnivorous mushroom. In a serendipitous twist of fate, at this exact moment the last remnants of Glory’s army rock up, badly battered after suffering defeat in the battle Drake was unable to fight in. The Holy Avatar – the most gorgeous and beloved hero ever to walk the earth – is one of the survivors, and he explains that the land has been overrun by the Dark Church’s creatures and, since the whole army has been devastated, it’s up to you to help him fight them off. Unfortunately since all the soldiers are dead you’re going to need to get your recruits somewhere else. Now only the most dangerous criminal scum remains, safely hunkered down in the dungeons; they are your last hope for salvation!
It should be clear by now that Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes is not a game which takes itself too seriously. In fact it’s a straight up parody, poking fun at many of the cliches we’ve come to expect from RPGs – from half naked women to chests full of loot lying around all over the place - and it does it quite well. Let me just emphasise that part: Quite well. Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the start, the game was developed by a German indie company and unlike the likes of Recettear’s Carpe Fulgur, they’ve not exactly nailed the translation/localisation. The spelling and grammar is shoddy at best, which one can just about live with if the rest of the translation flows, but unfortunately it doesn’t. You might crack a smile at the dialogue but it’s generally overshadowed by the kind of vicariously-embarrassed grimace that comes with it. I imagine in the original German, the game works much, much better – but given that the parody element is pretty much the major selling point of the game, bad translation really doesn’t cut the mustard.
Grotesque Tactics’ gameplay harkens back to old-school Tactical RPGs, with a main quest hub – Station Wish – from whence you are teleported out to various locations to do isometric turn-based battle with everything you see. Exploration is real time, but as soon as you meet an enemy the tiles appear, showing how far you can move.
The combat itself is slow paced and allows you to take your time, which is to be expected in a TRPG – however your strategy will be seriously impacted by the fact that each of the heroes you drag along with you on your quest also has what’s called an “obsession meter”. When the meter is filled, the hero will do a special move – you’re probably reminded of Final Fantasy 7′s “Limit Breaks” and are thinking this should be a good thing, right? Well think again! Apart from Drake whose obsession causes him and nearby allies to do extra damage, the rest of the party actually goes slightly mental, and can (and will!) attack your own characters as well as opponents, often causing more damage than the enemies you’re fighting! For example, The Holy Avatar’s obsession is to talk about himself, so when his meter is filled up he starts banging on about battles long ago, boring the hell out of everyone in a small radius and sending them to sleep. Including your own guys! The three rather manic, half-naked maiden archers are all obsessively possessive over Holy and will jealously attack anyone who happens to be in his vicinity when their meters reach capacity – again, this tends to hurt you more than anyone else since you’re likely to have these ranged units at the back or side of the party with the melee characters between them and the enemies.
You can’t actually activate the obsession abilities – they’re just set off whenever the limit is reached, so all this together basically means the tactics you’d normally used are crushed by trying to avoid damage from the obsessions. You’ll want to keep everyone close to Drake for his buff – except that keeping anyone near Holy is generally a bad idea, since he’ll put you to sleep. West the Barbarian will get enraged and do some mental extra damage to whomever is next to him, Solithaire the vampire will bite you, and Rukel the goblin thief teleports away… but not before stopping to blind everyone next to him. And covering Angelica the healer becomes a painful experience since she’ll go psycho, fly over and attack you herself because you’re not protecting the healer – and then fail to return to where you had positioned her, instead remaining next to you at the front line. Really useful.
It’s also worth noting that different types of terrain provide varying amounts of bonuses which is a nice touch – however I didn’t find myself considering this all that much because I was more busy trying to position myself so as to avoid death blows from my own party.
Another niggle I had with the gameplay was that, although your characters can level up as they gain XP, there is no option to choose skills or talents or indeed engage in any character development related activities which turn a mere action-adventure into an RPG – so although Silent Dreams might label Grotesque Tactics an RPG parody, I find it hard to agree with that since, even in a parody of an RPG I expect to have some form of control over my character’s development.
Take into consideration the fact that this is an indie first release, I’ll soften my opinion somewhat and say that the graphics are… ok. The models are really nothing special and neither is there a particularly large array of them. At least the character models are changed when you swap equipment which is a nice touch, but one we have really come to expect these days. Environments are slightly better than models overall, but again nothing that makes me excited. What is worth seriously grumbling about however, is the intensely annoying camera. Whoever decided it was a good idea to have the camera gather momentum and actually keep moving after you move the mouse away from the edge of the screen needs their head testing. It infuriated me beyond all reason and I really wish they had included a tick box to turn this “feature” off.
The sound is pretty bland. Sound effects are used sparingly and there’s no voice acting, rather it consists of the odd squeal or grunt. The music is again nothing special – it’s atmospheric and does its job without being annoying.
All things considered, Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes basically adds up to a great concept poorly executed. Bad translation, forced humour, shoddy graphics and audio, awful camera, repetitive gameplay, lack of RPG elements and annoying “obsessions” all add up to a disappointing overall experience. It’s probably worth dropping a few bucks on it if can pick it up in a sale and have 15-20 hours to kill – I suspect this is particularly true if you can play it in the original German – but for the £15 retail price Silent Hill is asking, my advice would be to avoid this one.