Battle Aces is a fast and furious mechabug RTS from Blizzard talent that turns Starcraft into a game of cards

Battle Aces is billed as “a vision of the future for real-time strategy” but if you glance at a screen, you might think you’re staring into the past: another toonified science fiction world of scuffed, shiny nodules, lanes and arenas, an overly functional colour scheme, and hotkeyed hordes of little and large units that appear devoid of personality, even by top-down generalissimo standards. Let’s start by addressing that last complaint: the units of Battle Aces have immense personality. It just doesn’t come across well in screens.

Each is a mix of bug and robot, with a clutch of finely observed, quirky-but-never-gratuitous animations that immediately had me choosing favourites when I played the game at Summer Game Fest. “Our main unit design concept artist, his father was also an illustrator and nature illustrator at that, so he’s already accomplished with animal designs, but he also loves mechs and robots too,” notes Uncapped Games art director Ted Park. “So he’s kind of melded both worlds as much as he can.”

A screenshot of Battle Aces, showing a circular base in an area with green vegetation and groups of units nearby.

A screenshot of Battle Aces, showing an army attacking a base with beam weapons

Image credit: Uncapped Games

As for the overall big “vision” stuff, I think Battle Aces has a shot at jogging the RTS out of its rut, though it does have precedents – not least in the endless world of strategy game modding. On some level, it’s a familiar but potent exercise in simplifying (or, if you prefer, streamlining) certain things in order to make other things pop more. Specifically, automating or combining aspects of the conventional RTS research process, resource collection, and base-building, so that you can focus on army composition, tactics, and the overall tempo of the match, using a zippy control scheme that’s built for PvP. The question I have is whether this is a shifting of the emphasis, or a larger transformation – a “new paradigm” as the Steam page would have it. I need longer than 30 minutes of hands-on time to figure that out, but those 30 minutes have certainly blown the dust from my lapsed RTS habits and left me enthused.

In Battle Aces you are a drone operator encased in a bubble base at one end of the map. Did I write drone operator? Because what you really are is a deck-builder. Each player has a customisable deck of eight units, split between three tiers of increasing sophistication, plus a wildcard tier. Units are drawn from a pool of 45 scurrying bots (Park says there will be “a little over 50” by the time Battle Aces leaves early access), some of which have active abilities, such as a blink teleport or an overclock feature.

A screenshot of Battle Aces, showing a deck of eight robot-bug units selected in advance of a battle
Image credit: Uncapped Games

Some units are available to build immediately; others, you’ll need to unlock by first constructing Foundries and Starports. How you fill your deck dictates when in the match you’ll want to have the advantage. If you want to swarm the other player early, stack your hand with tier one crablings and mantids. If you’d rather dominate later on, once you’ve built a few structures, lean on higher-tier units such as the Kraken, which is exactly what it sounds like and costs an absolute fortune. All of this is transparent to both players in a PvP clash, though the battlefield itself is swaddled in fog of war – hitting space bar lets you see your deck alongside that of your opponent.

There are no construction or gathering units. Instead, buildings are slamdunked from orbit, and resources are generated automatically by structures. There are two principle varieties – red matter, which builds up fast, and blue energy, which builds up slowly. Naturally, more sophisticated units require both matter and energy. Buildings, meanwhile, are installed in a given order on pre-established building sockets, beginning with the one nearest your drone operator, and expanding in the direction of the other player, which makes painting the map feel like screwing in a series of lightbulbs. You’ll need a fixed quantity of matter and energy per building, and you can also choose to upgrade existing buildings rather than adding another to the chain.

This thinning out of the construction and unit-building process – no manually placing structures, no assigning and escorting harvesters – allows for and accompanies a control scheme that is built for speed and micromanaging. All building and resourcing operations can be carried out with your off-hand, while your mouse hand moves the camera and units. Tab key unfurls every last one of your building options, tilde selects your entire army. There’s seemingly no need to click on a menu rather than using a hotkey once you’ve internalised the layout.

“A lot of it has been about kind of lowering the barrier to accessibility, where we can,” Park explained. “One of the things we did with the UI is we centred a lot of the controls just to the left side of the keyboard, the QWER layout we found to be very efficient. And then we try to simplify everything with just two menus. So that most almost all of your controls should be within one hand’s reach, where possible, and then the rest through your mouse.”

Watch on YouTube

I played a couple of tutorial battles at SGF, and while the AI didn’t put up enough of a fight to show me the intricacies or help me overcome my unfamiliarity with the controls, I can see how all this might add up into a distinct species of real-time strategy – if not necessarily that vaunted “new paradigm”. In my experience, new paradigms seldom position themselves as such in advance; they creep up on you like a squad of cloaked centipedes. Still, this is a very skilful rearranging and condensing of things I love about the likes of Command & Conquer, and the deck-building element gives it a charisma you might not expect, given the ubiquity of deck-builders today. I immediately wanted to sit down and spend time thinking about different arachnobot line-ups and the match “scoresheets” they might give rise to. And yes, I do like the unit designs in motion. The headline for this piece should have been “this is the first game that has made me want to pet a Kraken”.

By admin

Related Post