Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Harbinger, or maybe Battlevoid: Harbinger, the Android version

Grade: C+
Platform: Android
Genre: Space roguelike
Play Store: $3.99
In App Purchases: None!
Released: 2015

There's also a Windows version on Steam, this is not a review of that game.  This is a review of the Android version.

BugByte released a game a long time back called Battlestation, which recently went through a forced name change when someone called trademark, and is now called Battlevoid.  Harbinger is sort of a sequel, or set in the same universe, or vaguely related in that it recycles a lot of assets, setting, and so on.  Including the imaginatively named characters like "Scientist", "Marine", and "Pilot".

It's a Finnish company, and there are a few bits of translation weirdness, or maybe they're just really bad at writing dialog and it sounds equally robotic and off in Finnish.

But you didn't get the game for the dialog, or the character names.  No, you got the game to fly boldly into space, meet strange aliens, and blow them to pieces with missiles, lasers, plasma, and death rays!

And Harbinger does a fine job of allowing that to happen in an enjoyable way.

You start each game with a single completely unarmed ship a tiny bit of cash (scrap), and charge into space to be destroyed instantly because you bought weapons for your ship instead of buying a hanger for fighters.

If you want to win, go fighters early.  It is possible to win by going with a different early weapon mix, and as you get access to more and better weapons swapping out fighters for support craft is a good plan, but your best chance of survival at the beginning is to buy a single energy cannon and as many hangers of the cheapest fighters you can afford.   Eventually, if you're lucky, you can buy extra ships to augment your fleet, buy or find better weapons, and cut through enemy fleets like a hot knife through butter until you either win (if you're playing a normal game) or until the enemy weapons get strong enough that you finally die in a heroic fireball (if you're playing on endless mode).

When you first begin playing your choice of starting ships is very limited, but as you play you unlock other ships by playing (not by in app purchases!) which allows you to start from a stronger position.  Until you've unlocked a few of the better ships playing on Hard is just a different way of saying suicide.

Gameplay is pretty simple, double tap to move, your ships will automatically attack anything in range but you can also tap enemy ships and target them with specific weapon types.  This would seem to be a bit boring for a game, but it works.  It's a clean, minimal, design that is nevertheless enjoyable and fun.  I've clocked over 40 hours of gameplay so far.

Part of the fun is mixing weapons, finding optimal weapon combos, and so on.  There's a few gratuitously OP weapons in game (hi Mega Plasma Cannons), but if you're playing a non-endless game you won't get access to many of those before the game ends, and if you're playing on endless the upscaling of weapons over time makes your old "overpowered" weapons scrap fodder as you find new versions that do more damage at longer range.

In addition to finding weapons from the wrecks of enemy ships, you can also buy them for scrap at battlestations.  I've seen a few people complain that the selection at battlestations leaves a lot to be desired, and that's true.  But that's also part of playing a roguelike game.  You're at the mercy of the Random Number Generator, and the RNG is a cruel and fickle god not swayed by your whining.  Some games you'll get a Celestial Death Ray in the first sector you clear, other games you'll be limping along (if you can survive) on Human Energy Guns and Projectile Guns through the third galaxy.

It isn't a game with a lot of real strategic depth, but it's an excellent game for killing a few minutes while waiting in line, or even spending thirty or forty minutes just for fun.  And it's well worth the $4 you'll pay for it.

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