Review: Legions of Steel

By Alex Connolly 28 Sep 2015 0

No fate but what we make?

It's almost impossible to oversell my affection for dystopian sci-fi universes where mankind are the underdogs. There's an interesting one-two-punch that visions of the future like Battlestar Galactica and Terminator 2 deliver: we create things we can't (or shouldn't control) in a fit of hubris, then redeem ourselves through perserveance to beat back the robotic hordes in the end. Legions of Steel dips into that tradition. A younger step-cousin to Space Hulk's brand of hyper-kinetic hall-monitoring, this game was originally a cult hit miniatures game that has received the digital adaptation treatment from French outfit Studio Nyx. And I'm damn well torn on the thing, despite embodying much of what I love.

The turn-based mechanics of Legions of Steel have players controlling a sizeable squad of troopers through a gridwork of generic sci-fi corridors to achieve a variety of goals. Across the ten-strong missions that compose the main campaign, players will find a mix of sweep-and-clear sorties, escort missions, defense operations and turn-timed sabotage. The rotation of mission objectives helps to keep things interesting, as the spartan audio-visual presentation does little to immerse. More on that later. One thing I cannot fault Legions of Steel on is the detailed abstraction of combat. Across the four classes of marine -- basic trooper, heavy weapons, corporal and sergeant -- there's an impressive slew of manoeuvre and engagement options to break out. The two officer classes are able to dip into a pool of leadership points to extend actions like movement or dodge incoming fire, while the grunts are more mobile and, in the case of the heavy weapons expert, offer more shots per turn than their West Point counterparts. There is a lot of room to put your own tactical fingerprint on this game, and that's by far its best attribute.

Whoa, whoa -- TMI there, Sergeant. Put some boxers on.

I would be remiss to not mention how superficially similar this game and Space Hulk are, but the speed of movement and focus on ranged combat over melee make Legions of Steel a more dynamic experience. The robotic foe are comparable to the marines in damage over distance, which makes a refreshing change from Genestealer bum-rushes. The game is primarily an exercise in herding and thinning at a distance; blocking and channeling enemies with a mix of fire, barriers and smart use of the environment while whittling them down or keeping them at a distance while objectives are met.

Knowing when to rush a trooper forward to open bulkhead doors and gain visibility for squadmates is crucial, as is knowing what type of engagement method or overwatch covering fire you’d best employ. Switching between firing modes, toggling interrupt stances, selecting enemy or tile focusing; there’s a lot to consider. Each option is ruled by modifiers and governed by distance, with action points the fuel for each offensive or non-passive manoeuvre. Once a player groks the groove of Legions of Steel, the mechanics feel fluid, never bogged down by flabby or fastidious rulesets. Mission and level design push the player to utilise dashing and strafing, charging through the gridwork corridors in a fashion not often seen in similar squad-based titles. It’s a limbre, rarely static game.

Solid Snake's around here somewhere.

But it’s also pretty bare-bones when it comes to video game-y bells and whistles. There's this double-quandary I find myself in when boardgames get the digital adaptation treatment. Die hard fans of the source material often want something that cleaves nearer to the experience of playing the tabletop version of the game. No initiative buffs in Trouble. But why not indulge in a little audio-visual embellishment when making the jump to the digital sphere? For me, I enjoy seeing games take full advantage of the medium and enhancing the presentational quality of the game -- I'm not sure the creators of Legions of Steel are with me on that. Subjective, sure, but as much as Legions of Steel has everything essential in place, there’s nothing here beyond basic unit animation that you wouldn’t find in the physical box.

I feel about this much like how I felt with the starkly one-to-one Phantom Leader. There are no barks, no quips, no audio embellishments beyond an admittedly accomplished ambient score and good use of environmental acoustics to gauge the whereabouts of enemy units. One could make the argument that this should be enough, that a dutiful representation of the original boardgame is all that is required. But this isn’t a stack of chits in a frigid line on the outskirts of Moscow. Legions of Steel is a pulp romp about deep space jarheads and killer robots. Ladling on the Cameronian repartee can only be a plus. Instead, combatants are laconically silent, even when buying the farm.

More firing options than an episode of The Apprentice

Maybe I'm spoiled by pompous, bellowing Space Marines from Games Workshop licenses.: a riot of pious xenophobic fluff barked during a lumbering three-point turn in Full Control’s Space Hulk adaptation does wonders in upping the investment. Have no doubt: Legions of Steel is good. The combat is varied and crunchy Legions of Steel is a lithe, tactical affair, offering a worthwhile weekend of fat-free bot-busting. A mechanically sound experience but deserving of greater window-dressing. All I'm asking for is a smile. Or a scream.


Legions of Steel is available on Steam and direct from its publisher.

Tags: PC

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