Tactile Wars (Free) had, how shall I put this mildly, a rocky start in life. The game went through what I suppose was a successful soft launch and then got released with plenty of App Store fanfare, grabbing the much-coveted Editor’s Choice Award from Apple, an award that can really take a game’s revenue into the stratosphere. Unfortunately for the game, the award had pretty much that precise effect, and I say unfortunately because the great influx of players knackered the game’s servers to the point where it became literally unplayable. All players would see was a “Connection is Lost" little sign informing them of their current inability to join this online-only game. In a way, Tactile Wars‘ predicament was reminiscent of that of many recent AAA console and PC games that tried to go online-only (looking at you, Simcity) only to realize soon after launch that servers are fickle little creatures, bound to melt into a puddle when you need them most.
Fortunately, as communicated on our forums, the developers quickly got to work upgrading their server infrastructure (which in my mind probably involved late night incantations, dimly lit torches, and potions of unknown origins), and the game was playing relatively well a couple of days after launch (with the occasional crash, though). The game even got its Editor’s Choice award back, which made me believe Apple actually has a heart since it took a second look at this game. Now that I’ve played quite a few hours of Tactile Wars (a couple of those on our Mobcrush stream), I can safely say that this is a very entertaining game that while it might have the relatively-traditional base building mechanics of games like Clash of Clans, it really shines in its tactical, and quite tactile, battles, easily the highlight of the game, which offer some tense, greatly-entertaining moments.
Once it takes you through the pretty decent tutorial that teaches the basics of attacking, base building, and researching various defenses, Tactile Wars drops the hand-holding and lets you take your little guys to war all by yourself. The tutorial does enough to teach you how to play Tactile Wars, although it left out a very important piece of information regarding how to get the most XP when fighting your opponents. The base building part of the game is nothing too fascinating, with each base having a number of spaces available for defensive equipment and a pretty linear path to defend.
I liked that you can attack your own bases to test your defenses, an entertaining gameplay feature that costs you nothing. In order to add any defenses to your base, you first have to research the trap, vehicle, artillery piece, or whatever else you feel will bolster your defenses. Each piece of equipment or ability requires you to be of a certain level and also costs a certain amount of coins to unlock. Once you do research let’s say the tank, you then need to go into the armory to buy a pack (or more) of tanks, and once purchased, you can drag them to the various available spots in your base.
The prices of the items are relatively reasonable and the pace with which you unlock the various pieces of defensive (and the few offensive) equipment isn’t too bad. Now, once you get attacked, you lose the defensive equipment the opponent manages to destroy, and the game replaces it automatically with the equipment you had bought in advance. If you don’t check on your bases often, there’s a great possibility you will run out of traps and weapons, making you even more vulnerable to enemy attacks and costing you quite a bit of money since the enemies steal your coins when they attack.
This mechanic forces you to stock up on all kinds of defensive equipment, which in turn means you spend most of your gold stocking up on equipment that you don’t really actively use in the game but, rather, buy and forget. This decision makes buying traps and weapons for your base a slightly uninteresting game of math where you try to calculate how many pieces of each trap or weapon you need to have in stock to keep your base safe. Also, that means that while you spend most of your coins buying base-related stuff, you don’t actually see an immediate effect of all that spending, which is a slightly peculiar design decision.
While building your base is an important part of the game, you’ll probably want to spend as less time as possible in the pretty linear research and construction aspects of Tactile Wars because most of the game’s fun lies in attacking rather than defending. Once you decide it’s time to go on the offensive, you pick an enemy and off you go. While the game has extensive stats on your rank in the game’s various leagues, there’s a distinct disconnect between that part of the game and the part where you pick your next target. I would have preferred more options when I go on the attack rather than just one opponent per color and also the ability to attack players straight from the league rankings. Once you pick one of the five possible opponents, you pick one of the many mercenary units you unlock as you level up, and parachute into enemy territory.
At the start of the attack, you control a small number of very funny-looking soldiers, tapping to move across the battlefield. I think a mini-map would have been a useful addition when you attack because the game’s camera is zoomed in all the way for most of the attack, which means you can’t really see the battlefield; while on the one hand this lack of battlefield information makes the battles more challenging (since you don’t know enemy formations and position), it also means that I once failed an attack because I didn’t realize there was a base I hadn’t captured yet. Nevertheless, you move through the map in a linear fashion, trying to capture the enemy’s base while killing his or her troops and avoiding any traps. Your soldiers shoot automatically once they are in range, but everything else, from their movement to their formations, is under your control. The ability to shift troop formations is where the game’s tactility (per the title) shines as you can shape your soldier group into all kinds of shapes, either for fun or for strategic purposes.
Changing troop formation by drawing shapes on the screen is essential if you want to win battles at higher levels because in order to eliminate an enemy soldier group quickly and gain maximum XP while doing it, you have to shoot its flag bearer. Once you shoot him, he briefly floats in the air while trapped in a bubble, and when you pop that bubble, his whole group disintegrates. This mechanic makes battles quite strategic because if you can get many enemy flag bearers in the air and pop them at the same time, you get medals, power-ups, and more XP. Since the XP fills your reinforcement meter and lets you call more troops to battle, getting this bubble-popping tempo down is essential. The game also has plenty of vehicles that will try to shoot at your soldiers or run them over, and each of them requires slightly different tactics to eliminate. When you add all of these mechanics together, you end up with pretty strategic battles.
The idea of shifting your formations around while fighting is excellent and really gives the player much more to do while battling unlike other, similar base-building games that rely primarily on picking the right kind of troop type and timing your troop summoning correctly. One issue in Tactile Wars‘ battles, though, partly comes from all the bubble popping you have do do; since you tap to move, tap to break the flag bearers’ bubbles, and tap to collect power-ups, you will often move your troops around without actually wanting to. I don’t know how this issue could have been fixed, but I’ve had to deal with it so many times that I know it will only become a larger issue the busier the battles get.
If the game’s tactility and strategic battles don’t draw your attention, the art and music will definitely do. The game’s music feels as if a kindergarten music club decided to remake military anthems; plenty of drumming but also cute triangle chimes punctuating the drumming and alleviating its seriousness. Add the occasional 80s synth sounds to the mix, and you’ve got a fun aural treat. The sound effects are also entertaining as paint splats when you hit the enemy, your soldiers make funny sounds while they walk, and so on. Overall, the game has a very child-like tone throughout.
The art is even better than the music, with your soldiers resembling little walking bobbleheads, their oversized helmets accentuating the child-like feel that permeates Tactile Wars and makes it appropriate for all ages. The different color paints the game uses as ammunition make battlefields look like abstract paintings, with splotches all around your heroic soldiers’ last stand, and when your soldiers do get shot, they slowly get covered in paint before perishing, a very clever touch that breaks the armies’ color monotony. Overall, the game looks like a fun cartoon with an art style that makes the game quite endearing and more child-friendly than other games of the genre.
The game has plenty of content to keep you entertained as you’ll have to spend quite a lot of time unlocking the various defenses, abilities, mercenaries, and so on. Tactile Wars also offers an interesting card system that unlock various weapons, abilities, and mercenaries, adding another layer of collectibles and unlocks. The game is F2P but, fortunately for most, doesn’t include any timers or energy systems; when you feel like playing Tactile Wars, you can play it. Yes, of course you can pay money to get more gold or more of the prism currency, but all that will achieve is trading money for time and unlocking items and units faster than other players.
While paying actual money will probably help you ascent the ranks faster, the fact that one, the game will match you with people of your level and, two, the battles require actual skill, means that paying won’t get you too far ahead of the competition. Still, keep in mind that you’ll be surpassed by people with more money than you, but, if the matchmaking system works as it should, you should always be fighting people with similar equipment as you.
The biggest compliment I can give Tactile Wars is that it’s really fun to play. The battles are especially entertaining, and I had a blast playing it on stream (more fun than I expected to have, to be honest). The base-building part I could take or leave, but at least the upgrading system is quite sensible and the research tree, though linear, offers plenty of goals to aim for as you play. The fact that Ankama went with paintball warfare rather than actual warfare makes this game suitable for everyone. While the control scheme needs some refinement to stop your troops from moving when they shouldn’t, the battles are a blast. Even if you aren’t into games of this genre and you aren’t the type of gamer who plays Clash of Clans-type of games, I suggest you give Tactile Wars a shot (of paint); you might be surprised at how much fun you’ll have conquering other players’ bases.