Oh, is that a new XCOM expansion?
No, no it is not. This is X-Mercs, a turn-based tactical sci-fi game that sees you leading squads of soldiers into battle against hideous alien mutants.
X-Mercs? Space soldiers? Alien mutants?
I know, I know, but bear with me. It might not be the most original concept out there, but X-Mercs actually pulls everything together into an enjoyable and surprisingly challenging whole. It's not subtle, but if you like tactics, you're going to like this.
Okay, so what's the story?
Er, something about a rare mineral, some mutated creatures, and a group of very-much-for-profit mercenary companies. I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention, and to be honest it's not all that important.
Fine, how does it control?
Really, really well. Everything is handled with taps. You tap to move, tap to fire, and tap to use items. Battles take place on a grid that's overlaid onto the world when it's your turn. You need to keep in cover, use the skills of your soldiers, and not get shot or eaten.
I'm guessing there are action points
Yup, each character has their own pool of points to use. Moving to a green square on the grid costs one, moving to a white square costs two. Firing weapons costs different amounts depending on what you're aiming. The sniper, for example, has to spend two to try and kill something.
So what are the differences between the characters?
Snipers are very squishy, and pretty much useless at close range. Put a decent chunk of the map between them and their foe and they're deadly. Scouts are less squishy mid-range specialists. Then you've got Heavies, who stomp around with huge weapons and can soak up the most damage.
And the bad guys?
They're many, varied, and all pretty tough. You'll be fighting against other mercenaries, skittering arachnid creatures, squawking raptors, and plenty of other abominations as you work your way through the game.
Hmmmmm, but it's free to play...
It is free to play, but it's not gougey in the slightest. There's a base building aspect, and some wait-timers here and there, but it's never shouting at you to spend, and there are no adverts clogging up the screen every 30 seconds.
Not exactly. If your mercs get injured they need time to heal. You can speed this process up, but usually it doesn't take longer than the time it takes you to sit through all the story and progression that happens in-between fights.
But is it fun?
It is fun. In fact it's a lot of fun. And wonderfully tense as well. Scouting out new areas of the map only to find them swarming with beasts, then having to dart into cover before you get slaughtered is an awesome feeling. There are set pieces here that feel lifted, in the best possible way, from some of the very best action sci-fi cinema.
You're recommending this aren't you?
I am recommending this. It has its problems, and some of its portrayals of female characters are pretty backwards, but when you're shotgunning your way through a nest of arachnids it still feels great. Don't let the free to play put you off, download it and give it a go.