RAID HQ - Day 7
| Raid HQ

Mobile gamers have been treated to a number of great shoot-'em-ups over the years, but they tend to be on the more niche end of the spectrum.

Your average Clash of Clans player, for example, is unlikely to be tempted by the hectic delights of Dodonpachi Resurrection as a palate cleanser.

But RAID HQ, a new free to play game from Cartel Kings developer Eight Pixels Square, endeavours to bridge that gap with an unlikely marriage between vertically scrolling shmup and base builder.

Does it work? We'll be diving in over the next seven days to find out.

First impressions

RAID HQ is a shoot-'em-up for the Clash Royale generation - now that's a sentence I never expected to write.

The main parallel is the card-based unit system - cards come from chests, and multiples of a single card type can be combined to upgrade that unit.

Sound familiar? Thanks to a seemingly Supercell-inspired UI, it certainly looks it.

You're encouraged to shuffle these around by a kind of colour-based Rock, Paper, Scissors system - blue beats red, red beats green, green beats blue - which means you tweak your active deck more regularly than you would in Clash Royale.

But as for the meat of the game, it's every inch a shmup - albeit one in which you can switch between units on the fly.

You drag to steer your auto-firing soldier between bullets, releasing the screen to slow time and tag in another member of your four-man squad.

It's not full-on bullet hell, but it's not a million miles away. Contextualised within the risk-averse world of free to play, the age-old formula feels bold and new again.

There are, of course, compromises - there's base building, natch, which seems fine but hardly sets the heart racing - but the start is very promising indeed.

The plan for the next few days is to get involved with a clan, jump into some PvP, and build a better squad. Come back soon to see how I get on.

Day 3 - A decent hand

Having given RAID HQ a bit more time, I'm finding myself surprised at how authentic and complete it feels as a shooter.

It's not just another gimmick slapped on top of a base builder to freshen up an increasingly stale formula; dodging between bullets feels just as tricky as it should, and stages just as breathless.

As if that weren't enough, recent levels have begun to introduce land mines. A sadistic touch. It is nice, however, to see a free to play game that isn't afraid to brutalise the player a little.

Furthermore, it makes it all the more satisfying when you find yourself with only a shred of health, enter a state of zen amidst the chaos, and somehow dance around a glut of mines with bullets flying past your head to escape unscathed.

These are the moments of pure gaming joy that can't be replicated with automated combat, even if it is more accessible.

I'm also getting more into the rhythm of collecting and upgrading cards, and now have a hand I'm pretty happy with.

However, there's no room for a generalist in RAID HQ. At first, you think you might be able to chance your arm with a rainbow-coloured squad that's ready for anything. The reality is that you'll be switching your active deck a lot depending on the task ahead.

That might put some off. In Clash Royale, for instance, there's not much call to tinker with your cards unless you're getting trounced regularly. It's a small, yet significant, barrier between the player and that impulsive pick-up-and-play appeal.

I've also joined a clan, but the benefits to this have thus far eluded me. Nobody interacts, and my requests for troops have all been ignored.

Similarly, while it's fun to tear through another player's carefully constructed defence plan, it feels somewhat underwhelming compared with the single-player levels, where the commanders taunt your weakness and you're rewarded a rare card for completion.

Is RAID HQ a game best played alone, then? Return for the final part of our seven-day review to find out.

Day 7 - Pew pew pew

The main problem with an action-oriented free to play game is that the action has to retain its appeal for a long time.

It has to be able to withstand intense repetition without losing its lustre, and few games can manage that. Even Clash Royale, with its compulsive one-more-go loop, has suffered a steep drop-off rate.

A week into RAID HQ, and, inevitably, the shooting gameplay already lacks the thrill it provided on the first day. So what about two weeks, a month, a year down the line?

It's not a criticism, just a point to ponder on the nature of free to play game design. There's a good reason that many F2P games effectively play themselves, and it's because repetition renders even the most satisfying of game mechanics a chore.

In fact, RAID HQ does a better job than most at keeping things fresh. There's the landmines to dodge, and soon you're also introduced to stages with covering fire - big rockets blasting in from off-screen, upping the intensity yet further.

And, while many of us are now fatigued with base-building, it's doing something interesting with it - upgrading your HQ opens more landing zones, and more venues for attack from other players.

Upgrading doesn't just make you stronger, it simultaneously makes you more vulnerable.

The game deserves credit, then, for the extent to which it manages to mix things up - even within the constraints of build and battle.

It's hard to think of any other free to play games doing anything even remotely similar and, even if they are, they'd be hard pressed to do it as well as RAID HQ.

How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below. Click here to learn about our free-to-play review policy.

RAID HQ - Day 7

RAID HQ makes base-building and shmup gameplay feel like natural bedfellows, and shows there's no excuse for derivative F2P design
Matt Suckley
Matt Suckley
Achingly contrarian. Proud owner of an N-Gage and a PSP Go. Matt spends most of his time writing about indie games of which you've never heard. Like that one, yes. Matt is an English student, and largely terrible at games. Go figure.