Review: Halfway

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I was surprised Halfway hasn’t gotten more attention, what with XCOM and other turn-based squad games being so popular in recent years. The promised sci-fi stylings and tactical combat made it an easy sale purchase for me, despite the lack of buzz around it. Once I made it near the end of the game, though, I think I can understand why it flew under the radar. It definitely deserves more attention than it got for what it accomplishes, but not without a few caveats.

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Halfway starts you off in control of Morten Lannis, a space marine-looking dude aboard a junky colony ship called the Goliath. He’s come out of cryosleep way too early only to find the ship overrun with some very unfriendly types, and it’s up to you to help him survive. The way you do this is very similar to how XCOM or the recent Shadowrun games operate. Outside of combat you can move around freely, talk with people, and loot containers. Combat is turn-based, with each of your characters having two (and only two) action points per turn. These points can move them around the grid maps (distance dependent on their agility stat) to find cover, attack enemies, reload weapons, use items, and so on.

It’s a very familiar system with only two real stand-outs, the aiming system and the Retaliate option. Veterans of XCOM will notice that the hit percentages in Halfway are really, really low. Starting out, you’re going to see a lot of 40-60% shots even from just a few squares away. The reason for this is that you can add action points to your attack to boost its accuracy. A one-point assault rifle shot may only sit at 50%, but adding your other point might kick it up to 75%. This is less important for shotguns but vitally important for sniper rifles, which have very low base percents but get a huge jump from the second point, simulating the need to set up and aim. As for Retaliate, it replaces the familiar Overwatch response with a sort of revenge, where your character returns fire only if attacked. It’s not a bad idea but has very limited functionality in practice, and you’re usually better off healing up or reloading if you have an extra action point to spend.

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Additional characters will join you as you progress, each with their own stats and special abilities. There’s plenty of gear to find, including armor (which uses Halo-style recharging shields), grenades, and stimpaks which can permanently raise character stats. You’ll need to use everything you find because enemies in this game do not screw around. The campaign spans about two dozen missions, some optional, some multi-part, and all pretty harrowing. Enemies follow the same rules you do, terrible hit percentages and all, but very quickly the game starts stacking the numerical odds against you. By the mid-game you’ll be facing up to a dozen foes at once, with the potential to lose a character in a single turn if you’re not careful (dead characters revive at the end of combat).

This is where the game starts to grate because not only is it a long haul through tons of enemies, there’s not much variety to the enemies or the combat. For the first 5-6 hours, you’re going to be blasting melee dudes and ranged dudes. Only after the halfway point of the game will you start seeing things other than dudes, but this includes standard threats like heavily-armored turrets that only really add to the frustration. Failing a long mission after a bunch of samey combat is incredibly discouraging, and there are some missions in the middle where this is very likely. Missing three 80% shots in a row is very much a thing that can happen, and I definitely went back and forth between enjoying and raging at Halfway for a few nights, I’ll admit.

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After my last bout of frustration, though, I soon found myself eager to get back to the story. For all the flaws of the combat, the story and atmosphere of Halfway are fantastic. Each of the characters is unique and they all have important relationships that play out through the plot. The banter between them is excellent, with plenty of genuinely funny moments. Even the basic “ship under siege” plot has some interesting twists to explore. All of this is told against a surprisingly deep backdrop of dystopian future society, where people are separated by classes and basic human rights have been reduced to an alarming degree.

The pixel art is top-notch, with smooth animations, cool visual effects, and fantastic little details to find on every map. Sound is up to the task as well, with some really meaty weapon and hit sounds and a somber soundtrack reminiscent of FTL or Risk of Rain. The interface suffers from some bugs, however, making it hard to click on certain option or map elements, and it’s bad enough to be distracting. Between that and the combat frustrations I did consider giving up on Halfway a few times, but I’m glad I stuck it out. For the price it’s a rich and engaging strategy game that’ll last you 15-20 hours, provided you have the patience to push through the rough parts.

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