Atlas Reactor, a free-to-play game in development by Trion, needs some explaining. It's a multiplayer, team-based, simultaneous turn-based action game. XCOM is the wrong idea. There's no percentage chance to succeed at a shot, just the question of whether or not anyone's going to be around to meet your bullet (or sword, or bomb, or dog bite).
In the demo I saw, two teams start at opposite ends of a map. During each 30 second planning phase, you, your teammates, and your enemies all simultaneously choose an action, followed by a movement order. After everyone on both teams has called their character's moves, the action resolves. What's vital is the order in which everything happens.
There are two main phases: the action phase, and then the movement phase. I played as gunslinger Lockwood. Using his main attack—a gunshot that ricochets off walls—I could aim at an enemy and lock in the shot, knowing my gun trick would resolve before they moved. But, that isn't always the case. There are also special dash actions, which resolve before attacks. The order goes like this: preparation (buffs and traps), dashes, attacks, regular movement.
If you use a dash—which can have other effects and rules depending on the specific move—you don't get a regular movement command for that turn. Special abilities also need a few turns to cool down, so if you sprint into range of an enemy, you've just got to deal with it. It sounded complicated as it was explained to me, but after observing a match, I took over and figured it out pretty easily. (Though to be fair, this was mostly with the turn timer off and some backseat gaming from the devs.)
The turn planning stage is a bit stressful with the 30 second timer on, but it was sort of nice to lose control when my moves were locked in. Whatever happens—my shot misses, I sprint right into a trap, I get bitten by a cloaking robot dog—it's out of my hands, and all I can do is laugh and plan for the next turn. There are no dice rolls, just, 'did I correctly predict what my enemies are going to do?'
Taunts can be activated before the resolution phase, which adds to the comedy. If you use one, everyone will get a close-up animation of your character before he or she takes a shot, but it plays whether or not you score a hit. It's hard to look cool when you're shooting at a wall.
My favorite part of the combat was the two-turn area of effect attacks. One of the characters on my team, Zuki, could launch a bomb that would paint an area with a box. On the next turn, our opponents had to get the hell out of the way, because in one more turn it would hit the ground. There are some interesting opportunities for guessing and teamwork here. With traps and push-back attacks and abilities that slow enemies, clever teammates can help force an enemy to take that delayed damage.
My biggest problem was the game board's clutter. It was a bit hard to follow the action amid all the effects and UI stuff painted on the ground, especially as I was fighting some of the same characters that were on my team, only set off by their health bar color. Granted, it was my first time playing, and I was sat next to a PC hooked up to a big TV, far too close. I expect it's something I can get used to (the UI, not putting my face in TV screens).
The mode I played was basically team deathmatch, which can either end after a certain number of kills or after a turn limit, but there are lots of possibilities: objective-based matches, cooperative matches against AI enemies, and so on. Mainly, I appreciate that Atlas Reactor is unusual: not quite XCOM, not quite Frozen Synapse, definitely not a shooter or typical MOBA. I really like the idea of a game designed around methodically predicting an opponent's actions.
The single Atlas Reactor match I played wasn't enough to form any concrete opinion, to be sure. Our next chance to play will be in the next alpha test, and anyone interested can sign up for a chance to receive an alpha invite on the official site.