Need to know
What is it? Real time stealth/turn based tactics
Expect to pay: $20/£16
Developer: The Bearded Ladies
Publisher: The Bearded Ladies
Reviewed on: Intel i5, 16gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 1660
Link: Epic Games Store
Now this was unexpected: a new game from the creators of Mutant Year Zero: The Road to Eden, announced just two weeks before its release. I'm not sure what's more surprising, that developer The Bearded Ladies would drop a completely new game with almost no warning, or that it's another stealthy turn based tactics game that isn't a sequel to Mutant Year Zero.
Instead, Corruption 2029 is set in a dystopian semi-post-apocalyptic America, split into a forever war between two indistinguishable factions—the enemy NAC (New American Council) and the player-aligned UPA (United Peoples of America). These wars are fought between 'units', soldiers that have been so heavily cybernetically augmented that they have seemingly lost all free will and are controlled remotely by drone piloting commanders. It's a neat little meta commentary on the concept of the strategy game, and it's unfortunately about the closest the setting gets to being interesting.
There's a real lack of personality here, especially compared to Mutant Year Zero, whose cast of loveable anthropomorphic weirdos are far more memorable. Even by the standards of XCOM, Corruption is wanting. With no visual customisations, no permanent levelling choices and no permanent death, the Units are as interchangeable and unmemorable as the fiction says they are. There are three of them, and I have already forgotten two of their names.
There is some visual style in the unit designs—mash ups of light clothing, angular armour and robotic limbs that call to mind Titanfall as much as they do XCOM. Unfortunately, the environments are much less interesting, with the same handful of locations reused for multiple missions. You'll find yourself repeatedly raiding the same motel over and over, although with different guards and objectives, giving the impression that this entire continent spanning war is actually being fought in a single one horse town.
Once you dig into the tactical toolbox on offer, you'll find a lot of fun toys to play with. Each level has two distinct phases. Units can wander around in real time so long as they aren't seen, and then drop into turn based combat to fight. The first half of the level is spent carefully picking off stray enemies. The second occurs when you've finally run out of soft targets and have to fight the main enemy force out in the open. Again, this is very Mutant Year Zero, but the balance here is strong, and it's rare you manage to take out all of the enemy via stealth. There's always a fight in there somewhere.
Much of this first phase becomes an intricate dance where you carefully figure out just how to inflict the perfect amount of damage so that the enemy gets taken out before anyone notices. Weaker enemies can be killed by the handful of silenced weapons on offer, but tougher ones require tricks. Maybe you can lure them out of range of their allies, where louder weapons can be used, or perhaps you can hit them with a stun attack to get a precious second turn of silent shooting. Just don't give them a turn to act, or they'll radio in a whole map's worth of enemies. It can be a bit arbitrary, charging through a wall and knocking your enemy sprawling is apparently 'silent', but it's a fun puzzle nonetheless.
Levels are also littered with useful pickups that will aid you when the real fight starts. Often you might find a set of turret codes guarded by a couple of soldiers. Lure one away by turning on a radio, kill the other, and you can set up an automated turret to mow down a couple of enemies in the first turn after you go loud.
Inevitably, though, stealth will break down—or you'll simply encounter an enemy you can't pick off—and you'll have to go loud and start a regular turn based tactical fight. Here showier abilities come into play, carefully doled out over the course of the campaign. My favourite, one of the first available, is a giant bionic leap that can launch a unit across the battlefield and onto rooftops. Land on top of an enemy and you'll knock them out of cover. Place it just right and you can knock them off a rooftop, scoring a kill without firing a shot. Others abilities include shots that freeze enemies in place, charge moves, and a large variety of passive stat boosts. These can be changed and remixed as much as you like. Nothing about your units is permanent. They are completely interchangeable.
Enemies aren't terribly varied. There's the rifle guy, the rifle guy who inexplicably has twice as much health, the elite sniper guy, the elite armoured guy, the resurrection drone and the overseer, who throws weird seeker missile drones that attack you in melee. That last one is known in my games as "the bastard".
Between missions you'll find little of substance, with a very basic loadout screen asking you to re-equip your soldiers and pick your missions from a branching tree. Occasionally you'll be asked to choose between two largely indistinguishable missions and pick the one with better rewards. It isn't especially interesting.
I'd really love to know how Corruption 2029 came to be. It feels like a very stripped down, bare bones game—a space for the designers to experiment with concepts in a turn-based tactics space. The big problem with Corruption 2029 is that the same developer put out a very similar game with the same strengths and far fewer shortcomings only two years ago. Fans of Mutant Year Zero might want to check it out to get a bit more of that stealth tactics fix, but anyone else should opt for its more illustrious predecessor.