I boot up the beta build of Tactical Breach Wizards and am suddenly dropped into a high stakes special forces operation. My partner and I are scoping out a mafia cargo ship with the mission of extracting a hostage. All that stands between us and success is a gang of angry druids armed to the teeth with guns, ammo, and nasty spells.
We breeze through the first string of cabins with no problem, but after bursting into the main cargo hold and immobilizing the first couple of targets, I'm left with a difficult choice. Take out the Elder Shrublord with an M4 aimed at the hostage we're supposed to be securing, or save my Chronomancer teammate who's face-to-face with a terrifying spider monster? My wizard has the ability to see into the future and the outcomes of both decisions look dire. No matter what actions I make, it's impossible to save both. Analysis paralysis takes over and I have no idea what to do. Who decided to give guns to all these wizards anyway?
That would be Suspicious Developments, the creators of turn-based strategy game Tactical Breach Wizards (and, previously, Gunpoint and Heat Signature). In this world, wizards have replaced their robes and magical staffs with modern-day tactical gear. Armed with guns, gadgets, and powerful spells, it's your job to clear rooms filled with supernatural enforcers.
I'm intrigued by Tactical Breach Wizard's particular fusion of fantasy. The first set of missions introduces you to Jen, a storm witch who doubles as a private investigator and has the ability to control electricity. And Zan, a retired time-traveling Navy Seer who has the ability to see into the future.
I love the design details of these two characters, like Jen's collapsible broomstick that she carries on her back and the magician's wand she has stuffed in the band of her witch's hat. With Zan, there's something funny about seeing an old wizard decked out with a rifle and camo gear, like Gandalf reincarnated in the SAS. He even has some tiny hourglasses tied to his belt for when he has to see into the future.
The duo join forces when they realise their investigatory interests overlap. Zan is looking for an ex-special forces colleague who has ties to a case Jen is investigating. The two are old friends but their reunion is not a time for celebration. The station is being raided by special black ops forces and the two get caught up in the fray, leading to a string of levels where you have to take out the whole squadron with your arcane abilities.
Blasting away the first couple of coppers is an easy enough job, but there are much beefier enemies equipped with riot gear waiting later down the line. Controlling the space with some strategic spellcasting is key. Instead of brute-forcing your way through levels, there's an emphasis on trying to move each target around the space to take them out as efficiently as possible.
Zan has a handy 'predictive bolt' ability that lets him set a deadly magical tripwire across the floor which Jen can push enemies into with her spell blasts, making for some great teamwork. If all else fails, you can always just blast an enemy through a window with some dramatic flair.
You can switch between characters during your turn, and also undo moves and mistakes, letting you try out different combinations of moves. The game is pretty flexible in that regard and makes learning spells and combinations easier since you can test strategies out before committing to them.
Having the ability to rewind removes a lot of the challenge, which is exactly the point. Developer Tom Francis has said that he understands the ability to undo your action makes the game easier, but ultimately wants more focus on the story than the action. In a development video, Francis elaborates explaining, "you're free to just play around and try stuff. And I actually don't want the game to be very difficult to complete because it's going to be a story-driven experience."
That doesn't mean things are devoid of strategy. The challenge is working out how to clear these rooms as efficiently as possible rather than increasing the number of disgruntled enemies thrown at you. It's more of a puzzle game akin to something like Fights in Tight Spaces in that respect.
It's still early in development, and so rough around the edges, but Tactical Breach Wizards is already an intriguing take on turn-based strategy. The world design and story hit the mark, and we'll see how Suspicious Developments spruces up the combat (the game releases "when it's ready.") I can already sense how Zan's future sight will lead to more dramatic decision making and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more characters. In the hour or so I played, I came face to face with the devious traffic warlock who, as unthreatening as that sounds, would not stop throwing phantasmal cars and highway traffic at my team.
If you want to try blasting coppers through windows for yourself, Tactical Breach Wizards is using Steam's new Playtest feature, meaning players can get involved with the game's beta. You'll just need to go to the game's Steam page and hit the "Request Access" button. Better be quick though, as the closed beta ends May 25.
Disclosure: Tactical Breach Wizards' developer Tom Francis was an editor at PC Gamer for 10 years, leaving in 2013 after the release of his first game, Gunpoint. Tom occasionally contributes guest articles to PC Gamer. We assign writers and editors who do not have personal relationships with Tom to any coverage of his games.