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Brig 12 struggles to break free from its free-to-play mold

The life of a cloned, intergalactic bounty hunter is about what I expected, though with a lot more loot boxes. Brig 12 offers an interesting mix of character class progression, tactical turn-based battles, and crew management, but it’s hampered every step of the way by free-to-play card mechanics that turn the gameplay into a repetitive grind.

The basic loop of Brig 12 is simple: Select a bounty target, track them using my crew—a fun mechanic I'll talk about more later—then beam down with my landing party for a series of turn-based battles. After customizing the look of my cheesy, 80s style bounty hunter (complete with hilariously oversized mustache) and running through some basic tutorials I’m left staring at a cross-section of my ship, like the base in XCOM.

It’s a fun visual representation, but the interface itself is a hot mess. I can’t examine ability cards on the loot box screen, nor in the Armory, which is where you go to see all your cards. Only when equipping cards can I see what the ability actually does. After tracking a bounty, both the Exit and Attack options back out to the ship screen, making me wonder why there’s an Attack button at all. And several times the game soft-locked, still running but preventing me from escaping that menu screen, and forcing me to quit and restart.

Base cross-sections are always cool.

The battle system UI needs work as well. Buffs and Debuffs are constantly being applied by both enemies and allies, but their effects are hidden under a tiny drop down menu for each character. Issuing commands requires me to first select a character to pop open their ability cards, instead of simply cycling through them.

All of these little annoyances and aggravations add up. At best navigating each screen felt laborious and unresponsive. At worst it literally broken the game. It’s a shame, because Brig 12 has several fun, clever ideas, like tracking bounties.

After I’ve selected an Easy, Medium, or Hard bounty, I have to track them. A random selection of tasks are presented, like Kidnap Target or Free Prisoners. Any crew member can be assigned these tasks. Each task has a stat requirement, like 23 Smarts or 53 Power. Slotting in a crew member with less than the desired number will result in a chance of failure of finding the target. Tracking is an excellent solution to a stable of otherwise unused party members, and motivated me to keep them geared up.

A crewmember failing to find a target isn't a dead end, though. Instead the game forces a few fights upon me, then lets me continue on. In other words, the game uses its own combat system as punishment.

Classes can level up into advanced classes, but it takes a lot of combat to get there.

Combat is fun, at first. Each character comes in four different class varieties, and each of those classes can unlock more advanced classes. The Medic can become a Geneticist, and later a Mutated Doctor. Each class has four abilities that can lead to some interesting mixing and matching once you start unlocking new classes. Additionally my bounty hunter is always part of the crew as a fifth class with its own progression.

But the repetition starts in almost immediately. Enemies have the same class and skills, so before long I see the same skill animations and effects play out over and over again. The combat animations are bright, humorous, and blissfully quick but meaningful tactical decisions are limited. Applying a 20% stat boost is never as effective as just attacking and eliminating an enemy. The fact that every single battle is made up of multiple waves of enemies exacerbates the problem. Battles become a tiresome slog through similar enemies as you wait for your best abilities to come off cooldown.

But the single biggest issue is that Brig 12 is a pay-to-win experience. For this preview I was given a large sum of Scrip, Brig 12’s premium currency. Brig 12 has all the dubious trappings of a free-to-play mobile game, with multiple bundles of Scrip available at prices ranging up to $99. For $2 you can get 800 Scrip, which equates to four common Data Lockers (loot boxes), two rare, or one epic, with each box including a handful of equipment and ability cards.

Spending real money on loot boxes can make combat far, far easier.

I used a few thousand Scrip (worth about $10) to purchase a few rare loot boxes and a legendary hero. The game instantly transformed from a slog into a cakewalk.

Since every ability is based off of stats (an attack will do 80% of Finesse or a shield 230% of Smarts), better heroes and better equipment raise your power exponentially. The most hilarious example is hit points; equipping a piece of gear with a big chunk of Tenacity can easily raise a character’s hit points by five times or more. That alone rendered most enemy attacks completely moot.

Brig 12 isn't a multiplayer game, where this kind of design is especially egregious, but it's disappointing that spending money so easily and dramatically affects the balance of combat.To Brig’s credit, there are several ways to earn card drops, or even craft cards. Hunting bounties provides credits. Credits can be spent at the store, as well as admission to battles at Pirate Planet to earn random card drops. Acquired cards can be turned into Salvage, and that Salvage can be used to craft specific card types and rarities, such as a legendary weapon for my new Medical Engineer, which instantly turned him into a god dispensing defibrillator-based justice.

The Fallout Shelter-esque randomized art style is charming and enjoyable, and I particularly liked the battle music and epic electric guitar victory fanfare. But the combat system quickly grows repetitive, and loot drops aren’t as much fun when you have to spend a long time unlocking the advanced classes that can even use them. So far, Brig 12 hasn't earned the patience it takes to get there.