Atlas Reactor Review – Here I Go Again on My Own
Atlas Reactor4th October, 2016
You may have read another review of this game we published earlier. However, we received evidence that the review was not conducted with the level of care and thoroughness that we demand from our reviewers. As such, we have re-reviewed the game and you should consider this to be our official review. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Now, with that little introduction done, welcome to Atlas Reactor, land of plenty.
You don't often encounter a turn-based game that could be considered as fast and that's exactly what this is. I can genuinely only think of Frozen Synapse and Breach & Clear. Of course, there's a huge difference between Atlas Reactor and those two titles. Here, you control just one character in a team of four even when playing against the AI. Teamwork, short term tactical thinking and long term planning are all key aspects of the game.
I've rarely felt as much pressure in taking a turn as I do in Atlas Reactor. You're given twenty seconds, only a handful of abilities and since it's only 4v4, there's no real scope for dead weight on a team. The pressure is near constant and that's one major reason why the game is such a joy to play.
I'm going to cover my two major gripes with the game right away, then I can roll with the good. The first major issue is the pricing aspects of the game. Trion Worlds have never really managed to decide exactly what they wanted Atlas Reactor to be. First it was going to be a free to play game, then it wasn't. Closer to release they put in a free to play mode, though it's incredibly limited that it could be more considered as a demo than an actual free to play game.
You see, should you decide to play the game for free, you'll find yourself very limited. The free to play mode gives you access to a rotating selection of six freelancers. Each week they are rotated at random and you're then locked into whatever six characters are available at that time. That would be reasonable by itself, the game is still free to play for an unlimited amount of time, but other aspects are also limited. You're only able to unlock one Loot Matrix, Atlas Reactor's version of a loot crate, every 36 hours. These drop cosmetic upgrades and duplicates result in ISO, an in-game currency that free players can't actually spend on other cosmetic items.
It's hard to really have an issue with these limitations because the game is actively wanting you to pay for one of the three packs available. Buy any of the packs and you immediately gain access to everything the game has to offer. Where I do have a problem is that, by some incredibly twisted logic, paying for one of the packs also unlocks micro transactions. You are able to buy extra Loot Matrices for real cash. I cannot fathom making this option unavailable for free-players yet unlocking it for those who have already played. I'm openly against micro-transactions in premium games and, to me, Atlas Reactor is one as soon as you've forked out a minimum of £22.99/$29.99 for the minimum package level.
The other problem is relatively minor, all things considered. This is that the game has an absolutely abysmal and uninteresting tutorial system. You start with a level that gives you the basics of moving and using skills. The other tutorial level is a, frankly, directionless mess that doesn't actually inform you of even a decent number of the games functions. It actually takes place in a match against the AI, but with no time limit on turns, and there are a few videos about maybe half of the games functions. Even now, I don't actually know what taunts do, if anything at all.
Honestly, the best way to learn is to simply play the game. Now, there's little doubt that you're going to be in over your head when you start and even if you just start to use a new character, particularly so if you move from characters that function very different from one another. Fortunately, beyond the characters abilities, you'll never find yourself getting confused by how the battles actually progress.
This is where you'll manage to get the hang of the game fairly quickly. Each character has five core skills, as well as three one-use catalysts. Go into the loadout of a character and you'll be able to read what the skill does, watch a small video clip that actually shows you it in action and also mod it by adding an additional function. Sometimes this will reduce the cooldown, give you the option of healing yourself or increasing the energy gained from using the skill. The energy, when built up to 100, allows you to use the ultimate skill which is the fifth on the list.
It's not as simple as just using and hoping for the best, though. Each turn takes place over four phases: Prep, Dash, Blast and Move. These skills all have a certain phase they will actually be activated in. As an example, Zuki (from the screenshot above) has a rocket jump that is activated in the Dash phase. What this effectively means is that if you know that an enemy is going to attack you, you can use that and dash out of the way, evading that attack. This variety of abilities and phases they take place in means that you always need to use tactical thinking to also guess what ability an enemy will use and if that will impact on your actions.
Atlas Reactor has managed to impress in more than just the gameplay. Visually I'm actually in love with the game, mostly due to the character designs that are so varied and interesting. From a robotic dog with a bite that is considerably worse than its bark to a shadowy sniper that will take you out from afar. Frankly, it's the alternate skins that really appeal to me. I've got Nix, the sniper, looking like a gangster that wouldn't be amiss in Mafia III and Zuki is absolutely adorable in her little pirate outfit. The designs are absolutely fantastic and almost make me wish I didn't disagree with the microtransactions. For now, I've just got to wait and unlock them through Loot Matrices, hoping for the drops I want.
What also helps is that the game is simply fantastic to look at. Adding onto the great designs is the colorful cel-shaded design that permeates every square inch of the game. It helps that the environmental design is simply fantastic as well, with a number of moving parts as well as small features like a billboard showing pictures of the players that are waiting to revive in the coming turn.
There's also a great sense of enjoyment to be gained from seeing and hearing the blast of an attack, and the red numbers appear on the screen as you land a hit on the enemy. It helps that the audio design is great as well, nothing sounds out of place. I absolutely adore the one-liners of most characters, particularly Nix, the lovable Cockney git. Possibly my only complaint on this side is the music is just a little too techno for my liking. It's a stylistic choice, and I understand that it fits with the theme and maps of the game. Eventually, I just had to get rid of it and listen to my own playlist or podcasts and YouTube videos.
By all accounts, Atlas Reactor should disqualify itself from being enjoyed by anybody except Frozen Synapse fans. It subverts the notions of what a turn-based tactical game is all about and does it fantastically. The reality is that Atlas Reactor has elements that can appeal to everybody. The turns are quick so it should appeal to those that naturally like a more fast paced game. It's highly tactical so the strategy enthusiasts will feel right at home. Most of all, teamwork is instrumental in victories and comebacks, which is ideal for those interested in teamwork.
Of course, Atlas Reactor isn't perfect. The free to play aspects are inadequate at best, rotating the playable characters and making the rewarded in-game currency useless. Worst of all, they've unlocked micro-transactions for the paying customers. It also needs a better tutorial, because the one it has is useless. Aside from these problems, it's impossible for me to not recommend Atlas Reactor. It's so compelling that a few times I've wanted just one more game which has turned into a few more. In addition, the only time I've not completely loved playing it was when random team-members have let me down.
Simply put, Atlas Reactor is a great game that's just in need of a great business model.
Copy provided by publisher.
Atlas Reactor is one of a kind. An incredibly inventive, addictive and compelling online fast-paced turn-based tactical game. It looks fantastic, plays great and has so little to bring it down that it's well worth anybody’s time.
- Fantastic tactical battles
- Great character selection and variety
- Excellent visual design, characters and levels
- Incredibly addictive 'one more game' gameplay
- Tutorial stages are a waste of HDD/SSD space
- The music is annoying and repetitive
- The Free-to-play options are insufficient and, by some strange logic, paying for the game unlocks microtransactions