Halfway Review - Part 1 Summary:
A charming turn-based sci-fi strategy game that hits the sweet spot in almost every regard. If you like delicious pixel art, squad-level tactics and are looking for something that’s simple with just enough depth to keep you engaged for about 15 hours and runs perfectly fine on any budget laptop, look no further than Halfway. Graphics & Sound:
I bought this game right after watching the trailer, relying on my first impression and intuition rather than checking reviews on the net. The beautifully done graphics with crisp sprites and soft lighting effects and the atmospheric Blade Runner style soundtrack caught my attention right away. The soundtrack has 24 tracks and is superb, not just for an indie game but by any standards. And in terms of pixel art, it doesn’t get much better than this and Halfway looks mighty pretty compared to visually similar indie games like FTL or Sword of the Stars: The Pit. There is no voice acting but sound effects are well done, so full marks for presentation. Controls:
The game plays like butter with an almost self explanatory intuitive interface. Everything can be done via mouse but for extra comfort you can use WASD to pan the map around, ALT to highlight interactable objects, SPACE for the actions menu pop-up and ENTER to end your turn. Easy as cake. Enemy movement phases are quick so even impatient players should have nothing to worry about. Difficulty:
I’d describe this game as “casualcore” – easy to learn but offering enough depth and challenge to not bore experienced players. Ideal for players who only have time to play in short bursts. Halfway is streamlined but not dumbed down. The controls are simple and most missions take around half an hour, making this an ideal game for strategy fans who don’t have the time to play overly complex long games of the Paradox Interactive variety but still want a challenging experience.
It’s almost impossible to please everyone: Beginners could find some of the later missions rather hard and veterans of the genre will find the game overall too easy. Out of 30 missions, there was only one that I had to restart several times, it was a tough mission because you could only bring two required characters and one of them was a new addition to the team and therefore not yet fully combat effective. All in all, the difficulty seemed well balanced and felt just right to me. The game has only one savegame and only saves between missions, this seems limiting but works perfectly fine.
Good news for masochists: The developer is working on a Game Mode+ that will be a lot more difficult. Update: Game Mode+ is now available, just check the corresponding box in the "Mods" option menu and the game will become a lot tougher, great option for a replay but -not- recommended to first time players! Review of my completed game mode+ playthrough here Story & setting:
Regular run-of-the-mill dystopian sci-fi material, you wake up from cryosleep aboard a big spaceship named the Goliath and everyone has turned into space zombies. Sounds familiar?
The story felt a bit too uninspired and the dialogues were rather underwhelming. Halfway is kind of the opposite of Final Fantasy VI: In Halfway, you quickly read through the dialogues so you can get to the next battle and in FF VI, you quickly fight the battles so you can get back to the interesting story part with all the wonderful characters. That doesn’t mean Halfway isn’t enjoyable, I found it a very immersive experience but the immersion came from elements other than the story.
Halfway follows a fixed storyline like Incubation and Gorky 17 so progression is linear except for a select few instances where you can choose to go on optional side missions. It makes no difference in which order you complete those side missions or if you complete them at all but I recommend not to skip them because any extra gear and stimpacks go far towards making your life more comfortable during the harder missions – of which there aren’t many. Characters:
Stereotypical but not as memorable as in Jagged Alliance. Are you going to remember any of Halfway’s characters the same way you remember Ivan Dolvich from Jagged Alliance? Probably not but that’s a fate most strategy games share with Halfway. These are not the Baldur’s Gates you’re looking for, if characters are very important to you than you might be better served with an RPG.
Halfway is a straightforward bare-bones strategy games with no RPG elements - unless you count upgrading physical attributes via stimpacks as role-playing.
There’s conflict and arguments between some of the characters in Halfway but it has no effect on gameplay and the dialogues aren’t particularly engaging. The main character and team leader in Halfway is your generic Caucasian male middle-aged war veteran who is disciplined and a man of few words - as seen in a million games and movies. You also get the crazy professor with white hair, the hacker tech guy with hipster hair and the obligatory token black guy with lots of muscle – useful muscle as he can carry one and a half times as much stuff as everyone else, making him the one character I brought on every mission whenever possible. And of course there’s the cold and badass female sniper akin to Maya from Shadow Watch, Rachel Rutherford from Incubation etc.
I don’t hold any of this against the game, riffing off common stereotypes may not be highly original but it creates familiarity which makes it easier to assign a specific combat role to each character – they’re not your real life friends after all but chess pieces in a strategy game. You don’t bring Josh the hacker on a mission just because his hairstyle is cool. That being said, I turned 4 of the 8 characters into dedicated snipers, not because I like to be a cheesy player but because the weapons are unbalanced in this game and strongly biased towards sharpshooting. I even turned the main character into a sniper despite the fact that his passive skill improves accuracy for assault rifles and not sniper rifles so that was a bit of a metagaming choice but I’m sure most players are going to do the same thing. Character skills and progression:
Every character has one active and one passive skill, you can’t upgrade these skills or choose any additional ones. You upgrade your characters via stimpacks which you find in crates. Each character can be given a total of 5 stimpacks so you can’t turn team leader Morten who is mandatory on all missions and 1-2 of the other characters into superhumans and leave everyone else at turd level, instead you must balance things out a bit more. Also, many missions require you to bring along certain characters by default so you while you can pick your favorites most of the time you can’t completely neglect anyone in terms of upgrading. There is a reason for this which I’m sure is obvious to guess but I won’t spoil it – but don’t worry, the game doesn’t kill off any of your tediously upgraded team members Aerith style, this much I can tell you.