Hidden Path Entertainment (Age of Empires II: HD, Defense Grid 2) was among a slew of developers at Oculus’s special pre-GDC event, debuting a new VR multiplayer real-time strategy (RTS) game for the Oculus Rift (and its Touch controllers) called Brass Tactics.
In Brass Tactics, you take control of a castle and must build an army to take out your opponents keep (because, of course, this land isn’t big enough for the two of us). You can choose to progress through the single-player campaign against the AI by yourself, or you can play against or with a friend in a two-player co-op battle.
We were able to get a quick demo of Brass Tactics, and after a brief tutorial explaining basic movement and commands, I found myself facing off against one of Hidden Path’s exhibitors (thanks for the match, Patrick).
You begin a match positioned over the playing field, the height of which you can adjust to suit your preference (waist level seemed comfortable) using the Touch controller. You also navigate through the map in a similar fashion, using one of the controller’s grip buttons to grab the play space while swiping to traverse it. It makes sense to navigate the landscape in this manner (with the environment moving around you, instead of you moving around the environment) for this type of game, but it took me a few minutes to get used to it.
The battlefield is full of nodes you can use to expand your territories and create buildings that provide special units and upgrades. Resource collection is automatic as you occupy more of the map, and players can see the entire playfield without the typical fog of war vision seen in most RTS games, allowing to spy on your opponent and develop counter strategies to their plan of attack. Your keep can be upgraded to improve specific units, with a total of eight technology upgrades (out of twenty possible upgrades) available per match.
Eighteen different units are available (three base units with nine upgrades, four Elites, and two Ultimates), including typical melee, ranged, flying, and artillery units. Elite units have secondary abilities that are hand-activated using the Touch controllers, and specialty buildings such as the Catapult and Lighthouses provide strategic advantages when controlled (you can fire a flaming rock at enemies from the safety of your keep). Additionally, Mega Units such as Titans and Airships can turn the tide of battle.
After a few minor skirmishes in the center of the massive battlefield (the map we played was said to be one of the game’s largest), I proceeded to stomp a proverbial mudhole in Patrick’s forces, using the Catapult to bombard his front-line tower from afar and countering his infantry with several squadrons of flying Wasp units. It was at this point that I was informed that certain unit types have advantages over others (similar to Pokemon), and this new information only accelerated my glorious domination. By the end of the match, I had maxed out my unit capacity (but was disappointed I wasn’t able to see a Titan or Airship) and easily destroyed my opponent’s attempts at a comeback as his kingdom was laid to waste.
Brass Tactics brings RTS action to a classic tabletop environment, except you don’t need to sacrifice garage space and boatloads of time creating scenery and figurines (thanks, Warhammer) to experience vivid maps and environments. Even though our time with the demo was short, we’re of the opinion that this is the type of game VR needs (we felt the same about another RTS, Landfall, which was just released), and it was a nice change of pace from the slew of first-person shooters Oculus showcased at the event.
Although pricing for Brass Tactics is currently unavailable, the company revealed that it would be launching exclusively on the Oculus Rift (with Touch) in October 2017.