Phantom Brigade is a hybrid turn-based & real-time tactical RPG from developer Brace Yourself Games.

Phantom Brigade Is Like a Video Editor for Cool Mech Fights

In Phantom Brigade, each turn is a slice of time into which you try to squeeze as much damage and dodging as possible without setting your mechs on fire. The Steam Next Fest demo only covers a few battles, but its turn-based simultaneous execution gameplay shows a lot of promise.

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Enemy movements for the next turn are visible on the map, and you can see when they’ll attack if you click on them, giving you almost perfect information with which to make your decisions. You lay out your movement and attacks on the timeline at the bottom of your screen, and they show up like layers in a video editor. You want to deal damage and avoid taking it, yet your guns and laser beams generate heat, and when your mech overheats, it takes damage. Overheating a little is fine, but too much heat damage can leave your mech vulnerable to a killing blow.

Phantom Brigade is a hybrid turn-based & real-time tactical RPG from developer Brace Yourself Games.

Once you’ve locked in your actions, you press the execute button and watch as the actions of both you and your enemies occur simultaneously. You can maneuver the camera however you’d like and watch different parts of the fight play out, or just catch cool camera angles of your mechs fighting it out.

Guns won’t pierce through buildings or terrain, so enemies will dash behind cover as you chase them. Eventually you’ll shred the buildings and close the distance to your enemies, gradually making the battles into an all-out brawl.

That said, Phantom Brigade can be slow-paced at times. You have to assign movement and attacks to each mech even if there’s just one remaining enemy. Once there’s just one left, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you shoot, but you’re still stuck fiddling with the exact details. Occasionally an enemy mech won’t be finished blowing up when the turn ends, leaving you to execute another turn and wait a few seconds as an explosion happens, even though you already won.

It’s also unclear how much damage you will do, or it was to me as a new player. Each mech has a torso, legs, and two separate arms with their own health bars, along with different types of damage. You can concuss the pilot by bouncing their cockpit around, which is easier to do from the back or with weapons that impart force. If you fill their concussion bar, they’ll be eliminated from combat without having to destroy their mech.

Phantom Brigade is a hybrid turn-based & real-time tactical RPG from developer Brace Yourself Games.

Even dealing damage directly to a mech, it’s not always clear which health bar you’ll be hitting or exactly how close to destroying it you’ll be unless you check each detail box very carefully. I once shot an enemy mech three times, thinking it would be disabled or destroyed, but instead destroyed its right arm and did some light torso damage. Cool, but not what I was expecting.

Once you get used to layering movement and attacks along the timeline, each fight moves more quickly and becomes a tight, heavy mech battle with an interesting push and pull. You slide your actions back and forth across the timeline, carefully running in and out of cover to take shots, protect yourself, and get to a good position, all while taking into account the differing equipment your mechs have.

One of my favorite fights in Phantom Brigade had me controlling a melee mech and a couple of ranged ones. The melee mech dashed forward to slash at enemies, but the beam mech shot a sustained laser of damage and I had to maneuver the melee mech so it didn’t get beamed, while still slashing wildly at the enemy mechs.

Outside of combat, the game is similar to XCOM or Battletech. You have a portable base you drive from mission to mission on an in-game clock. As time moves forward, fights or random events tick down, and you have to choose which missions and events to take. That said, the demo was mostly linear and saw me moving from fight to fight following the tutorial.

Phantom Brigade is a hybrid turn-based & real-time tactical RPG from developer Brace Yourself Games.

The mech-salvaging mechanics were partially available – I could loot parts of enemy mechs to use in future battles, but the game had a button for salvaging the mech frame to unlock a whole new mech that I couldn’t click. I got to mess with the mech equipment a little, which was fairly standard stuff. You can equip a primary and secondary weapon, and there’s a good variety among shotguns, shields, assault and sniper rifles, melee weapons, and beams. The body parts affect your heat distribution, movement speed, armor, and more, and it seems like the combinations of bodies and weapons could be exciting in the full game with more options.

There’s a little more to the map mode, as your mechs repair as time passes, meaning if you took a lot of damage, you might be wise to wait as long as possible to fight. And the full game will let you upgrade your portable base, but we’ll have to wait for release to see if there’s enough variety and depth in the map and the battles to support a long-lived mech game.

The timeline combat system is an interesting evolution of turn-based simultaneous strategy games, and it’s a good thematic fit for a mech game. Each precise tweak of your timeline gives you a lot of control over your mech, and the replay you can view of each turn lets you set up cool shots of your mechs.

If you like turn-based mech games and don’t mind a precise turn-based real-time system, Phantom Brigade could be a new favorite when it releases on February 28, 2023.

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Elise Avery
Elise Avery is a freelance video editor and writer who has written for The Escapist for the last year and a half. She has written for PCGamesN and regularly reviews games for The Escapist's YouTube channel. Her writing focuses on indie games and game design, as well as coverage of Nintendo titles.