Phantom Brigade

released on Feb 28, 2023

Phantom Brigade is a hybrid real-time and turn-based tactical RPG, focusing on in-depth customization and player-driven stories. As the last surviving squad of mech pilots, you must capture enemy equipment and facilities to level the playing field. Outnumbered and out-gunned, lead The Brigade through a desperate campaign to retake their war-torn homeland.

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Same as everyone else has said: solid core mechanics presented completely flat with no additional layer of interest to keep you engaged and motivated over a bloated campaign.

Played it for a short session, and considering all of the reviews I think I had enough.
The mechanics are there, sure, but I personally did not get that much drawn in. I'd rather replay Battletech tbh.

I’ve waited several years for Phantom Brigade and after being on Epic Store early access for quite some time now. The game has finally launched in steam on version 1.0. So I had to play it. This means retaking the capital city or clearing every province. I only completed the former since the latter takes up way too much time. And is it worth the wait? Well…
Maybe. It has some things to be concerned about.
First, the game is set in a sandbox fictional world where you control a group of mechs who can use a prototype device to see a bit into the future and “predict” what the enemy will do for the next five seconds. In those five seconds, you may position your mech squad to run, dash, shield, or attack the enemy within that time frame. Once you’re sure of your commands, you can lock in your planning phase and let the real-time kick in and watch as your mechs go toe to toe against hostile enemies. If your enemies are still alive, you’ll have to plan for the next five seconds on the timeline and continue inputting your planning phase before executing. This will repeat until all enemy hostiles are eliminated.
This is the main hook of the combat of Phantom Brigade and honestly, it is satisfying going into combat and watching those moves play out. Especially, when I had to face off multiple enemies against a small squad. Making my chances for victory slim, but with careful planning, positioning, and knowledge of what my weapons could do and how far my mechs could move. Anything is possible to achieve victory.
I’d say it took me between one to three hours before I got the hang of things and once I had unlocked 4 mechs in my squad. You don’t unlock a full squad off the bat. You need to unlock it from the upgrade menu in the overworld. Once I had a full squad, I became more confident in conquering new territories.

Or as the game likes to call it, provinces. At the start, you and your crew hold no provinces at the start. And as you look at the world map. You can see quite a lot of enemy territory. Each with their levels marking how dangerous they are and the capital.
It may look easy at first glance to retake a province, but you’ll need to contest the area first. Where you'll need the Homeguard to help. Think of them as allies. From there a meter of your forces and the enemies is displayed. Winning battles in the contested area or taking a key objective like cities, outposts, patrols and more will reduce the enemy meter. Do enough battles, and soon enough you can take back the province from enemy hands.
This is the rinse and repeat of Phantom Brigade and one of the key points of my following critique of the game.
First, taking provinces, I enjoyed in the beginning to mid-game until I got bored of doing the same thing again. And again. And again. I became fatigued as my pilots do since nearly every battle became samey after retaking a province. Sure, there are other features the game has, like enemy patrols and different units defending caches and key locations, which do a bit to randomize the back-and-forth battles.
But there just isn’t enough of a main hook to appeal to me more. And granted I admit I'm more of a story player, instead of gameplay first. However, I still enjoy games on the opposite side. And this game hits some of those notes well. Except it could be better.
Second, it would’ve been nice to replay the whole battle. Yes, there is a replay feature, but that only works after 1 turn. So if a battle took an ‘x’ amount of turns the player has the option to see the whole mission play out in real-time without any interruptions. Kinda like how Super Meat Boy does it.
Third, inject some story narrative in me to care more about ‘player-driven stories.’ This is ripped straight from the steam description. And I find it a bit misleading. Since, the game shows random events happening on the world map which can make the player choose various decisions from helping the townspeople, investigating, and even espionage outcomes like holding a captive. But, outside of the overlying objective of retaking the capital or retaking all provinces. There just isn’t enough within the contents of the game to make the player relate more to those objectives.
Fourth, there is no pilot progression at all. So taking your pilots into continuous battles will not yield them any bonus skills or hidden passive they’ll unlock later on. They’ll lose health if they sustain enough damage in combat and you can recruit more pilots. But that’s it. The only thing they’re good for is being substituted if my pilot has low health after repeated engagements with the enemy. Make pilots matter.
Fifth, the battles in provinces use the same dialog for beginning intro into battles and good lord does it get tiresome to see again and again? I didn’t skip any of the intro battles for each of them to see some variation and to be frank very few changes. Some more flavorful text injected would’ve helped liven up battles a bit. Like: “Hey rebels are holding out here. Take them out,” “There was a drunk party and a lot of enemy pilots are in mechs doing crazy stunts. Take advantage of that and eliminate them," This mission will be a bit difficult, and honestly I recommend you don't enter this battle and retreat. But if you are insane, by all means, go ahead and fight this near unwinnable battle.” You can go further and extend this by adding witty, sarcastic, grumpy, cheerful, and more voices here. Just about anything will do to liven up text in intro battles.
Sixth. Please diversify main objectives in battles. Instead of fighting, have my squad sneak around the map to obtain the cache supplies. Hold out against waves of enemies and escort missions. Additional random elements like helicopters, bigger tanks, very huge mechs or super tiny mechs, implemented to prevent it from being copy paste. Heck, you can even add optional objectives like going into battles with only melee and shields. Win using only missile weapons or sniper etc.
And that’s it. I could say more, but I'll withhold the laundry list. But, I hope you all get the picture with my six points.
Excusing my critique, I would like to say there is a great deal of customization here I enjoyed a great deal. You can set up your mechs with a variety of weapons and body parts. It’s not quite as extensive as Armored Core, but for folks coming from Battletech and Into the Breach, you’ll notice a bit of similarity between the two. Xcom as well. It’s pretty cool after a battle to see what parts you can salvage from the enemy mechs and then using those new parts and weapons to outfit my squad is a great feeling.
To my absolute delight, destructible environments like buildings and destroyable parts for your mechs and enemies add a strategic layer to combat. Since you can see enemies' projectiles and where they’ll hit in the timeline. You can manipulate their a.i. For them to hit buildings or a small cliff in the environment. Thereby saving your unit if they don’t have shields and allowing your squad to mop up the ai’s grave mistake. Once I realized the enemies couldn’t do anything more advanced than following through with their actions, the game became easier.
And this was after I had lowered the difficulty already.
Speaking of difficulties. I have to give the developers praise for making a good list of options available to tweak how hard or easy the game can be. And it is worth editing for any players having trouble with enemies dealing too much damage or your squad overheating due to using their weapons too much.
The music is good. Don’t have any complaints about that, if anything the soundtrack complements the battles, overworld, briefings, and more. It’s subtle and doesn’t detract from the experience.
Overall, I’d say Phantom Brigade is something I’d recommend for those interested in mech games, without a story narrative and purely for gameplay first and a sandbox experience. And even then I hesitate because of the price. So you may be better off waiting to buy the game on a sale. However, it does feature a lot of hours to sink into if you enjoy the gameplay loop of battles, salvage, customizing your mech squad, and retaking provinces. Then this game might be for you.

entertaining combat mechanics(not necessarily "good") just like frozen synapse, but everything else is lacking, unfortunately.
if there is a sequel that improves on the story/campaign, mech building, pilot leveling it will be a good game.

entertaining combat mechanics(not necessarily "good") just like frozen synapse, but everything else is lacking, unfortunately.
if there is a sequel that improves on the story/campaign, mech building, pilot leveling it will be a good game.