Mobius Front ’83 Review
need to know
What is it? Independent spins for a hex-based wargame
expect to pay £15.49/$20
audit date Intel i5, 16gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 1660
multiplayer game? No
Developer Zachtronics is known for its intricate puzzle games, but in Möbius Front ’83, it offers something very different: a modernization of the niche genre of hex-based hardcore wargames. More interestingly, the Möbius Front pits America against its most vile enemy yet: America. No, this is not a fifth column uprising, but a sci-fi story of America being invaded by an alternate version of reality.
At least, that’s the elevator pitch. Unfortunately, the Möbius Front took a long time to deal with this novel premise, and several hours passed before it even acknowledged the existence of this alternate universe. The first thing you’ll notice is that the opening is very slow, with some stingy story clips in the form of the interrogation of America’s alternative prisoners, along with some hilarious banter between low-level grunts like a private Nathan truck and Sgt. Benjamin Danser. Subsequent chapters will get more interesting as more overt sci-fi elements are introduced, but the entire first chapter is several hours long and I can imagine a lot of players quitting before things get really interesting.
Other in-mission activities include solitaire with plane watch cards, reading old Cold War-era military manuals (real pdf files you read outside of the game), and a signal-based puzzle game that’s a bit close to Zachtronics’ usual fare . None were a particularly serious distraction, I just really dipped my toes into everyone before advancing, hoping to advance the story.
(Image credit: Zachtronics)
Well, it’s all just a pinch of salt in the meat of tactical combat. Think of Mobius Frontier as an attempt to make a modern, more mainstream version of a hex-based niche wargame like Panzer Corps. So there is no base building here, instead units are selected from a pool and deployed in reinforcement waves. A mission might start you with a small squad of infantry who must hold out long enough for a column of tanks to free them. Another might give you a lot of frontcourt power, but no backup. It adds some much-needed variety to combat, especially when the maps they take place in are near the same forests – at least until later chapters get weirder. You may be fighting enemies in the mirror universe, but you are not deploying the same units. Your options are different, so alt-USA will have several missions in front of you with attack helicopters, eg.
Let’s talk about these units. Fans of WW2 wargaming might want their tanks to be mobile fortresses, but Mobius Frontier is set in the ’80s, when the proliferation of anti-tank weapons made armor even more vulnerable. Even the most basic squad has a rocket launcher capable of destroying most vehicles in one lucky shot, and you’ll soon learn that when your tank is ambushed by some troops hiding in the woods, your tank can How fast to shoot down. By introducing a symmetrical conflict like never before in the true 80s, Möbius Front gently guides players through that realization and turns to the power of cheap anti-tank weapons like the fearsome long-range TOW Jeep or Dragon anti-tank missiles. Eventually, attack helicopters arrived on the scene and quickly established themselves as kings of the battlefield: fast, long-range, capable of attacking tanks and infantry with equal ease, but vulnerable to dedicated air defenses. Despite its streamlined approach, Möbius Front does a great job of depicting the transition from a WWII-style massive war to a more modern one.
Tanks are still useful, not because of their toughness, but because of their mobility. They can both shoot and move, which gives them a huge advantage. Units that can’t do this (most of them) can accidentally expose an enemy, shooting them to pieces before it’s their turn. In contrast, infantry is slow-moving, has a short range and is very durable, especially when they are hidden in forests, meaning that only adjacent units can attack them. Some of my biggest victories came from high-stakes helicopter insertions, dropping a squad of infantry into enemy territory, forcing the enemy to make several turns to clear them, while a column of tanks rushed forward desperately to free them. Most missions involve capturing control points or destroying specific targets, never simply destroying enemy forces, so mobility is really key.
(Image credit: Zachtronics)
It’s impressive how approachable it all is – everything I’ve described here is so easy to grasp. There is no complicated action point system, every unit can shoot or move, the most complicated thing is remembering the few vehicles that can do it at the same time. When you click on a unit, pretty much everything you need to know is spelled out, including which weapons require turns to set up (usually powerful long-range anti-tank weapons) and which vehicles can transport infantry squads (most of them, but you will not be able to shoot while riding on it).
Zachtronics has managed to erase most of the potential lows, but Möbius Front also lacks many highs. There are plenty of challenges, but no moment when you feel like you’ve outwit a cunning enemy or made a desperate comeback. Most fights are more or less as you might expect. I can’t think of an anecdote where a hero unit won my day, or a lucky shot that turned things around – the survival of a strategy game. The emphasis on victory, combined with the unit’s generic and one-off nature, makes the missions feel interchangeable. With a slow pace, this makes the game pleasing, but never really exciting, ultimately dampening the urge to work.
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