Mechs in Phantom Brigade shooting at one another.

Phantom Brigade Review

Phantom Brigade Review


need to know

what is it? Simultaneous single-player turn-based mech tactics
release date February 28, 2023
Expect to pay: $30 / £24
Developer: cheer up game
Publisher: cheer up game
commented on: Windows 11, Nvidia 2080 Ti, Intel i9-9900k @ 4.9ghz, 32GB RAM
steam deck to be determined
Association: Official Website(opens in a new tab)

At its core, Phantom Brigade is a small one-player squad tactics game. You can command up to four Gundam-style mechs against larger forces in skirmishes. While often outnumbered, you have the huge advantage of knowing what the enemy is going to do every 5-second turn. You plan your moves on a timeline, and projections show you where enemies are moving and what they’re aiming for, much like the finer-grained representations in Into The Breach.

There’s something satisfying about taking advantage, dodging sniper targets at the last second, dodging incoming missiles, or interrupting a charge with a swooping melee attack. It works really well in the first few dozen fights, as if you’re leading a team of anime protagonists against a group of nameless thugs. After each battle, your little guerrillas can salvage mechanical parts and weapons from the field, melt down unwanted gear for resources, and upgrade your mobile repair base and strategic options. It’s an exciting progression loop where you’ll progress your way through a strategic map of increasingly difficult provinces, absorb new enemy technology into your arsenal, and then use it to push to liberate the region, making It became a safe place to retreat and resupply.

(Image credit: Brace Yourself Games)

The Phantom Brigade gets a lot of little things right. Visually, it features a clean UI design and sharp-looking robots inspired by Square’s classic Front Mission series. Round replays are a joy – the moment in slow motion watching an enemy mech’s day is completely ruined never gets old – and despite the mech’s jump-jet-assisted agility, they give a real sense of sense of weight. Mech weight also affects the outcome of a collision, with a heavier chassis allowing you to take on lighter enemies, possibly shocking their pilots and allowing you to salvage their mechs intact.

It makes a great first impression and there’s something special here. It’s a formula that I’d like to see improved and expanded upon. Unfortunately, the more I researched the Phantom Brigade, the more flaws I noticed on its shiny surface, and the more easily it became exploitable and hackable with even the slightest effort.

Mech Wars for Dummies

I can point to the exact point where the campaign went against me; getting my first mech-sized minigun. Suddenly, being smart is optional. I could park that mech on top of a hill and hit the armor of an oncoming enemy with a sustained barrage of buckshot. Even absorbing some self damage from overheating is offset by how quickly enemies melt. Then I found another minigun. There is still one. Then my whole squad has them and can stand at the starting point and sweep across the map with incredible accuracy and the power to drill right through buildings.

The Phantom Brigade works best when you feel like a brave guerrilla fighter fighting against odds.

At this point, I realized that the enemy is actually stupid. I’m a mind reader who can predict their every move, but I usually don’t have to. In almost every fight they would come out of cover and engage me, even if they had indirect missiles. Enemies also can’t use or react to melee weapons (or at least never did in my campaign), allowing me to do combo swords on helpless enemies when my lead hail strategy gets boring attack. It feels like I’m bullying the AI, and even with their inflated stats, they can’t do anything meaningful against my fortified cheese.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the missions and battlegrounds were more diverse. There are only a few map types (hills, villages, towns, industrial complexes, and military bases) that function identically in most respects, except that the bases have proximity-activated turrets (solved by having enemies come to you) of. While there are some missions where you can technically win by getting in and securing the objective, it’s almost always faster and easier to take out enemies as quickly as possible, especially if a reinforcement wave is coming. Win the battle early and reinforcements will never appear.

The Phantom Brigade works best when you feel like a brave guerrilla fighter fighting against odds. It gives you so much gear and gameplay systems that you’re encouraged to overwhelm your enemies and exploit their constant weaknesses. Even late in the campaign, the same few enemy types (mechs and two types of tanks using the same parts system) are repeated, with no fast movers, helicopters, or strategy modifiers. Enemy stats get higher as you get deeper into the campaign map, but since you can salvage parts so easily, it’s also how you gain power.

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(Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) Image credit : Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games) (Image credit: Brace Yourself Games)

military madman

Probably the most stale part of the whole game is the story, because there’s really nothing here. Aside from a few lines of dialogue in the tutorial, there’s no voice acting, no cutscenes, and no plot arcs, just the broadest narrative strokes, no juicy lore to chew, and no characters beyond your generic pilot you name.

You lead the Phantom Brigade, an independent guerrilla group, to liberate Homeland (a nebulous Nordic country) from invaders who have come from elsewhere and taken over all your stuff. You work with the Home Guard, liberating one province at a time while occasionally choosing among FTL-inspired multi-choice vignettes that usually boil down to “sacrificing morale for speed or boosting morale by pumping up pilots or farmers.”

The skeleton of the story naturally mirrors the rest of the game and echoes its own modular mech endoskeleton. Here’s a smart, forward-looking system that looks elegant and impressive when it works as intended. But once you attach all the other elements to make a usable game, the Phantom Brigade starts to break down and show its limitations. It’s the basis for great things, but it takes some expansion or an active modding scene to make it happen. The Phantom Brigade is an interesting prototype, if not quite ready for mass production.

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.