Review: Falling Skies: The Game (Sony PlayStation 3)

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Falling Skies: The Game
Publisher: Little Orbit
Developer: Torus Games
Genre: Turn-Based-Strategy
Release Date: 09/30/2014

When you see a licensed game based on a show about invading aliens, you’d expect it to be some sort of shooter or action game. Thanks to the popularity of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, that isn’t the case any more. Falling Skies: The Game is a turn-based game that tasks players with using wit and strategy to succeed rather than reflexes and twitchy trigger fingers.

However, this game doesn’t so much pay homage to Firaxis’ masterpiece as it does rip it off piecemeal. It doesn’t even do a good job of it either.

The game takes place between the third and fourth seasons of the show. The 2nd Mass comes across a scientist who claims to be able to create a powerful weapon that could end the Espheni threat once and for all. The ragtag rebels must scour various locations for the parts to make this weapon. That’s the gist.

fallingskies1Sadly the way the game tells this story is terrible. Story missions are not only few and far between, they often have nothing to do with the premise. After I was shown a scene where the doctor gave me a list of items I’d need, I saw nothing else of this for a couple dozen missions. Another mission had me attempting to sabotage a hospital used to enslave children. This got dropped mid-mission to help out another character. Story missions seem to appear at random, and the game is more concerned with having you complete the same two or three side missions over and over again.

Also, the whole premise of this game is flawed. Between seasons three and four, the resistance wasn’t actually resisting anything. They were making a long trek from Boston to Charleston. If you’ve seen the beginning of season four, then you know things didn’t exactly go to according to plan. They certainly didn’t have a base camp set up so they could send people out on dozens of missions. On top of that, key characters from the show are missing. Where’s Dan Weaver, Anne Glass, or even Dr. Kadar? Even Hal Mason is strangely absent from the game. It’s nice that Anthony gets some time to shine, but come on!

Visually, the game is a bust on all fronts. For starters, the character models look like the cheapest of cheap action figures. Tom’s facial hair looks like someone glued it on. Even the best looking characters look like the stuff of nightmares when viewed up close. This is the uncanniest the valley has looked in a while. The background comes and goes whenever the game zooms in to give you a better look. One moment you’re seeing a cityscape, the next you’re looking at a gray wall. I get that this is a budget title, but it should still look better than something you could get on the PS2. If there’s any good news, it’s that at least the character models look like cheap action figures of the show’s characters rather than random people.

fallingskies2As we’ve come to expect from games like this, the actors from the show phoned in their performances. It’s not like they were given a compelling script to work with, but that hardly makes it tolerable. The good news is that the show’s dramatic score carries over as well. It actually makes some fairly decent background music for tactical combat. I could do with a bit more variety, but this is one aspect of the game that doesn’t disappoint. Sadly, the effects take us backward. It’s really odd that a death scream is louder than the explosion of from a grenade, or that a sniper rifle sounds more like a chip can. The transitions are awkward to boot, making this an overall poor aural package.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Falling Skies: The Game is a turn-based strategy game where you lead a team of four to six troops in a series of missions against an alien threat. In between missions, you can level up your soldiers, buy new equipment, and make improvements to your camp. As the game progresses, the aliens get new troops and strategies as well.

There are a small handful of different classes, based on the kind of jobs you’d see in the show. The Fighter is a basic unit that gets offensive or defensive bonuses depending on you level them up. They’re important because they’re the only class that can go on overwatch and take shots on incoming enemies. Scouts are the snipers of the group. They get bonuses to aim, can give bonuses to aim, and can take special shots that cripple opponents. Up next are Berserkers. These are heavy units that fire off rockets and wear heavy armor. Spiked Kids are a cross between a support class and a melee class. They’re the only class that can perform a melee attack at all, but they also have the ability to carry extra gear. You’ll also eventually unlock the Field Medic. They heal people, as you’d expect, except they get unlimited uses of medical supplies. That really makes them overpowered from a support standpoint.

fallingskies3The aliens comes in four different types, with each type having two different forms. There are harnessed humans, skitters, crawlies, and mechs. Humans stay further back and uses guns, skitters charge forward with melee strikes, crawlies hide until you get close, and mechs are like walking tanks. There are tougher versions of each. For example, Crusty Humans get to use grenades and a jumping ability that allows them to move quickly around the field.

Combat is fought in rounds. On your round, each of your troops may take up to two actions. These include move, attack, reload, and using an item or ability. You can take actions in any order, or even take two of the same action. This does indeed mean you can fire twice or fire then move. The trick is that enemies don’t patrol. They are at fixed locations, so you must uncover them before you can fight them. It becomes essential that you don’t just rush your last guy in and trigger a group of enemies before you can react to them.

Sadly, the AI is terrible in this game. When they’re spotted, enemies will usually run away. On their turn, they usually have to make up for this by charging in like a madman. This gives you plenty of time to line up your shots and take them down. The AI also rarely uses strategies unless you happen to come across a certain number of them. For example, mechs just shoot what’s in front of them. However, if you come across multiple mechs, they’ll start using suppression in order to keep you pinned down. Mostly though, they just attack the closest thing. Perhaps the dumbest thing I’ve seen them do is run through flames as if being on fire didn’t bother them at all.

Another problem with the game is that you simply get too powerful. If you get a Fighter to level ten, he gives everyone else the ability to overwatch when he does. In other words, you spend one action point to activate an ability that puts the entire team on alert. You can slaughter anything that way. The Spiked Kid’s melee attack can be upgraded to ignore defenses. I’ve stabbed a mech in the knee and done more damage that I could with four rockets. That’s just silly. And once you get a field medic, you never have to worry about taking damage again. You can heal up easy.

fallingskies4Well maybe the base management is good, right? Sadly, the base management is underdeveloped. During missions, you’ll collect three different types of supplies. Food allows you to upgrade your troops, metal upgrades your gear, and medical supplies give you heals and buffs. You can send a solder on a dispatch mission as well. This either gives you a little of each supply type or sends the solider to the infirmary. Soldiers in the infirmary can’t be used until they’re healed. The problem here is that the upgrades are too linear. Item B is always and improvement over Item A. There’s no need to ponder whether you should focus on fire rockets or bleeding rockets because the bleeding rockets simply do more damage. It takes all the decision making out of your hands because it’s simply too obvious what the better choice is.

One of the systems in the game allows for the generation of “endless” side missions. What this really means is that you get to replay the same missions over again with slightly different layouts. All these do is pad the game’s length. It’s already too long because of the issue with story missions taking forever to show up. Basically, the game will drag on until you’ve managed to finish it or you’ve simply given up out of boredom. That’s just not a good selling point.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150Falling Skies: The Game is a cheap XCOM clone. I’d like to say I’m just generalizing with that, but it’s true. The combat is simplistic, the mission variety is lacking, and the base management mechanics might as well not even exist. Even worse than that is the fact that the game butchers its own license. The story doesn’t match up with the show and important characters are left out. The one good thing you can say about the game is that it is playable and you do occasionally have to plan your moves carefully. It’s worth a look if you’re in dire need of a strategy game, but this is not going to set the world on fire by any stretch.

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