Overall Score 95%
It's war! The New Order (a race of galactic conquerors, not the pop group) have been roaming the galaxy for many years, stealing bits of genetic code from the races they conquer to bolster their forces. One race stood up to them - the Morphid, with their advanced technology and knowledge of genetic science - and swore to rid the galaxy of the New Order. Morphid heroes waged war, freed scores of races and were set on wiping out their foe. Then the New Order struck a low blow, wiping out the Morphid homeworld. Now the Morphid armies are all that remains of their race, and all that remains for them is vengeance. Morphid forces patrol the galaxy, looking for signs of New Order presence. On a remote and long since uninhabited world, they find such a sign. This is where you come in - as commander of a Morphid assault team, you will receive a series of missions against the enemy. What are they doing here? What are they looking for? And can you stop them?
Project Aftermath is a real-time shooter with a few important differences. Most RTS games have the same problem - the easiest and most effective way to complete a mission is by gathering resources and making a gigantic army with which to swarm the enemy. This is both a trifle dull and a little unrealistic. Project Aftermath does away with all this - missions are plot driven, and you have a small squad of special forces rather than churning out dozens in factory buildings. It also eliminates the other annoyance of RTS games: the need to select multiple units and group them. In this game, you don't control your grunts directly. You have heroes.
There is a very helpful tutorial mission, and one which is recommended both for instruction and for plot. It's also rather fun! You control up to four heroes (and up to two auxhillary units) by selecting them and instructing them to walk to places, shoot enemies, operate controls etc. All this is done by clicking on things with the left mouse button and different cursors show the different actions. Each hero has an entourage of minor support troops that follow their actions and provide attack and defence.
There's a lot more to Project Aftermath than this, and it lends a huge degree of strategy to the proceedings. Weapons and armour come in four varieties (signified by colour) - when attacking enemies, using weapons with a different colour to the enemy armour will cause more damage (i.e. don't attack with energy weapons when the enemy are wearing energy armour). Your heroes can reanimate themselves thanks to a limited Morphid resource called GOOP, which means death isn't necessarily fatal. And there are field effects - rather like magic spells in operation! - that allow your troops to cause damage, bend time, shield against harm or even temporarily take control of enemy hardware. All of these effects are time limited and use up your GOOP, so they need to be used wisely.
The visuals are impressive. Video clips between missions demonstrate plot points, and the main game itself allows plenty of camera manipulation - you can zoom right in on a single trooper if you so wish, or pan out to get a reasonable overview of the local area, and there are all the usual moving and rotating of camera views. Curiously I could find no way to change the viewing angle - for instance, for a top-down view. Still, the overall graphics are of a very high quality - something I would expect from a team of industry veterans. The squad equip/research stage is the least graphically inspiring section of the game, being a flat display of icons and text with no animation, yet even this is still a clear and professional output - just slightly disappointing after the visuals of the preceding mission!
This is definitely a game to have the sound on for. In-mission information is accompanied by clearly spoken character speech, in a variety of accents. Different weapons have different sound effects as well as distinct visuals. I can't really comment too much on the background music - my attention was largely on the foreground! - but the very fact it blended in so well shows how good it is. It didn't jar my experience or make itself noticed by way of repetition.
Playability is high. The range of options, weapons and strategies and the sheer size of the maps - I gather there are only around ten missions in the full game, but they'll each take a long time to play and longer still to excel at - can appear rather daunting at first. Project Aftermath does what it can to help the new player out - the tutorial is excellent, and carries on into the first couple of missions, introducing more complex elements as you go along. Even so, there's a lot to take in and it may take a short while before you entirely get the hang of it.
Real-time strategy afficionados will find this game a worthy challenge for a long time. Though the missions are few, they are complex. It's not simply "kill all the enemies" but a string of objectives that adapt to new events. There's a story unfolding here, not just a series of killathons. The tutorial is dead easy on you; the first mission does a lot of the hard work for you. I flew through the former and waltzed through the latter. Mission two was more complicated and I failed at the very end of my first attempt.
This is a polished and brilliant effort and I have little to fault it on. What I do find disappointing is the lack of any ability to save your game - you must complete a mission in one sitting, rather than save and return to it. While I can appreciate that saving a mission can allow "cheating", when each mission can take up several hours it helps to be able to close it and return another time. If there is a facility to save the game it was not mentioned in the tutorial or the readme, and no obvious keypresses revealed one.
I am always pleased when a game of this quality passes through Bytten's clutches. They show that an indie game can be as good as, if not better than, anything the big budget games industries can churn out - and they can introduce new ideas along the way. A well-deserved Gold Star for Project Aftermath is duly awarded!
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