Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Satellite Reign

Satellite Reign
Developed by: 5 Lives Studios
Published by: 5 Lives Studios
Release Date:  28 Aug, 2015
Available on: Steam - Provided by developers
Video: YouTube

Have you heard about Syndicate? Probably! I know I have. I was not a PC gamer when it came out; now it feels like it's been far too long to pick it up. Now comes Satellite Reign, a real-time class-based strategy game with some RPG elements mixed into the brew, that I've heard is very much like Syndicate. You take on the role of an overseer who gains control over up to 4 agents. You get 4 classes: solder, hacker, support and infiltrator all with separate skills and abilities that can be used to complete missions.

Combat is similar fare to what you would expect to see in turn-based strategy games like X-com or Shadowrun. You end up running for cover and your team will shoot whomever you tell them to or just huddle until it's safe. People are giving mixed reports on whether or not your team will automatically shoot back, run for cover or just stand there and take the shots if you haven't given them an order. I haven't had all that much exposure to combat since I play as stealth and run from combat situations but in my limited exposure, they seem to head for cover and hide until I give an order but otherwise just take a beating. Again, this is just my observations with limited combat experience. 

Cover based combat done in real time

Enemy AI is less than stellar. Guards run past my guys ignoring them completely after being spotted by the same guards. This worked well in my favor as it allowed me to get away with my prize scott free, but does not lend itself well to believability or the challenge. There is also no pursuit or criminal/suspicion meter for police outside of the restricted zones. This makes wandering around the city a cake walk without any reason to avoid being seen by the officers around. They don't even bother you if you hack a bank machine right in front of them. This can make wandering the relatively large city dull and uneventful, but also makes it a safe haven. All this is explained away in the beginning by no one in this part of the city wanting to make waves or call the cops, but there is a police station (first mission) and several (hundred?) police patrolling the streets. It's one of those "just go with it" moments that so many games have, so let's just go with it shall we!

Poor AI and camera auto rotate
The games focused on stealth and collecting the intel/items. You need these to take out the evil corporations that are destroying the city and making life worse for those less fortunate. If that sounds awful familiar, you're not alone. I mentioned on Twitter that the world reminded me of Shadowruns cyberpunk world without the magic, dragons and meta-humans. It has several parallels such as corporations controlling the governments, a small group of "criminals" who are fighting to take back the city/world from greed, and lowly citizens that are stuck in the middle just trying to get by. Yes this all sounds like most sci-fi games/movies or books but for me Shadowrun stuck in my mind.

Character development is more in depth than I would have expected in this type of game. Not only do you have a standard skill tree, you also have your weapons, weapon mods, augments, gear and the doozy, cloning! Let's be fair, every one of your agents is a clone. When they die you just pay and poof they're back just as good as new with all stats and weapons intact. Where this becomes interesting is that you can hijack people (yes just like you would a computer or car) and send them off to be cloned. You may ask "well why would we do that?" just simmer down and I'll tell you, Yeesh. Different people have different traits that can make your agents more effective at their jobs. In some cases you may find a person who has a significant increase in a stat you need, well you clone them and now can use that clone in that slot without losing any experience or upgrades. It's the same "person" in a different body and adds a nice little optional leveling system and a way to customize your teams appearance.

Character skill tree

Satellite Reign controls and plays much like an RTS. Almost entirely mouse driven with a bunch of keyboard shortcuts that feel like they were ripped out of Warcraft or Command and Conquer. Keyboard controls could be refined to remove the multi-key commands, such as 'control+A' to select all units, and make it a tilde or one of the many other unused keys. This is, of course, very simple to fix yourself since all the keys are rebindable at your whim. Never once did I feel that my team did something unexpected and always did what I told them when I told them with no guff or talkback. They don't have the best pathfinding but they do get there in the end, if you're not careful though they may come with some friends.

It's definitely not going to win any awards for best looking game, but it's not a bad looking game by any stretch of the imagination. It's art is very cohesive with everything looking like it belongs in the world. I would even go as far as to say it looks much better than most isometric 3D games that have come out in the past few years. The only visual customizations seem to come from the cloning system which is nice but also a bit lacking for the purpose of cosmetic appearance.

Neon cyberpunk city is neon

The game could do with the addition of a time control mechanic, similar to Pillars of Eternity, where you can speed up time or slow it down. Right now combat can get hectic and sometimes you just need to slow things down to get your bearings. Slowing down time would help reduce the stress while still keep the flow and sense of urgency. This would also have the benefit of allowing a faster pace through the city. Even though there is fast travel, it can get tedious walking to some of the locations. Speeding up time would also help while waiting for guards to make their rounds, or for those that want a greater challenge/speed run. They can crank it up and go to town.

The camera will "auto rotate" to assist you seeing what you need to see. It works well for the most part but when you are moving around it starts to feel like the cameraman is slightly drunk with the swaying back and forth. You can of course turn it off just like almost everything else in the game and control the camera angle yourself. I have yet to feel the need to change the camera angle from it's default.

The tutorial is probably the worst part of the game. It doesn't do a good job of explaining the systems to you and can get itself lost at times if you don't do things in precisely the order it wants. There was one point that it told me to use my "world scan again" having not yet told me to use world scan. I was visibly confused as to what that was. I eventually located it and proceeded to do what it said but the tutorial does not give a good first impression of the game. Once you get past the tutorial and work through the first mission or two everything starts to make sense and the game becomes quite enjoyable.

Now we come to our little bit on performance. As usual for context I run an i5-2500 with a GTX-960. Satellite Reign does not perform as well as some other games in it's class. In the city on medium with medium civilian density and shadows off, my system manages about 45FPS. The bottle neck on that appears to be the GPU  as my CPU is between 50-60% usage while GPU is at 97-99%. Turning off Bloom and Anamorphic flare increases the FPS by about 5 but reduces the GPU usage to 80%. There are still some parts of the city that drop the framerate down to near 30FPS. For me the game is still quite playable and responsive even at the lower FPS, it's just not as smooth.


Satellite Reign is a delight to play with several systems to improve your agents. The cloning system adds a great additional, yet optional, system of advancement. The tutorial and enemy AI leave much to be desired as does the agents pathfinding. Graphically it's one of the best looking isometric games I've seen in a while. This does lead to some less than stellar performance. Clear agent movement and responsive controls make this a pleasure to play.

  • Decent graphics especially for an isometric game
  • Clear movement indicators
  • Interesting camera auto rotate
  • Beautiful cyberpunk city
  • Cloning system is a nice addition
  • Fully rebindable controls
  • Poor tutorial
  • Bad AI
  • Lack of character customization

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