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A lesson the industry should learn from Zachtronics’ Ironclad Tactics

Over the past few days I've spent a few glorious hours playing through the first handful of levels of Zachtronics' new release, Ironclad Tactics. As a fan of both card games and RTS mechanics, I was intrigued by the fast paced, turn system and when I heard it had a cooperative campaign I was sold; especially with the two pack deal on Steam.

Since then, in just a few hours of gameplay, I've come to appreciate a lot about Ironclad Tactics. The artwork is beautiful, especially between levels and there's a great balance of luck and skill, but one thing, more than any other I feel other developers can learn from this game and that's:


You see me and my brother have played a lot of cooperative games together, way back since I was Sonic and he was the unfortunate Tails, magically disappearing off the screen whenever I ran too fast for him, or he accidentally flew off while trying to pick me up. Point is, we know good COOP when we see it and Zachtronics has nailed it, 100 per cent.

There's a few mechanics of the game itself that I'm sure won't be to everyone's cup of tea, but Ironclad Tactics is the most streamlined, simple and yet fully fledged cooperative experience I can name. Why? For several key reasons:

First, it's seamless. You start up the main “story,” mode, hit invite friend and there they are. No muddling with ports, no broken join buttons, it just works and you can do it right from the first time you boot the game up, there's no character set up or first couple of levels to go through to “unlock” cooperative play. That's always a great start, but there's also a nice built in communication system, text and push-to-talk voice. While that's getting more common place in games, it's still a noteworthy addition.

Beyond that, there's the fact that gameplay factors in you and your cooperative pal being stronger than the sum of your parts. In short, the campaign is harder. Your action points are each reduced, making tactical decisions between the pair of you a little more complex but still allowing you to use the synergy of your twin decks of cards (which are individually customisable) to your advantage.

Tutorial levels are also brilliant. Instead of dumping each of you into a basic training sequence, you go through them together, allowing you to talk through any problems you're having. This is doubly noticeable later in the game when some more complicated units appear, as you aren't given a new tutorial at all, you're just left to get on with it and figure it out between you. This would be the same if playing alone, but it works so well with COOP as rarely do you need a tutorial for a simple new addition to your roster of units, when the pair of you can work it out together.

But what if you're hammering through the campaign and want to do something a little different? Zachtronics has already thought of that, offering multiple game modes on most levels. Much of the time it's a simple 1v1 skirmish, giving you a welcome break from that dreaded team work and a chance to pound your friend's ironclad-clad face into the dirt, but there's also puzzle modes, which require dexterity and communication and the ever fun Nemesis boss levels. This gives one player the chance to use the cards and units from the game's different boss characters, which is a wonderful twist.

Between levels too, cut scenes are viewable at each player's pace, with a simple “waiting for other” player screen if one hasn't got through the beautifully drawn comic strip storyline as fast as the other.

It's just really well thought out and was clearly a focus for the developers, but it isn't necessary for enjoyment. The campaign can equally be played alone without breaking the story and better yet, if you do go through it on your lonesome, you don't have some AI character running around after you making you feel like the game always thought you were more popular than you really are.

While a lot of games get a lot of things right with COOP, Zachtronics has tamped down that musket ball good and tight. Hopefully other developers will learn from it and work to make its COOP as streamlined as this.

KitGuru Says: If anyone else has picked this up, look me up in the KitGuru Steam group and maybe we'll have a go 1v1 against each other. 

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