A turn-based strategy game that takes a few pages out of XCOM’s book, 1971 Project Helios is a pretty solid excursion if you’re looking for a few hours of distraction. Presenting a post-apocalyptic world coated in ice and snow, you guide a collection of interesting characters through hordes of enemies to rescue a scientist who may be the key to mankind’s future.
The world that developer Reco Technology has crafted here is truly an intriguing one, and the devs seem to feel the same, as the game prioritises world-building above all else. This is nice to see as the setting is worth exploring, but this is done at the expense of other narrative elements. The base narrative is slim, with motivations beyond “we must save this scientist” being almost non-existent. The characters – all eight of them – do get moments to shine, and each of their personalities is portrayed convincingly and very effectively. A bigger issue is their individual motivations, as many of them seem to come from different, possibly warring factions, but that information isn’t conveyed all too well.
The gameplay is less uneven, though, as things don’t stray too far from what XCOM series has established for the genre. Characters move their allotted number of spaces and have special abilities to take down varying numbers of enemies. The abilities are satisfying to use, and the synergy between classes is impressive. There’s a particular strategy that can knock enemies to different tiles, and any units on “overwatch” can shoot them, getting free attacks. There are unlock trees, too, but the game’s short enough that each character having fixed abilities would have been fine.
Mechanically, the best idea is the way cold affects your squad. Characters lose health to “frostbite” and it works quickly, encouraging a more aggressive playstyle than would normally be expected. This hurry-up mechanic brings a hint of desperation to the affair, and while it could easily have made playing the game a miserable time, it works phenomenally.
While the gameplay is solid, we came away more impressed with the art direction and sound design than expected. The lightly stylised, cel-shaded look works for 1971, with the organic environments looking especially nice. The sheer variety of locations is impressive, too, including an oil rig, airbase, canyon, and nomadic village. Meanwhile, the exploration music is absolutely beautiful, though the combat soundtrack gets a bit repetitive.