Halfway is an XCOM-esque turn-based sci-fi RPG, brought to you by Robotality. You take control over a handful of survivors who are left alone on a space vessel called Goliath. They are desperate to find out what happened to them, but it turns out that they are not the only ones alive. That's when bullets start to fly around. That's also where most of the problems with the game start, but let's not go that far ahead of ourselves.
Oh Goliath, your beauty amazes me.
Halfway is another one of those indie titles where a lot of time was invested into the art direction and style of the game. Needless to say, the results are clearly visible. The environments are pleasing to the eye. As a fan of sci-fi, I can say that I'm a hundred percent satisfied with the aesthetic the developers delivered to us. Ever aspect of the game screams futurism - even the simple dressing room lockers blend naturally into their surroundings. The characters are all unique and well-designed. Sometimes the ship interior can look repetitive, but when you are about to get bored of one part of the space vessel, you will dive into an area like a laboratory that looks quite different from what you were exploring before.
Even the soundtrack deepens the aesthetic. It mostly consists of beautiful ambient tracks playing in the background. They blend in so nicely with the whole game that sometimes you don't even notice there is music playing.
An indie with a story to tell
Most of the indie titles have little to no story, with only a couple of exceptions. In Halfway, they did a really great job on the writing. It delivers a great story you can immerse yourself in, even if the narrative is simple at times. The developers created a whole living, breathing universe. They filled the conversations with an interesting backstory for the whole setting. I constantly found myself trying to discover more about the world the game takes place in. I really hope that sometime in the future Robotality will continue to expand on this, instead of moving onto something completely different. The setting is so great that I would really love to play another title in it. Maybe something else with a bit more polished gameplay...
Explore. Kill. Loot. Repeat.
One of the biggest flaws of the game is the gameplay. It's extremely repetitive, and for some people the great story isn't going to be enough to keep them playing. It is quite a long game, and the devs failed to vary the gameplay enough for it to hold the player's attention until the end of the story. I kept playing, because as a sci-fi fan, I was interested to find more about the universe, and to solve the mystery of Goliath. However, at times I felt no motivation to keep doing the same thing over and over, while other times I felt like the game was just too hard. I like difficult and punishing games, but sometimes I felt cheated by Halfway, which is never a good thing.
Usually levels start with a little room to explore, and get some initial loot. After that comes a bigger area with more space to position your characters, and a lot of enemies waiting. You have a turn-based shootout, where ideally every enemy dies by the time you are out of ammo. Then you wrap up the level by looting everything you find and going home. This is the formula for almost every mission.
The Steam store page says that Halfway offers tactical turn based battles. That is half true, because the battles are really turn-based, but the tactical aspect isn't as well-developed. Every character has two Action Points (AP) that they can use for moving, shooting, activating skills, throwing grenades, or moving inventory between each other. Sadly, the battles are usually very similar. There are long cooldowns on the skills, and the supply of grenades is very limited, so in the end you will mostly be shooting your weapon. The fact that every character has only one skill, and there are no ways to upgrade them or acquire any more, makes the tactical element even more shallow. The most essential feature of every turn-based combat game is completely missing. Attack of opportunity (AOO) would have had been so great for this. Every character should have had a melee AOO range, so enemies couldn't just pass your tanks and get to the squishies. Just by adding AOO into the game, the combat would have been way more tactical. There is a 'retaliate' skill, but it is basically just a return fire button.
These guys look familar.
The lack of enemy and weapon variety makes Halfway even more repetitive and even less tactical. There is a very small pool of enemy types. When it comes to weaponry, you think you're going to get a pretty great selection. That's what it looks like first, until you realize most of the weapon varieties do the same thing, and are just upgrades of each other. The main classes are sniper rifle, assault rifle, and shotgun. There are also some special weapons like a gatling gun.
Shotguns are not really worth using. They have a very low range, but high melee damage, which makes it safest to use them for melee. That way you hit the target at 100% chance, and don't waste ammo. All the other weapons are a little bit unpredictable. Usually they work fine, but sometimes when I miss two 90%+ shots in a row I wonder how are these numbers calculated. The whole gun mechanic needs some rebalancing I think, because I did not find any real use for the shotguns, except beating enemies to death with them. Additionally, it would have been nice if the game had melee weapons. That could have had offered another level of tactical gameplay.
The inventory system is also something worth mentioning. Though it's not hard to use, it's slow and annoying. It's just very inconvenient, I am not even sure what they had in mind when they were designing it.
All in all Halfway is not a bad game. The looks are there, and the story is nicely written. The first few hours will fly by while playing, and you won't even notice the repetitiveness. However, later in the game I struggled to keep on going as it has gotten really hard, and repetitive at the same time. Despite that, I would be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy it. As a sci-fi fan, it is a nice experience, and I can recommend it to anyone who loves sci-fi. (Especially with the map editor releasing soon, there should be plenty of content to play.) The issues that are there can't be ignored, and can easily get in the way of enjoying the game for many people. It is especially sad, because with a bit more content it could have been an amazing game. Even just something as simple as adding AOO would raise the score by one for me. As it stands right now, I am sticking with 6. Not a bad game, and it can be enjoyed by fans of the genre, but has some big issues.
Halfway is now available on Steam and Humble Store. Map editor coming soon!