REVIEW: STRACO: Purge and Conquest

Few XBLIGs have undergone the kind of ‘night and day’ transformation that the first episode of STRACO did, changing drastically (and for the much, much better) from its original release to version 2.0 several months later; a leaner, meaner hybrid of twin-stick shooter and Tower Defense. Now with STRACO: Purge and Conquest ($1.00), comprising episodes two and three to complete the promised trilogy, developer NVO Games has effectively bridged the gap between the first’s promising mechanics and the sequel’s comfort with those same mechanics, morphing the games into one of the finer series on the indie channel in the process.

The final acts of the STRACO saga once again place you in your souped-up stealth helicopter, rejoining with your army pals and the war machine ‘Optimus Phillip’1 to continue the ongoing crusade against Boss Noss, his multitude of forces …and those damn, dirty Zombies (thankfully, there’s more to these undead than the typical sort). Missions will take you through one hostile portal to the next, taking down all manner of tanks, air support, a zombie tree (?), and more, from small skirmishes up to some lengthy, large-scale battles.

As a hybrid genre, you control your helicopter (or speedbike, or drone, or mech) at all times, twin-stick style, while using a menu to bring up a half-dozen turrets that are deployable anywhere on the battlefield. This is proactive Tower Defense, as careful use of said turrets can and will turn the tide. More guns equals more victory, so to speak, and you can upgrade yourself and those turrets accordingly. With several guns and powerups at hand (shields, a super missile, the ability to slow time, etc.) you’ll typically use overwhelming firepower to slowly whittle down enemy forces.

STRACO: P & C switches up the formula at some points, handing out optional objectives2, or forcing you out of your comfort Heli to tackle things up close and personal. These on-foot segments are a nice change of pace, but they tend to drag on and play a little harsher without you in your better-equipped (and better-protected) vehicle. The missions are few in number, however, so no great harm done. Where harm does factor in is the difficulty, which can vary with the levels and enemy spawns. Even on Normal, a few stages repeatedly gave me trouble until I was able to upgrade my turrets and / or myself, or… (gulp), I switched over to Easy.

STRACO 2014-05-28 14-13-41-56

Pro Tip: Don’t hug the walls. It gets messy.

In addition to the 2+ hour Campaign, the new ‘Slo-Mo-Co’ minigame is a fun, clever alternative that plays like a mashup of twin-stick / roguelike / time trial. It asks you to clear a series of rooms filled with enemies, using a limited amount of your slow-motion powerup and giving you only one HP. Enemy layouts are thoughtful and challenging, with plenty of tense, strategic puzzle / fights, as you figure out how best to attack each wave with your allotted time. Both ‘Slo-Mo-Co’ and the Campaign feature online leaderboards, which should give you an incentive to go back and improve your scores.

Overall, it’s a very solid experience to go out on. Minus a few small missteps and the occasional difficulty spike to contend with, there’s plenty of content, humor, and fun to be had here. Playing from its humble beginnings, to its stronger, updated middle, STRACO: Purge and Conquest delivers a much more confident— and satisfying— conclusion… on the Xbox 360. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of it. We need more games with a heart and soul like this.3

  1. Likely Optimus Prime’s red-headed step-brother… er, step-robot…, but he’s a likable fellow just the same. 
  2. Like a race, or a homage to Missile Command
  3. This review is also featured at Indiepitome. 

59 thoughts on “REVIEW: STRACO: Purge and Conquest”

  1. Nkay, I was finally able to play through Purge and Conquest (well, almost, but will finish it tomorrow). Sorry that it took a wee bit longer. 🙄 Blame it on real life and World Cup.

    So far, so good. Just one thing: Had a Code 4 during that underground lab mission on my wait out, after I talked to that tree.

    1. I know all about real life getting in the way, no worries!

      About that Code 4, can you remember exactly what was going on? And can you get it to happen again, or were you able to get past on a second attempt? I’d really like to try to figure out if you have the time as I’ve never had my game Code 4 before.

    2. I experienced severe slowdowns before the crash (happened only once), wasn’t able to reproduce it. I didn’t do anything weird, basically just walking through the corridors, when the lag started to kick in and framerate temporarily went down to approx. 2 fps, can’t remember in which room. The second (and fatal) lag occurred after I talked to the tree and was on my way out. Shortly before reaching the exit the game froze on me and I got a Code 4.

      And there’s a bug in the follow-up mission I Phillip where the use of the stealth heli is essential. I accidentally exited the vehicle and got killed. Upon respawning there was no heli around.

      But those were the only bugs / crashes I experienced, and apart from that it’s a really solid game (and yes, I admit, I had to change to Easy at times, I’m such a pussy). It’s definitely worth more than the dollar you’re asking for. Kudos 😎

    3. Thanks for the info Soosh! That’s all very interesting, I wonder what was going on with that slowdown. I’ve never run into slowdown while developing the game. I wonder if it’s an issue with the marketplace version that doesn’t pop up in the development version. That seems highly unlikely, but I’ve played though that mission many times and never experienced slowdown. I’ll have to check it out tonight.

      About “I Phillip”. I don’t understand how you were killed by exiting the heli. Were you using the heli when the enemy spawns were on the screen rather than piloting Phillip Mark 2? This is the best part about game development IMO. You have this idea about how something is going to go down, then the player goes and does something completely different that you never thought about. So cool!

      Thanks again for playing Soosh! I’m glad you liked it!

    4. I didn’t die instantly, but got killed by half a dozen rockets flying right into my face. But now I’m not sure if it was the heli or Philip Mk II. Have to check that, sorry about the confusion.

      Regarding the slowdowns: I’m still using and old Xbox model (Elite methinks), perhaps that’s the reason.

    5. Ah, that makes more sense. Maybe I should lock the player in so that doesn’t accidentally happen…

      Slowdown: Shoot, I used to have an Elite, but it burned out while doing the last round of peer reviews. Still, both machines are the same as far as processor speed goes so the slowdown should still happen on my Slim model. Thanks for the additional info!

      Was that the only mission with slowdown in it?

    6. OK, I found the bug! It has to do with the path-finding algorithm and destroyed towers. See, I only destroy the first 3 MG towers and simply walk past the rest. So I never noticed anything, however, the more towers you destroy the more it becomes an issue. Anyway, I’m working on a fix and I should have a new version ready for review early next week. Thanks for finding this Soosh!

    7. Soosh has unlocked an achievement:

      ‘Bug Hunter … 20G’ 😀

      NVO Games has unlocked an achievement:

      ‘Bug Squasher … 20G’ 😀

    8. @Soosh: That, my good sir, is why you should never attempt to leave replies or comments on the Internet before… em, let’s say 7am, local time. You’re apt to say or spell anything wrong.

    9. @Tim: Thanks for the points, I didn’t know you could do that, but they totally just showed up on my gamer score! 😉

      So, I have a little more info on the bug: basically I made a VERY big yet VERY small mistake in a path-finding optimization that I made. I’ve never had such a small bit of code have such a HUGE impact on performance. It was very interesting to say the least. In short, because I was making “optimizations” for the Slo-Mo-Co game mode, I ended up with something that worked great 99% of the time, or at least I didn’t notice anything going wrong. However that 1% was crazy expensive and caused the crash / slowdown. Long story… shorter? There were certain cases where the program was doing 33 MILLION iterations to find a path. Sure, most of the time it was only doing 500 to 1000 iterations, but there were 3 small areas where it would go nuts and the 360 couldn’t handle it. Now it’s operating correctly and it always stays between 100 and 500 iterations like it always should have, but yeah… should have been checking that code a little closer when I wrote it, or at least put a count on the iterations so I knew something was going wrong. We are talking like a 20 letter difference here between 33,000,000 and 400. Sigh… anyway, I hope to put a new version into review shortly. Thanks for the help Soosh! I’d give you 20K GP if I could… maybe Tim could help out 😉

    10. 33 million, now that sounds like a lot.

      I’d give you 20K GP if I could
      GP? In case you meant GBP (£), 10k will do 😛

    11. @NVO Games: Consider it done!

      Soosh has earned an achievement:

      ‘Big Help … 20,000G’ 😀

      And yeah, sometimes I forget exactly how much goes into the tiniest parts of games. That’s a lot that can go wrong with a few missing pieces of code. Even the ‘worst’ games I’ve played are still works of art, if you consider what goes into programming them. That’s not going to change my mind about those games, mind you, just something I need to remember. 😉

      @Soosh: I’ll take that money off your hands. Given the current exchange, I can probably double that in US dollars. That’d be a nice vacation / holiday fund. 😛

    12. Ha! Yeah, I meant 20,000G lol. Still, worth something, no? Yeah… I guess not really. 😉 I’d rather have $1 than 1M Gamerscore. Aaaaand this is why they don’t let XBLIGs hand out Achievements…

      @Tim: Not all game code is a work of art, trust me. 😉

    13. I don’t know if a dollar is worth that much to me, but yeah, based on principle alone, I’d rather earn the million gamerscore than pay for it.

      No doubt that all code is not created equal in terms of artistic merit, but still, it’s got to be a little bit like The Matrix once you’ve got some working pieces in there, right? I’m impressed when I can add a footnote to a review, or align text to the left or right. 😀

    14. Writing code is much like writing anything. Some people are amazing, and some people are awful. The only difference is that bad writing is obviously bad to any reader, while bad code might appear OK since you can’t actually see it, just the end result on the screen. Non-programmers often confuse “pretty” with “difficult” and “ugly” with “easy”. Something that you think is poorly written code because it looks simple, or even ugly, on the screen is just as likely to be written by a genius as by an imbecile (or somewhere in between). You can’t judge a book by it’s cover is never more true than with programming. Now, if it crashes all the time? That’s another story…

      The Matrix: “All I see now is blonde, brunette, redhead.” That part was hilarious to any programmer. Code just looks like words on the screen to any programmer. Sure, it makes sense, and we can tell what it does, but a bunch of coordinates and color numbers don’t look like anything other than text to us. Encoded text? Forget about it, it just looks like junk.

    15. I can only go back to when I used to write code on the C64 for my simple games to know what you mean but I do understand. They are just words and it’s very easy to write a lot of unnecessary code and even though it may not mess up the programming it can be ugly. I spent a few years messing with codes on that when I was a teen. My only goal then was to make simple games. Kinda strange I never took it any further than that. I have thought about it several times but never pulled the trigger and went for it since.

    16. @NVO Games: I see what you mean as well. I suppose it’s no different than any skill-based / technical ‘job’. You know what’s involved, and what needs to be done, but to the outside eye, it’s a sort of ‘magic’ to see it done.

      @NVO Games & Dream Poet: So I don’t care if it’s just ‘words’ on the screen or not. I’m impressed / humbled by the process. 😛

    17. @Tim: It’s actually no different from ANYTHING. You do it enough: you get better at it. I can’t play guitar, but if I did it for 20 years (how long I’ve been programming), I would be pretty good. At one time you didn’t know how to talk or walk, but look at us now! All it takes is time and determination. That second part is the difficult one. I’ve had a guitar sitting under my bed for the last 15 years… untouched. Gotta figure out what you want to do, and just do it until you rock.

      @Dream Poet: There’s never been a better time to dabble with game making than now. With tools like Unity doing all the “heavy lifting”, you can focus on crafting the game rather than creating the tools to craft the game. It’s not all point and click, but it’s as close as I think it’s possible to get, and it’s FREE! Just download it and see what’s possible! 🙂

  2. @NVO Games: I know, I promised to share my thoughts about Purge and Conquest, but I’ve been quite busy the whole week. But with weekend approaching I’ll have an opportunity to play through it within the next two days. Sorry for the delay.

    1. Bo… Bo… Bobo…
      Must… not… think… of… teddy… bears

      And why am I up so early, it’s Saturday for Pete’s sake. o_O

    2. Very true. Two in the morning here, and we all need our beauty sleep. I’ll get mine soon as I pound out another review for a terrible game (turns a disapproving eye on Evolution II).

    3. A terrible game? Oh joy 🙂

      But if you’ll excuse me for now, my coffee maker is calling me.

  3. Awesome review Tim! The whole thing just put a huge smile on my face!

    I have a couple of questions about the difficulty issues you ran into. It’s notoriously hard to test for difficulty in your own game, so any insights you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps it would be better in email? You decide.

    Thanks again! You made my day!!!

    1. You’re welcome! I am obligated by law to give ample credit where ample credit is due! I think. 🙂

      You can ask away on here, or email, if you prefer. Actually, email might be better for a longer conversation. I should boot up the game again later tonight so I can nail down the exact stages that gave me trouble. To be fair, if I spent more time grinding, in order to upgrade myself and turrets, it may be less of a issue. I try to play games how I’d imagine others would, so that I can highlight areas that might cause problems to the general player. It’s not an exact science. 🙂

    1. See, we’re in no imminent danger of being locked out just yet. That doesn’t mean XBLIG will necessarily get MS support to the end (…it doesn’t get any support now! Ah ha! Zing!), but I think the service is still going to be around, should anyone release games for it. At the very least, you have a very large backlog of good, cheap XBLIGs to play. 🙂

  4. If a fun mashup of Twin-Stick / Tower Defense sounds like your type of game, I have two sets of codes for STRACO: Purge and Conquest, courtesy of NVO Games. You’ll get both Episode 1, AND the sequel here. Simply comment below, and the codes are yours.

    Eventually, that is. Most likely won’t have access to the codes until later tonight, so if you don’t mind the wait, you can still line up. 🙂

    1. Oh!! The first to reply to this comments still exist. I though is was going to become a urban legend just like the boogeyman. Send a code boyo!!!!!

    2. Thx for the codes grand maester Hurley, as they say, XBLIG is dark and full of terrors plus winter is coming, but there are good games from time to time. So, I already got the first game, the only ppl I know are the women that have put restraining orders on me, and I dont want to give the code to someone that will not make good use of it. Maybe you can do a First To Reply To This Comments: Ultra Championship Boobsized Retro Edition and give it to someone that might want to try the game.

    3. @xionix: Ah, okay. Yeah, I’ll keep the code and do a giveaway on the 2nd Birthday post, with the others I have. We don’t want any XBLIG games finding their way into the hands of anonymous strippers. In that case, enjoy the sequel!

      @Soosh: No, no, no— Thank you.

    4. Oh, I do! Just played Episode 1 for a couple of hours and really enjoy it. And that’s from someone who’s not really into twin stick shooter or tower defence. And I really do appreciate that the player keeps all the upgrades and money after a failed mission, so even in defeat I feel like I achieved something.

      Well, I better do appreciate it, because currently I’m stuck at the mission where you have to protect Optimus Phillip. Those damn carriers always get me (well, not me, but Optimus ‘Only my mum calls me’ Phillip). Perhaps I should equip my towers with rail guns. Hm, sounds like a good idea, will try that later.

      A really good game so far. Kudos to you, sir!

      And that’s just the first episode, which I want to finish before I start with Purge and Conquest. But I will post my thoughts about P+C in this very comment section after I played it, that’s the least I can do after getting it for free.

    5. @Soosh That’s awesome! I’m so glad you like it!

      What to do with the player’s progress on failure or retry was a very difficult one for me, and my choice to let you keep the upgrades, but at a negative credit penalty is definitely not “normal” and never fully explained by the game. Basically it works like this: if you retry a mission then the highest credit score for that particular checkpoint will be deducted from your available credit pool. After clearing the checkpoint you will have that number restored if it is higher than how much you earned during that checkpoint. So, there’s no harm in trying a level or checkpoint over and over again. For example, you could go back to the first mission and you can try for a higher score on a higher difficulty level and you will get those credits to be used in all other missions, not to mention you will have the credits from the later missions to use on that first mission (minus the first mission’s credits of course). Confusing? Yeah… sorry! Anyway, it was my compromise between allowing you to grind and keeping your credits to a controllable level.

      Oh, and there’s no penalty for selling your upgrades back, so feel free to experiment!

      — spoiler alert —
      As for the mission to protect Phillip. If you want a hint, then read this, otherwise skip it: Your healing abilities work not only for your towers and friendly troops, but also for any troops who are allied with you. Same goes for the shield ability! 😉
      — spoiler alert —

      Thanks again! And I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the series!

    6. @Soosh: Or you can do what I do: just chicken out and change the difficulty to Easy, then bump it back up to normal once you beat the stage 😀

      I’d have to go back and play that stage again, so I’m not sure what tactics I used. Probably a mix of changing tower weapons and the trick that Mike (NVO Games) mentioned. I won’t repeat it, in case you do not want to know. It helps that you can carry over upgrade progress, like you mentioned. That, and a little perseverance, is usually enough. Usually.

      Actually, that ‘trick’ and the stuff that Mike mentioned are just some of the things in the game that I didn’t end up covering in the review, but exist for players to find out. When I have to cut myself short on a review to avoid going too long, that’s usually a sign that a game is good. Lots of little things like that: stuff that you find on purpose or by accident, and it just works the way it should.

      @NVO Games: Got your email, Mike. I’ll be writing up a reply in the next hour or so, once I gather my thoughts. Hopefully it’ll be of some help to you. 🙂

    7. @NVO Games: Didn’t realise that it was almost midnight over here when I wrote that comment, so haven’t had a chance to continue the campaign last night, but will do so this afternoon. And I have to admit that I did read your spoilers. I did use the healing ability on Phillip but completely forgot about the shield ability (facepalm). And yes, the money thing does indeed sound confusing, but I think I get it now 😀

      @Tim: Easy? Really, Tim? 😛 Nah, will try it again on Normal, using different strategies. And there was one instance where I thought I’ve done it, just to realise that there was a second carrier. That was the point where I started to curse, not at the game, but at me for being stupid 😀

    8. @Soosh, Oh my! TWO carriers? You really need to get the warp gate inhibitor to one of the two enemy portals or you are in for a world of hurt. It’s easier to get it to the North East warp, but the South East warp has harder spawn waves.

    9. Oops, completely forgot about those portals. 🙄
      I closed one of them and was able to finish the campaign. Tried Survival Mode a couple of times, always nice to have different game modes.

      There was only one minor issue with my teammates in the last mission, sometimes one of them got stuck in front of a building. But all in all I really enjoyed it!

      Purge and Conquest, here I come 😎

    10. @Soosh, Congrats! Glad you were able to complete it!

      About those teammates… yeah… they do that. However, if you get too far away from them they will teleport to you 😉 I hope I didn’t waste too much of your time trying to get them to walk around the buildings. I really should have put pathfinding in for those guys… shoot.

  5. As they say, “wake up early and you can see your redhead neighbor in her sweat pants and tight white t-shirt”. I got the first episode but never actually play it, maybe I will give it a chance and then try this one. I got so many games and I have not even finish half of it. The thing is, I spend most of my play time with indies and those with a pick up style actual campaign games I’m bad to finish. The last one was Bioshock. Still need to beat the second and get Infinite. Now, I dont feel talking about boobs in, you know, your shady site on indie games that you have to be a google guru to actually find it. In this one, it feels so natural, so on topic. If I mention boobs on that one I will feel like a pervert. I wonder what will be the indie fetish on the next gen… this one was boobs and zombies, lets see what this new gen bring us. This game seems like a nice dose of calcium, but Dead King coming soon (it still coming right? right?), and that will be some nice milk from a big pair of double D’s.

    1. Hey, hey, we don’t run any shady sites. Indiepitome’s just getting started, so it’s hard to find. 🙂 Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your taste), boobs will continue to sell. Maybe zombies will take a break, but I don’t either will be leaving the indie game landscape for quite some time. Maybe ‘procedurally-generated’? Seems like there’s a lot of that to go around indie games today. We’ll see.

      Dead Kings is still coming, from what I’ve gathered. Even with releases coming few and far between, I still expect XBLIG to continue on for a little longer. That game was in near-finished form, so there’s no reason not to release it, in my opinion.

    2. Well, I think the problem with boobie games on next gen (is it current gen now?) is that there is official oversight by MS and Sony for the indie games on XBone and PS4. I don’t think either of them would put up the the shenanigans that go on in XBLIG 😦

    3. Probably not. Seems indie devs have had nothing but praise for both Microsoft and Sony, so they’re serious about cultivating a reputable indie segment on their respective shiny new consoles. Boobs won’t be as blatant, maybe, but they’ll be there if the indie laws allow it. I’m sure of it. Maybe ‘procedurally-generated boobs’ will be a buzzword a year from now. Who knows. If it is, though, I want money for coining the phrase right here in this comment! I’m the future!

    4. Tim, you are a true visionary!

      Though one must wonder at why your new site doesn’t have boob somewhere in the title…. A missed opportunity?

    5. It is. But I will make a solemn promise to include boobs in any conceivable way I can. Even if it’s only marginally connected to the game I’m talking about, boobs. This will be my duty, and I won’t take it lightly.

  6. For a buck you get your money’s worth and then some here. Two of my fave type of games mashed up works well here. And you did a great job of talking how far this game has come since the 1st one. Even the 1st one saw major improvements.

    What the hell you doing up so early. Maybe a better question is what the hell am I doing up so early as well. I’m going back to sleep. I bet you can’t say that. (My day off so I got up to watch the sun rise. What’s your excuse?)

    1. @Dream Poet: Gotta work. 🙂 Earlier start than usual, yeah, but I’ve got to allow for traffic. You sir, on the other hand, are up far too early for your part of the country. Enjoy that sun, and the sleep after it.

      Excellent game. Well, games, I should say. Good way to see the series off on the 360. As you said, it’s come so far from its original start. You have to appreciate the journey.

      @Soosh: Yeah, that don’t count. It’s well into your day ‘over there’. 🙂

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