Tag Archives: STRACO Episode 1

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. 

‘STRACO’ is Like a Whole New Game

STRACO: Episode One (of three planned) has effectively been re-launched after debuting in November of last year, to the point that my original review really no longer applies. To start, the bare, tileset graphics and character sprites have been revamped. Their plainness was not necessarily a critique before, but it was possible to lose enemies against the background in certain situations. The cleaner, sharper environments certainly make that a non-issue with the update.

Not happy with just rebooting the visuals, NVO Games has gone back and overhauled both the HUD and UI, making each much more appealing and simpler to use. All of the vitals and pertinent information are now easily readable and accessible, and just getting from one option to the next is smoother, cutting down on confusion / click-throughs. General difficulty and the game’s balance have been tweaked as well. Enemy fire is noticeably slower, giving the player more time to react to incoming waves and counter. These fixes also carry over to the Survival and TD modes that now support online leaderboards.

While the emphasis is still a proactive (think almost twin-stick shooter) approach to tower defense, an RPG aspect (mining gold for credits that functions as experience points) has been introduced, adding permanent, unlockable upgrades not just for the player / vehicles, but for a ready-set allotment of deployable turrets. Less a random purchase from a ‘store’, consider these turrets more as personal extensions of your own abilities. You can assign and reassign each as needed, opting for light to heavy firepower, or mining / repair. Leveling up these ‘sidekicks’ also permanently adjusts their effectiveness, with boosts to health, shielding, number of cannons, etc.

The story still may not be your type, relying on cheap humor and bizarre avatars to carry the typical alien invasion tale, but there’s no doubt the gameplay side of things has seen a huge boon to its playability. Even if you’ve gone through the game once before, you’ll essentially be playing a brand new one after applying the update. And for those of you that missed or passed on the game in November, this new version is undoubtedly the better starting point.

The much-improved format is good news for STRACO: Episode Two, which is in the early stages of development with a planned release date sometime in the summer. You can follow NVO Games here.


STRACO Ep1 - DLC Screen

STRACO Ep1 - DLC Screen2


At first glance, you’re absolutely right to feel ambivalent about what STRACO Episode 1 (80 MSP) has in store for you. The developer hasn’t settled on a set genre, and it throws a lot of confusing icons and information onto its HUD at outset, calling its accessibility into question. It may not be all that much to look at, but it does feature some complicated stitchwork, tying together two genres that share equal billing.

And indeed it is hard to approximately label the gameplay in STRACO, as it uses the tenets of tower defense in some missions, while playing as a twin-stick shooter and stressing player control otherwise. The rather in-depth, multi-part tutorial explains the ins and outs (you’d do well to give it at least a glance), but it’s the typical TD staples present, a variety of weapon turrets and repair towers. A separate currency allows you to heal or buy limited-time boosts to your weapons or armor. It can feel overwhelming to start, asking you to become a jack-of-all-trades while keeping a keen eye on the action.

While you can leave your vehicle at any time (I wouldn’t recommend it in a fight) to go on foot or hop into another mode of transport, you can only place and maintain these defenses while in your military-issued helicopter. Each emplacement is a set amount of money, money that must be mined on the map. Don’t concern yourself with the idea; outside of the tutorial, there isn’t a point in the whole campaign where you’ll need to do this (on Normal, anyway).

And as for that campaign, it’s passable. The story doesn’t stretch the imagination, settling on the average invasion arc, unknown enemies, a soldier facing impossible odds, etc., but the plot and text dialogue are frequently bizarre (green-faced villains, comedic AI, zombies, Optimus Phillip, to mention a few) and strangely amusing. It’s also vital to take note of the game’s subtitle. Being episodic, you only get six missions, with ‘survival’ and ‘infinite waves’ options unlocked once you’ve completed it. The writing works in its favor here, leaving me curious to see what the next episode (currently early 2013) cooks up.

It’s strange that it pushes the TD ideas one mission only to abandon it in another, as it doesn’t really require them for more than half the game. And though the twin-stick aspect is decent to allow for different vehicles and ammo types, the aiming is a little loose and there is a delay in when you acquire a target, depending on your directional facing. Small inconsistencies, but mentionable.

Though it’s short and teeters at the brink of blandness visually, STRACO kicks off its adventure with a serviceable introduction. The daunting structure and controls, as well as the multitude of building options, are stripped away quickly, leaving you with a more-shooter-than-tower-defense game that’s left feeling a little uncertain about its identity. It’s enough (and does enough) to satisfy, but hopefully NVO Games can craft a tighter, more confident design for the next episode.