Atlas Reactor was announced by Trion Worlds at the end of August with shooter fans taking note. After all, the game is one of the first to employ “team-based simultaneous turn-based action” tactics…though that terminology can certainly be somewhat nebulous. Broken into its component pieces, it’s all understandable enough but slapped together? Not quite as clear.
That in mind, I recently had the opportunity to jump into a 20-turn match with a pair of the Atlas Reactor team: Senior Producer James Karras and Lead Designer William Cook. What transpired was utterly different than anything I might have expected.
Players begin the match by selecting a “freelancer”, basically a playable character, out of a roster of available ones. Each comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses and special abilities. It becomes incumbent on teams to work cooperatively to select a synergistic trio to its best advantage.
For my game, I was provided the character “Lockwood”, arguably the showman of the entire group at the moment. He’s a “run and gun” specialist with a range of abilities that include a ricochet shot that bounces bullets off walls that can pack a big punch; ‘light ‘em up’ that is a cone AoE attack; a proximity triggered trap; a dash and hide ability called ‘back up plan’ and a special ability named ‘run and gun’ that is a high damage attack that can hit multiple enemies as Lockwood runs across the map before entering stealth on its completion.
Lockwood firmly under my command, we entered the 3v3 match. Prior to the start of the match, teams are able to get a look at one another which allows for choosing from a variety of implants to customize characters to suit each unique game.
Each turn is divided into two phases: Decision Mode where actions are chosen cooperatively with teammates; and Resolution Mode where all of those actions play out. This is where the capital “T” Team comes into play. Communication is key to both create the right combination of freelancers, but also in working out the best strategies to try to anticipate what the opposition might do. You see, it really is like chess with guns.
In Decision Mode, I first looked over the map to see what enemies were in range and whether or not they could be hit by any of my attacks. If so, I chose an action, say Ricochet, and then chose where my character would move after the attack. These decisions telegraphed themselves to my teammates who either agreed with what I had chosen or made suggestions about a better strategy sometimes resulting in a realignment of my attack and movement.
Once all players had locked in their decisions, something that can be stressful depending on the amount of time allotted, Resolution Mode began. It is here that the action plays out and where one can see whether or not their anticipatory attacks and moves paid off or not. If a freelancer is killed, players are given a 1-round time out before returning to the match and score is kept based on the number of kills accrued during the specified number of turns. During my game, we were tied after 20 turns which kicked us into overtime until ultimately we were defeated.
What sets Atlas Reactor apart from other shooters is exactly as mentioned before: The need for team-based decision making during a short period of time to take most advantage of the group’s skills…or die trying. Strategic cooperation is the name of the game.
Match complete, I had the chance to fire off a few questions with some pretty cool answers:
- Players will be able to group together with friends and will be matched with equally skilled opponents
- Players can play against bots while either filling out their team with other bots or by controlling the entire team alone. This can also be applied, for instance, to a pair of buddies each controlling a team and facing off against each other.
- This is team-tactical PvP and is not limited to any one rule-set. Developers want custom game modes, perhaps a featured mode of the week and to see AR become something entirely different from any other shooter out there.
- The team is actively participating with alpha testers on the forums to see what people want, what is popular, what is being used and developing AR iteratively.
- More people are being added, but right now getting the core systems in place before adding a larger alpha pool is essential
Of particular note to MMO players is the notion of progression. Freelancers will progress, but not in terms of power. Each game will result in currency and experience. Currency can be used to hire new freelancers. Experience, however, will unlock cosmetic additions such as skins and other status privileges, none of which are considered competitive in any way.
While still relatively early in development, it’s clear that Trion is committed to bringing the next great iteration in competitive shooters to the world with Atlas Reactor. It’s fun, engaging and will bring team-based communications to a whole new level. I know I’ll be watching. Will you?