There are some reviews that are just hard for me to write. When so many pieces of a game comes this close to being great, but when they’re all put together they manage to be less than their constituent parts. Mobius Front ’83 is a game that I tried, for many hours, to enjoy. It has an impeccable presentation, a great story, and a solid strategy core—but, for me, it never quite comes together into a fun game.
Mobius Front ’83 is a strategy game by developer Zachtronics. In it, you control 80’s era US Army forces as they face off against a mirror foe under mysterious circumstances. It contains an enigmatic story at its heart that is told between hex-based battles between military units of a recently by-gone era. It’s Cold War era combat wrapped in a narrative sci-fi twist.
Combat is turn-based, and takes place on a single-screen map made of hexagons. After a deployment phase, you take turns moving, attacking, deploying troops, or setting up weapons while your enemy does the same. For each mission, you’re given a different selection of vehicles to choose from—many of which contain infantry that can be dismounted, and have their own specializations—like anti-armor, regular infantry, etc.
There are many different types of vehicles to try and different strategies to employ with each. You can’t choose which units to take into a battle, but you can choose which units to deploy once you’re there—based on a number system. Not all of the units feel equally useful, though they do all have a use. Vehicles cannot pass through trees, but infantry can take cover in them, and they can then only be shot at from an adjacent hex. Jeeps and tracks can ferry troops quickly, but tanks can make short work of them. You can have artillery fire barrages from vast distances—but the artillery is one of the only units in the game that can actually miss. When it does hit, they don’t do as much damage as a tank shell—making them feel useless. Helicopters ferry soldiers around quickly, but they have to land to deploy them. Many units can’t advance and fire in the same turn. This leads to feeling like you should use a defensive strategy, but most objectives will have you on the offensive.
On paper Mobius Front ’83 sounds like it would be fun—a mixture of units with different counters. But the pace always feels so slow. Few units can shoot and move. Infantry is dependent on vehicles for quick deployment, but unloading and loading vehicles takes up two precious turns to complete. Enemies also feel like they can see into the fog of war. I’ve had enemy tanks advance from a blind area and shoot on my tank. It could just be a coincidental move, but it happens at least once per mission. Levels feel like they’re long, and any small mistake can start to snowball into a slow defeat. Part of the slow feeling comes down to how tedious it is to move around the hex battlefield.
With combat that is less than compelling, most of the intrigue and impetus to keep playing lies in the story. You follow a group of grunts on a training exercise, when things get real: you have to travel hundreds of miles to stop an invading army. This army looks extremely familiar, and you soon find out these are Americans—but from an alternate universe. Unfortunately, the story is painstakingly slow. You can play a mission that takes 10-15 minutes, just to get another couple lines of dialogue. It’s actually frustrating how little you’re shown at once. I would have rather played a dozen missions, and then gotten a big revelation instead of this drip-fed nonsense. I can usually appreciate a slow burn, but in this case it turns out to be too slow.
Still, the art and presentation is phenomenal. The cutscenes are fully voice acted, and that’s done well. I love the cartoon art style—it’s realistic, yet stylized. It reminds me of a Saturday morning cartoon like GI Joe, but it doesn’t look out of place next to the non-stylized, more realistic depiction of communication equipment that works as the game’s UI. There is even a solitaire game to play, and real Cold War era US Army manuals to read—though these manuals will give you no help in the actual gameplay.
Mobius Front ’83 almost feels like a winner, but it doesn’t quite get there. I love its presentation and art style, but I couldn’t get into its gameplay. Everything, on paper, sounds like it would be a fun time, but it never panned out into an experience I wanted to keep having—even if I was intrigued by its story. It’s such a well-made game, I hope there are those out there that can get more enjoyment out of it than me.
Mobius Front ‘83´is available now on Steam.
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