It’s the End of The World As We Know it. I Feel Cold.
When it comes to good strategy games, the trick is that they really need to make you think. Like a game of chess, it is all about knowing your pieces and finding the best-suited tactics and advantages, taking into account factors like playing fields or when the proper timing is to execute a command. I think 1971 Project Helios is a game featuring great pieces, with a story full of distinct characters that only truly comes alive if you can warm up to it.
In this alternate reality, the world has been frozen in an icy post-WWII hellscape where extreme flash freezes and violent storms have become just a part of daily life. Society and its factions have collapsed, as most of the world’s inhabitants have grown dependent on Fulgor: a unique resource from the sky that grants special abilities against the cold. 1971 Project Helios sees a team of 8 reluctant characters, who come together to find humanity’s only hope.
Friends or Froze?
One of the best things about Project Helios 1971 is its characters, each distinct units from opposing factions with different backstories and fighting abilities. And though it seems like a simple introduction of heroes assembling for the sake of varying the gameplay, I was surprised that almost every character gets a little story arc. And though it’s initially irritating that some units are more useful than others (snipers in this game are super overpowered), by the game’s end, it’s noticeable that every character has well-thought-out mechanics and tactics if you just experiment with them well.
There’s Emile, the French-accented protagonist who is on a mission for his family; his partner Hanna, a highly skilled sniper with a history; Ame, who seems to have had a relationship with Emile and has unique abilities, along with her dog: Ricotta; Renzo, the hulking rogue assassin; Wilhelm, the hunky hero meant to protect doctor Blythe with his team; Domi, Wilhelm’s tactical strategist and demolitions expert; and finally, Alexi and Alena, two siblings serving under Wilhelm who act as his team’s sniper and runner.
Doctor Doctor, Tell Me the Use?
Really, Helios 1971’s most significant motivating factor is to find Doctor Margaret Blythe. She is the scientist in charge of Project Helios, whose research could save humanity. Though the game doesn’t really explain as to how or why. What is known is that Wilhelm, and his team, by proxy, are certainly taken aback by her having been her primary protect — though maybe more. Meanwhile, team Emile needs her for a ransom after a botched up job in the game’s early setting. I mention all of this because unless you effortfully put in the time to study the lore in the game, none of this comes across easily as the game’s plot and character’s motivation (which is a flaw I’ll detail later). However, depending on how you choose to find Doctor Blythe — and in particular, what choices you made — triggers one of three possible game endings.
Happiness is a Warm Gun
There’s just something about tactical shooting, finding covers, and getting the angle on an opponent that feels good. Which is why I was happy that the game’s shooter and turned based mechanics, much like SOCOM, was a lot of fun. It’s critical to find coverage during battle as it doesn’t take much for a character to get shot and die in the open. It’s also exhilarating that the shoot-and-cover methods are imperative on both offense and defense. Just as you’re looking to find free shots against the AI, so does it try to do the same against you. Heavy on tactics, the game also makes it so that every movement choice is permanent, and thus, there’s no way to try an action and then hit undo like other tactics games.
Combine this with the game’s forever-freezing-world environment, which slowly chips at everyone’s HP, and you have a game that forces you to think critically while always pushing the action forward. To matters worse: the world freeze is also uncurable and gets worse, the longer a battle takes. But not all is dreary, as to speed things along before a deathly chill, players can utilize any randomly found Fulgor, granting abilities that can shorten cooldowns, revive heroes, or defrost allies from the cold.
Bang Bang, Pew Pew
With every turn in battle, each character can use up to 2 skill points on different abilities. Unlocking these skills comes down to finding various pieces of equipment while exploring, with each character having a unique range of capabilities. Once you get the hang of it, customization is fun, though particular abilities are overpowered compared to others, such as countering-melee damage or any ability involved with sniping. Support and healing in this game are also unfortunately lacking. Still, there’s nothing like the sounds of a dying enemy from a good Hanna Headshot. In fact, I found the sound quality excellent all-around, with a soundtrack composed by Grammy-winning keyboardist, Xabi San martin.
Seriously, I see you. I shot you. Why can’t I shoot you?
I missed out on a lot of collectibles in my first playthrough. I passed up enough items, not by choice by glitch, where I thought I missed something essential and started another run from the beginning four chapters in. I regret this in hindsight because having played to the end, I realize now: I didn’t miss much of anything. In fact, most of the items I picked up the second time around, while granting me new abilities, absolutely sucked. They were forgetful, slightly non-functional, and non-essential items that came in abundance in the later levels of the game, so much so, that I eventually just stopped caring about finding new equipment.
Unfortunately, like many of the games that I’ve played steam: there were glitches. Including a terrible game-breaking glitch regarding a fulgor tank I could not reach because a door never opened. It was part 3 in the game, and I couldn’t interact with any items and had to reload the file multiple times to fix it (restarting the chapter didn’t work). Though I should mention, once I did my second playthrough, I had no more glitches in the game, just that one: save file specific one where I couldn’t interact with items or trigger things.
Finally, and this is going to be weird saying this in this section: the story is surprisingly good. With lore, backstory, and worldbuilding that is impeccably thought out. The problem: is that it’s integrated incredibly poorly. I spent nearly the entire game not understanding anything that was going on despite reading all of the generic notes scattered around as I tried to wrap my head around the science or cult behind everything: and failing. Thankfully, there’s the main menu collectibles page and the internet. So, while the world 1971 Project Helios was building seems epic, it did not stand out because the in-game reveals were unbearably bland. I barely knew which faction was what, and mostly, just kept crawling through dungeons and looking for items.
1971 Project Helios is a minor tactical misstep
1971 Project Helios takes tactics to a different level by forcing the player to act. Released on every major console, it is obvious by the game’s end that it desires to be a continuing series. And while its a decent tactical strategy game, it’s also a bit boring because it fails to integrate its surprisingly in-depth characters and stories organically into the videogame itself. Still, the campaign was fun for what it was, and I do hope if a sequel happens it’ll integrate more of its own story.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One; Nintendo Switch; Developer: RecoTechnology S.L.; Publisher: RecoTechnology S.L.; Players: 1; Released: June 9th, 2020; ESRB: T for Language and Fantasy Violence; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy.