Off to shoot some womp rats

Review: Tempest Citadel

PC •

I’ve been having quite the ball with Aartform Games‘ rather intoxicating conglomerate of colony sim, squad manager and, heck, off world King of Dragon Pass. Very much one of those games where efficiently nutshelling is beyond my capacity for brevity. Fiction-heavy, tactics-light and rather good. Do you want to read on (+1 to author morale) or redirect browser to Reddit? (-50% chance for a good time)

Tempest Citadel has Earth mounting an interstellar expedition after receiving an enigmatic parcel from a distant universe. In a nod to the likes of Contact and Pohl’s Heechee saga, the intrepid explorers are given their wings via this alien device and journey to the skyhook’s point of origin. All is not as it seems and the hundred-strong colonial expedition does not arrive in the best of states.

The lore is hefty; a payload of rather enthralling science-fiction metered out by time or circumstance. A number of leading characters appraise events, acting as officers to inform and guide the player’s hand through situations. Through the fiction, the eponymous citadel — a mysterious piece of anti-gravitic technology scouted during the opening — becomes the colonial base-of-operations, and from there, campaign and secondary missions blossom in all directions.

Gameplay is split between developing the colony through research and construction, navigating the interactive elements of the story and away missions. Those with a love for XCOM‘s venerable base development should find something to chew on here, particularly in the research and development element. Lots of technology to discover and research, as well as adjusting focuses.

Besides tech and research requirements, there is population and morale to consider. Colonists must be thawed from cryo-sleep to maximise output, but also demand food and housing. Services like medical stations need to come online to heal and augment the wounded. Colonists can also be returned to cryo-stasis, for various reasons.

The citadel might not have the ant-farm aesthetic of XCOM, but hanging on the edge of space has its own visual reward. It’s not wholly static, either, given that the base does come under attack and endures its own consequences. Nothing quite like fending off an aerial assault by stratospheric cephalopods with turrets and soldiers hanging from flight harnesses.

Mileage will vary on whether you like relinquishing the majority of tactical control. Tempest Citadel is ostensibly XCOM without the tactical battles. I mean, you can take command of your little away team and manually direct them around the tiny combat terrariums, but the battles are so brief that it’s actually more enjoyable to set the combat parameters for squads and just let them loose upon the targets. There are odd little spikes in difficulty in some of the missions — main or side — that just require you to burn off the requisite days and tech in R&D to overcome, but otherwise, you won’t be stumped for long.

Battles won let players search and salvage from alien underground networks, set against the timer of inbound storms. A simple little exercise in clicking icons on an incrementally exposed cave system, any discovered items need to be transported back up the shaft to the dropship, bleeding manpower and time as the inclement weather surges towards your position. You’ll either like the concept, or you’ll wish it was something meatier. That’s Tempest Citadel, though.

Mentioning Kings of Dragon Pass is no mere name-drop, and if the action feels a little meagre, the fiction will fill one’s belly. The world and characters, events and quandaries are very well-realised in Tempest Citadel. Little conversations, item descriptions and history, even tête-à-tête between indigenous factions; I was finding myself actively scrolling through the auxilliary lore and supplementary descriptions, which is in itself a small triumph.

Flow-on effects from forks in the fiction feel tangible and congruous . Mince those that prematurely died en route for protein, and suffer the communal outrage if it gets out? Or keep them on ice in the hope this new world offers up some enigmatic resurrection technology, with the associated resource cost of keeping their tanks plugged in? Arm your diplomatic vanguard when meeting a new faction, or heed their request to kindle trust? These moments turn the table on Tempest Citadel, shifting it from harmless but anaemic tactics game to interactive fiction with stunning visuals.

While very hard to summarise Aartform Games’ science-fiction creation, Tempest Citadel is more than the sum of its parts. The writing is great, and the day-to-day colonial management is packaged with enough lore and character that breakthroughs and progression feels grander than mere stat increases. The brief combat might not stick in your head, but there’s a fair chance the narrative will.

If Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri was a Fighting Fantasy novel, it would look very much like Tempest Citadel.

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Notable Replies

  1. Fantastic review. I did not know about this game and it sounds like something I should have known about. More Steam backlog....

  2. Yeah, took me by surprise. Really rich slice of sci-fi.

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