The new X-COM (2012) showed that there was a market for turn based tactical games, and since then a number of indie developers either inspired by the remake of such classics as the original X-COM and Jagged Alliance have tried their hand at tactical games with varying degrees of success. Vigilantes is one of the latest of those attempts. To its credit Vigilantes tries something a little different, as its cast of protagonists aren't soldiers, but a small group of private citizens who have declared war on the gangs which have control of their city. Vigilantes avoids the apocalyptic mood that runs through a lot of tactics game, preferring a pulp fiction approach with a set cast of characters. Vigilantes was made by a small dedicated indie team, who managed to put out an extremely competent game, but one limited in scope.
The game's early battles like this one are too simple to be very entertaining.
On the other hand the boss battles against hordes of enemies are the highlights of Vigilantes.
The heart of any tactical game is its combat mechanics, because most game time is spent in combat situations. Anyone who has played Jagged Alliance or X-COM will feel at home in Vigilantes. At first the protagonists have to rely on knives, baseball bats, fire grenades and pistols, but during the course of the game they gain access to submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, explosive grenades, swords, axes, and sledgehammers. There is a distinct enough difference between a knife and a baseball bat, and between all the categories of firearms that make each category of weapon a legitimate choice. Vigilantes also gives each character two primary slots. This means a character can equip a weapon and first aid kits, a weapon and grenades, or two weapons which they can switch between. A shotgun is wonderful at close range against two or more opponents, but against a single enemy or one at longer range it is inferior to all other categories of firearms. A sniper rifle can fire across the whole map, but is less effective at short range. Firing a pistol consumes the least amount of action points, allowing its user to fire and stay mobile, or even fire twice if they are fast enough. The limited slots makes each choice meaningful. Being able to throw five grenades a battle, heal five times or taking a second weapon option are all viably good choices, but ones that result in different combat strategies. Vigilantes has a variety of maps and one thing that remains constant is that your small group of superiorly trained characters will be outnumbered. Being surrounded and flanked is always bad, so trying to limit the number of opponents who can attack you and maximize the number of opponents you can damage proves the biggest challenge. Maps mostly feature a few big buildings which can block line of sight, boxes and small objects which can be used as cover, and an occasional explodable container, which will damage any adjacent characters when ignited. It is notable that you can not enter buildings and that there is no fog of war. This makes combat in Vigilantes much more predictable than in games like X-COM or Dead State, where you never know if an enemy is lurking around the corner and as a result your group is almost never surprised. Some maps do feature enemy reinforcements, though, which enter from the map's edge.
Though vastly inferior against individual opponents, shotguns are devestating against crowds, and the computer controlled enemies aren't smart enough to avoid such situations.
Though you eventually gain a group of up to 4 characters, most of the early battles you'll fight with one or two characters against 2-4 opponents. That makes these early battles tactically uninteresting. Once you get your full cast of characters, you get to fight hordes of enemies, and the combat becomes pretty enjoyable. Enemy AI isn't always the best either. Enemies out of range or with melee weapons will usually seek cover, but not always cover between your characters and them. Enemies with a range weapon will usually open fire if in range, even if they are in the open and nearby cover is available.
Story and Atmosphere
Edgar is maybe a little wacky, but he swings a mean ax. Unfortunately after our initial confrontation he, like most of our companions, remains relatively silent for the rest of the game.
Unlike many tactical rpgs, Vigilantes does feature a story and characters with personality, even if its fairly limited and heavily weighted towards the game's beginning. While Vigilantes' story is about crime and violence, it feels like something you might read in a comic book or pulp novel. Sam Contino is just an ordinary citizen who snaps when witnessing a crime and decides to single handedly wage war on the three gangs which are plaguing his city. To the masked vigilante's surprise, he soon gains the help of a frustrated police officer, a former soldier, a down on his luck detective, a vengeance obsessed woman, and an unhinged firefighter, among others. Sam gains a total of six allies, three of whom can join his battle team, while the others assist with surveillance and crafting. Each of these characters gets an intro mission followed by a voiced monologue. Also, each character has a preference for inflicting lethal or non-lethal damage and some other characteristics. Elena Fury, for example, has sworn vengeance against the survivalists, one of the city's three gangs, and does bonus damage against them. She also doesn't like leaving enemies alive.
Sam narrates the boss battles giving them much more flavour than the normal battles which make up most of the game.
The enemy leaders also usually have something to say to our troop.
The story's three gangs are: the mafia (a group of organized criminals), the survivalists (a group of gun fanatics who have a military organization and who engage in domestic terrorism) and the church (a group of crazy cultists intent on spreading anarchy and gaining converts). Sam and his crew must discover the identities of the leadership hierarchy of each gang and take them down. Every leader has their own story vignette, which gives each gang some personality. The final bosses also have their own cool maps and revelations, which again is a nice touch.
Vigilantes also has some small story vignettes which occur during the span of the game, such as a rookie cop nervously trying to arrest Sam. These nicely break up the action.
Vigilantes' writing reaches comic book level and is sufficient to give the game a nice atmosphere, without being remarkable or particularly memorable. The exception is perhaps the end, where the story takes a satisfying and (for me) unexpected twist. The nice voice acting at the end also helps make it memorable.
Mechanics, pacing, and scope.
Here is a map of the city. You only start with three identified districts, but as the game progresses you gain information about other ones.
We start out Vigilantes with a city map with three identified districts, and with the danger level and dominant criminal element known. We are told we can only learn more about the city by surveilling unknown districts or by interrogating gang members. The former costs time and we are warned that as time passes, criminals become tougher and get better equipment, so the logical step at first is to attack criminals, interrogate them and gain information. Also, the more goods we sell Sam's black market contact, the better the equipment he offers to sell us. In the early game this process of attacking known districts and interrogating enemies is fairly repetitive, but it does help Sam get information about possible allies, which breaks up the game's early monotony with small story battles. Gaining companions is good, because companions not in the party can survey enemy districts while the others are fighting. This enables Sam to expand his party, gain information about new more dangerous districts and attack them. In the more dangerous districts we can interrogate elite gang members about gang leadership. Each gang has 3 lower level leaders and a final boss. First, we have to unlock the location of each lower level boss. They in turn can be interrogated to give Sam information on the location of the endgame bosses.
Here we see the gang hierarchy. Our goal is to identify, locate and eliminate all of these people.
In between missions we can buy, sell, craft items, upgrade our bases (which improves what Sam can craft and delivers passive bonuses), rest to heal wounds, read the newspaper, and level up characters. We can also decide what missions our companions not in combat take.
Characters in Vigilantes have a number of combat and non-combat skills. Characters in the party are highly dependent on their primary combat skill, whether melee or ranged combat, and not investing heavily in one of these skills will make all combat encounters more difficult. There are a number of secondary skills which can also be used in combat. Either explosives or medicine are necessary if you want a character to be effective with med packs or grenades. A decent bypass skill allows you to reposition, find extra loot, and gain a story advantage in some encounters. Presence can also give story advantages. Having a character with a halfway decent crafting skills allows one to convert common low caliber ammunition into high caliber ammunition, and make a few other useful items. There is also a trade skill, which is helpful during the beginning of the game when one is somewhat strapped for cash, but proves useless near the end of the game. For non-party members surveillance and bypass are useful as they give decent scouting options. A character with a high enough surveillance skill can directly locate criminal subbosses, effectively pushing the game towards its end.
Characters have stats, skills, and perks like in Fallout, but because this game focuses on combat, combat skills are by far more important than non combat skills.
One of the things I have to give the developers of Vigilantes praise for is how they pace the game. At the beginning the missions seem simple and repetitive, but they are broken up by finding new companions, and learning their stories. When that finishes, battles are slightly more interesting, but just as those are about to get boring, you begin to find the locations of leaders, which offer up pretty enjoyable battles. And as you get sick of trying to get information on leaders, your non-combat characters have a high enough surveillance to get the ability to find the remaining leaders without having to resort to normal missions. Also, the random encounters in the game add variety just when the standard missions begin to feel stale. I finished Vigilantes in 12 hours on the default difficulty, which turned out to be too easy for me. I think on higher levels, I might have had more problems and the game would probably have taken longer to beat. I actually found the game's length to be perfect for what Vigilantes has to offer. The standard missions just aren't variable enough to sustain the game for much longer and knowing that I was closing in on the end pushed me to finish the it.
Before some of the harder battles Sam can use a skill help turn the battle in his favour. My Sam can use his firearms skill here, but his presence skill is too low.
Many indie games are very minimalistic when it comes to visuals and sound. For a game developed on a shoestring budget, Vigilantes actually looks quite good. Especially the maps. The voice acting is decent, which again is pretty unusual for an indie, which often have painful voice acting, if they have voice acting at all. The same goes for the sound.
At his base, Sam can buy, sell, craft, heal, switch out his inventory, and in general prepare himself for the next battle.
Vigilantes is a very solid tactics game. It doesn't make any huge mistakes, and everything is executed in a competent manner. The pacing is very good, even if doesn't do anything new mechanically. There are certainly better, deeper tactics games out there, and there are a lot on the market now. So, would I recommend Vigilantes? It does have some things going for it. It has a pretty unusual setting, for one, and that's something that will prove attractive to tactics fans. Though lacking somewhat in scope and depth, Vigilantes has a very reasonable purchase price. Also, the game is pretty easy to understand, and the easy start could make it a good game for those new to the tactics genre. I enjoyed my time with the game, and for those who don't want to replay Battle Brothers or X-Com, Vigilantes could offer a nice change of pace.
Developer: Timeslip Softworks
Genre: Tactical RPG
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2018-10-03
· Publisher: Timeslip Softworks
- Good pacing
- Nice boss battles, both in terms of story and challenge
- Unusual setting
- Mechanically sound
- Normal battles can get tedious
- Early battles very simplistic
- Lack of fog of war means battles are pretty predictable.
- Relatively short (12 hours)