Satellite Reign is a tactical-action, RPG, open-world game with resource management. That’s a lot of stuff, and in the opening hours of the game it feels like an overwhelmingly large project. Unfortunately, the scope of the game is largely an illusion manufactured by its semi-linear nature, and I couldn’t help but think throughout my time with Satellite Reign that it would have benefitted from a great deal of fat trimming.
The player takes control of four cyborg warriors, each with a distinct class and skill tree, and is thrown into the city and given a laundry list of missions. Though there is a fair amount of narrative fluff explaining what your troops are accomplishing, the objectives for the most part boil down to breaking into facilities, walking into a door, then leaving without dying. The entirety of the game takes place on the same ‘board,’ so the only significant load points are when the player moves in between the four major sections of the city. Satellite Reign thus evokes many of those ‘open-world’ feelings as you run out the door of a military base, alarms screaming, soldiers chasing you from behind and city security forces hemming you off in front.
Since each character is fairly distinct (and non-replaceable, you will always have the same squad makeup), once you gain some levels and move into the deeper parts of the skill tree your means of entry into the different facilities opens up significantly. Whether you use stealth, force or some combination, the game gives you a decent amount of leeway to strategize your approach.
Open world approaches often affect me in two steps. First, I’m amazed by the sense of exploration and freedom. Then, within a few short hours, I can’t help but see the artifice of the world, how useless and empty it tends to be, and how much more enjoyable the game might be without all the fluff and bullshit. Unfortunately, Satellite Reign’s open world is so flimsy that this second feeling was evoked almost immediately.
The game’s open world is just so much empty space, with little to do, little to explore, and little to justify its existence. Every element of the game feels like it could have been improved by removing the open world and replacing it with some sort of successive mission structure. Facilities you need to break into and the general space are aesthetically identical, making the individual missions feel homogenous within the world, and the borders of the two are often difficult to identify. Since the missions need to facilitate different player approaches, they tend to be loosely constructed and have far too many means of ingress, allowing you to cheese your way through most of the second half of the game once your troops are leveled up. And because you can spend unlimited time just walking around and waiting, researching equipment changes from being a series of interesting strategic decisions, and instead becomes a simple method of time-gating your progress.
I can’t help but think that other parts of the game suffered as a result of the inclusion of an open world, which you will barely explore or see once you have unlocked all the fast travel beacons. Weapons tend to not have that ‘kick’ that makes them satisfying, kills just sort of happen with little drama, many of the cyborg’s skills can barely be distinguished from their regular actions (particularly when the sniper ‘sets up,’ which I was hoping would create more dramatic sniping situations), and your units don’t really respond in meaningful ways. Yes, they’re cyborgs without minds whose bodies have been cyber-jacked and forced into slavery, but they could still offer some more response to orders, pain, death or success, just to give the player some meaningful feedback to their clicks. Finally, the AI is dumb as hell, and manipulating them is far too easy.
I still really enjoyed Satellite Reign, particularly the mid-game when you start gaining more interesting tactical options, but are still not so overpowered that you can juggernaut your way through an unlimited number of enemies. And though the narrative is mostly contained in hidden audio logs throughout the city and has to be pieced together manually, it was mostly well written and compelling when I could be bothered to do so. But everything in the game could have been improved by some simplification and a tighter focus on its tactical-RPG elements. Everything else is just so much meaningless fluff.