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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

SGF 2024 x Steam Next Fest: Breaching the best tactical demos

Follow along with our continuing coverage of Summer Game Fest 2024 as we play demos that are out now for SGF and Steam Next Fest, a weeklong celebration of games featuring tons of free demos from June 10-17.

My relationship with the tactics genre is a... simple one. I have a deep interest in trying to become a tactics guy and the genre has a deep interest in showing me how small my brain is compared to those who've been playing these games since birth.

But my fire for these games continues to burn, and this year during Summer Game Fest, I was reintroduced to a handful of truly exciting tactics games that, through one interesting twist or another, gave me extra incentive to make 2024 the year I go full hog into tactics games.

Whether it was the hilarious writing and inventive world building of Tactical Breach Wizards, the Southeast Asian setting and mecha focus of Kriegsfront Tactics, or the pure nostalgia bait dressed up in fascinating roguelike clothing in Metal Slug Tactics, I am all in on becoming the tactical trooper I always believed I could be.

I got the chance to start my tactics training during June's Steam Next Fest — here's how my time with these three demos shook out.

A collage image of the key art for three games included in this article. Tactical Breach Wizards, Kriegsfront Tactics, and Metal Slug Tactics. Their individual detailed descriptions can be found below. This is overlaid against a red, blue, and yellow background with the Steam Next Fest logo in the bottom left and the text "A Trio of Tactics Games" in the bottom right.

The key art for Tactical Breach Wizards. Against a faded office background colored by a blue-green gradient, the game's logo and title is overlaid. The logo is made up of various tactical weaponry, magical items like potions and wands, and a wizard hat wearing skull with a beard.

Developer: Suspicious Developments Inc

Platform(s): PC

Release Date: August 22, 2024

Tactical Breach Wizards is a magical SWAT adventure that caps off Suspicious Developments' "Defenestration Trilogy." Like... c'mon. I honestly think that sentence alone is all that's really needed to sell anyone on the concept. But we're kind of known for our writing, so I guess I'll elaborate about what the creators of Heat Signature and Gunpoint are up to with their first foray into the turn-based tactics genre.

In Tactical Breach Wizards, you take control of a misfit crew of extremely tactical wizards who stuff their magic wands into the barrels of assault rifles and stick mana-imbued crystals onto the end of their batons to do damage. They bicker behind doorways they're about to breach — which, of course, they do by placing a sigil on said door and yelling BREACH — and take public transit to the various dangerous missions they embark on.

The demo mainly features two key characters: Jen Kellen, a freelance private eye witch who's been down on her luck, and Zan Vesker, a retired special forces seer who uses his ability to see one second into the future to try to pull his former commanding officer back from the brink after she teams up with a rogue private military outfit.

An animated GIF of Tactical Breach Wizards. In an office setting, a wizard wielding a ballistic shield charges forward and bashes into an enemy soldier. This sends the soldier flying out of a window and has every other soldier in the room to aim their laser sights at the shield-toting soldier.

Tactical Breach Wizards has a heavy narrative focus, and its writing, worldbuilding, and general vibe could be summed up in one word: cheeky. This is a very funny game, and the amount of times I laughed out loud at simple back-and-forths between characters caught me off guard. Suspicious Developments has always been a silly team, and it feels like they're ratcheting that up to 11 here in all the best ways.

On the gameplay side, Tactical Breach Wizards leans into the efficiency of SWAT teams, asking you to eliminate your enemies as quickly as possible through a series of synergetic magic combos and general tactical teamwork. It's all about taking enemies out while staying out of harm's way, about breaching the room with the right person in the right place, and testing out every combination of moves possible before locking in your best turn. Through Zan's seer abilities, you're given the chance to "rewind" your moves before locking them in, which encourages you to test all possible combos before choosing your way forward.

One of the worst possible feelings in a turn-based tactics game is locking in a movement or activating some key ability in the wrong place and not being able to undo it. By making their approach that little bit friendlier, Suspicious Developments encourages experimentation and improvisation in a way I find others in the genre don't. And that's nothing to say about the game's in-depth difficulty options allowing genre newbies an even easier time.

An animated GIF of Tactical Breach Wizards. A wizard in a tan camo uniform lays dead ahead of a white-haired necromancer. The necromancer takes out a human skull from her pack and brings him back to life with a swirl of green magic.

I could go on and on about this game, but I'll save it for the eventual review when the game comes out on August 22. Suspicious Developments has been a studio I've adored for their fascinating game design concepts for years, and I think they've got a true banger on their hands with this one that I hope captures your attention too. Go wishlist it and try the demo.

The Kriegsfront Tactics key art. A giant bipedal mech unit wields a giant minigun. A forest burns behind him and the shadows of helicopters can be seen flying above.

Developer: Toge Productions

Platform(s): PC

Release Date: TBA, free prologue launching July 17

I'm a simple man. You give me a game with a Southeast Asian setting — it doesn't even have to be Filipino — and I'm there. You give me a tactical mecha game with roguelite elements that's inspired by Front Mission... and set that in Southeast Asia? I'm taking my wallet out and handing it over immediately.

Kriegsfront Tactics comes to us from Toge Productions, the development and publishing house behind games like Coffee Talk and A Space for the Unbound. Set in the jungles of an alternate 1970s Southeast Asia, you will commandeer a team sent behind enemy lines and placed in desperate situations. While the demo is focused on combat and barely touches on anything narratively, the trailer of the upcoming free prologue teases some classic "horrors of war" storytelling and ends with a child cowering in their house as a mech approaches. So you know this one is gonna get downright devastating when it launches.

I'm intrigued by the fact that the soldiers we control seem to be foreigners coming in to clear up a messy power vacuum, but there are murmurs of resistance and folks protecting their land that I'd love to see as a major focus in the main game. A classic "are we the baddies?" scenario that sees our team eventually helping the locals take back their land would be a delight, and the promise of "hard decisions that test your morality" on the store page has me curious where it'll all go in the end.

An animated GIF of Kriegsfront Tactics. It depicts a mech taking a sparking and charred mech taking a shot at another mech up on some ruins ahead of it. After that, the shot mech tries to run off but gets destroyed by a sniper on a cliff across the map. They're in a jungle setting amidst ancient ruins.

Kriegsfront Tactics wears its Front Mission inspiration on its sleeve. It features the intense gritty mech-based combat that sees you targeting specific aspects of your mecha opponents and utilizing a variety of specialized weaponry within your squad to wipe out your enemies. The demo allows you to fight through two unique combat scenarios, both featuring your squad of five taking on overwhelming odds.

While the turn-based tactical action in the demo was familiar, I was taken by how impactful the combat felt. Launching missiles to take out a chunk of the forest, revealing a squad waiting in the trees. Sniping the arm off of a chaingun-wielding mech waiting atop the ruins of some temple. Watching their radio message pop as they eject from the chassis I obliterate with my dual-wielding shotgun mecha. The combat is all given the power I'd expect and want.

One of the most intriguing things that I can't wait to see realized in the game at launch is Kriegsfront's full suite of customization tools. You can edit your mech's parts from various manufacturers, fully edit its paintjob. And there's even going to be a level editing tool in the full release that'll be even further supported by deeper modding support down the line. Mecha fans are really particular, and allowing that level of customization to build out the squad the way they like, and potentially even pay homage to their favorite mechs in doing so, makes me excited to see what people come up with.

An animated GIF of Kriegsfront Tactics. It shows the game's mecha customization screen, showing the player change the mech's legs from bipedal to crab-like. The mech sits in a jungle setting with a red mech to its right.

Kriegsfront Tactics is one of a handful of interesting mecha games shown during Summer Game Fest, but after going hands-on with it, I am most excited for Toge Productions' Southeast Asian-tinged take, and I can't wait to check out the free prologue coming next month. Check it out for yourself and wishlist it if it tickles your mecha fancy.

The Metal Slug Tactics key art. In a battleground in the middle of war, two groups of soldiers wait on either side of a desert location. A blonde soldier with a red vest yells into a walkie-talkie as he points forward. A red-haired soldier with glasses wields a pistol and sneaks underneath. A brown-haired tan vest wearing soldier pokes out of the top of a tank. And another blonde soldier with a shotgun runs at the opposition. On the other side, a large tank and various generic soldiers fire back.

Developer: Leikir Studio

Platform(s): PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series, Switch

Release Date: Q4 2024

Metal Slug Tactics was one of the first games I got to gush about during a Summer Game Fest/E3/Not-E3 for VGG over three years ago, and I've been eagerly awaiting the day I could do it once again. And that day is today, because after three years in the oven, the game is back with a demo that showcases how the classic run and gun franchise brilliantly translates into turn-based tactics.

In Metal Slug Tactics, all your favorite Peregrine Falcon Squad team members are back to take out the evil General Morden who has broken free from his chains and rallied an army, ready to take revenge on a world that has foiled his every attempt at dominating it. You've got Marco, Fio, Tarma, and Eri. Rumi, the giant backpack-toting support hero is back. The POWs are back. The eponymous Metal Slug tanks are back. It's everything you want and more.

One thing I appreciate about this slower, more deliberate take on a franchise all about blasting away enemies, is its bigger focus on the surprisingly deep lore of the franchise and on these iconic characters. The original games had all kinds of fun details to poke at in its cinematically chaotic levels, and being able to take the extra beat with them here in a tactics format is especially exciting to 8-year-old Nate who tried to decipher all this lore as a kid.

An in-game screenshot of Metal Slug Tactics. On a grid-based battlefield, mummies surround soldiers hiding behind various forms of cover. One soldier can be seen tied up and seated next to a blonde bandana wearing soldier. An icon reads SAVE above her. Various user interface elements line the screen, giving a glimpse at objectives, unit health, and the selected unit's special skills.

I don't know why Metal Slug Tactics made so much sense to me when it was announced, but after trying its demo, I think I understand. Metal Slug was always one of the most difficult games at the arcade. It was one of the most chaotic with bullets, grenades, and ROCKET LAUNCHA shots creating beautifully animated destruction on your screens at all times. By slowing things down, the tactics shift allows you to choreograph that chaos and gain control over something that we elder gamers may not be able to handle anymore.

Metal Slug Tactics still has that hardcore difficulty, with each combat scenario asking you to juggle three heroes against an overwhelming horde of enemies. Your best way out comes in the form of powerful synchronized attacks between our heroes (a nod to the co-op roots of the series) and leans on classic Metal Slug weaponry. While the demo has you mainly facing off against your classic enemy soldiers, I'm fascinated to see how the game's more fantastical enemies, aliens and mummies alike, add fun wrinkles to the tactical gameplay.

Another exciting twist comes in Metal Slug Tactics' roguelike format, asking players to take on randomized enemy layouts for randomized prizes on a run, while waiting for the eventual classic Metal Slug boss battle. You've got skill trees, weapons and weapon mods, and so much of that nitty gritty tinkering of these characters that results in vastly different runs each time you go out. The way I found myself doing multiple runs in the demo's one desert region... this game might be a problem for me when it launches.

An in-game screenshot of Metal Slug Tactics. It displays a desert landscape map screen, with green dots marking mission locations. Small icons float above each mission displaying the potential prizes like ammo, money, or XP.

Metal Slug Tactics already had its hooks in me when it was announced, but its roguelike setup and homage to a series I hold near and dear meant they really didn't have to do too much to sell me. Seeing how deftly they managed to adapt the hardcore action of the series into a tactical RPG has me excited for what awaits in the full release. And if you can relate, do yourself a favor and wishlist it.


Are you a tactical dork like me? Do any of these games intrigue you if you're not? Let us know. If you're looking for something else in your upcoming games, check out our mini-preview series for more games across countless genres.


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