Laser Squad has such a generic title that, once again, I wasn't too sure of what I'd be in for at first glance. The image in its entry in the 1001 book looks a little familiar, though, and by the time the first paragraph was wrapped up, I was going through a range of emotions.
Laser Squad is a refined Rebelstar, and I really wanted to be able to play Rebelstar but still haven't managed to. That means that, once again, the ZX Spectrum is home to another detailed X-Com game where you can tool up your squad and send them on a short journey to their graves. I mean put them through a turn-based tactical action strategy game, across a number of mission scenarios that will test their mettle against hostile opposition forces. Or something.
How many squad members will survive their first mission?
Unlike Rebelstar, luck was with me for Laser Squad in the form of a Flash port freely available for you to play, faithfully recreating the ZX Spectrum original. Later ports may have been able to update the graphics, but even with the ZX Spectrum's limited palette, you don't have problems with them.
The game starts off by giving you a number of points to spend on equipment, assigning a variety of guns and armour to each squad member. You can give everyone the same stock load out, or make them each specialise in different weaponry, in order to make one squad member a sniper for example - it's really up to you and how much you like your squad.
The thing with these kinds of games is that you tend to form bonds with those squad members because every success - no matter how minor - means you still have a full squad to work with. Losing one of your squad members can be a quick affair, be it from stumbling into an ambush or being caught in an explosion, and you don't need me to tell you that the more of your squad you lose, the less likely you are to complete the mission.
Laser Squad's first mission is called 'The Assassins', where you need to assassinate the boss of a weapons manufacturer. Strangely, perhaps, you're not doing this because he makes weapons, but because he uses illegal means to get the best out of his workforce. Not that this matters, because his hideout is crawling with armed and dangerous defensive droids. It is very much a case of kill or be killed.
Being killed seems to be the default status of my squad, certainly in my first playthrough. The game (or at least the Flash version) uses a simple control scheme, moving a pointer onto a squad member, bringing up a contextual menu, choosing actions from it and letting the game play out. There's a lot of options but it's simple to use.
Generally, you want to spend a few action points - or maybe even a few turns - getting into a good position, and then carefully work your way towards your target(s) dispatching all the foes in your way. Dispatching a foe is done by equipping a weapon (always remember to do this first), then choosing the type of shot you want to make on an opponent. Each type will have varying degrees of success and action point cost associated with it, meaning you should take all the time in the world to make the right one.
And then you'll see it fail anyway. Sometimes, thanks to the wonders of probability, a sure hit will be a certain miss, and in many situations that means the enemy will soon have the chance to return the favour, and will probably do a better job of it than you. It's not that Laser Squad is hard or punishing, just that it asks you to do things well. Your plans may well have to change on the fly to accommodate a death for example, but will still need to be executed with skill in order to complete a mission.
Needless to say, my first attempt was an utter failure, thanks in part to bad luck, as well as missed turns - if you forget to do anything with a squad member on a turn, all those action points you had to spend on them are wasted.
Keeping track of everything is important. You are still reminded of how much ammo you have, which direction you're facing, how many action points you have left and so on, and you are in no rush to make any moves... and yet you're reminded that there is a turn limit between each and every turn. It's pressure, but it's pressure that you put on yourself.
|Source // Moby Games|
With a variety of missions and scenarios to play through, as well as loadout customizations for your squad members, the amount of replayability should be high with Laser Squad, assuming you persist with those missions and not get too beaten up when you are inevitably well and truly beaten up in-game.
As I said with Rebelstar, I'm amazed such a game is on the ZX Spectrum. Whether I should be amazed or not is a question for myself to answer, but whether you'll enjoy Laser Squad is a question for yourselves. You've got no reason not to try it, as it is easy enough to get into and get used to. To perfect it, though, is another step entirely...
Further missions were adding into the game via expansion packs, with the final count being seven available missions - much more welcoming than Rebelstar's one.
Laser Squad, developed by Target Games, first released in 1988.
Version played: ZX Spectrum, 1988, via Flash port.