The easiest way to describe Othercide to somebody who hasn’t played it is that it’s goth XCOM. While that description is broadly accurate, it should also be noted that the game does differentiate itself from other tactical turn-based games with some interesting ideas that mostly work. There are some issues here which we’ll get to in due course, but on the whole, this is a fantastic strategy game with a gorgeous art style.
The story of Othercide is way above our paygrade. Told through vague cut-scenes in-between important battles, and with extra information hidden in codices you’ll unlock as you progress through the campaign, the narrative is rarely clear-cut and leaves much up to your interpretation.
It seemingly takes place in both 1897 and 1929 at what appears to be a convergence point of time and space, brought about by a being of immense power. This being and their cohorts are trying to enter our reality, while another being called the Red Mother stands in their way. The Red Mother creates warriors known as Daughters to do battle for her, with the aim of driving back the denizens of evil, and ultimately stopping the collapse of the real world. Or something.
Speaking of style, Othercide’s got it to spare. The art direction here is really quite striking, with the entire game being played in black and white, accentuated by splashes of red – blood, the scarves of the Daughters, etc. – that recalls graphic novels like Sin City. Enemies, too, are well-designed, with the minions you’ll be going up against taking inspiration from inherently frightening concepts like insects or plague doctors, and sprucing them up with blades and tentacles and other such grotesqueries. Bosses, though sadly infrequent, rarely disappoint in this regard too.
Othercide’s soundtrack is best described as sounding like a mid-2000s vampire movie. Industrial guitars, sinister synths, sparse use of vocals to lend certain tracks a little more importance, and entirely in service of the visual style of the game. You probably won’t end up humming any of these tunes in the shower, but they’d probably make effective background music for a Halloween party.
A simple mission in Othercide will task you with eradicating a number of enemies on a small map. You’re given control of three – and later more – Daughters of different classes, and you take part in turn-based combat. The turns are dictated by the stats of both your heroes and the enemies in play, but they can be affected by attacks or buffs, and if you use over half of your action points in a turn then you’ll be pushed further down the pecking order on your next go.
The idea here is that you’ve got enough action points to move a small distance and either attack or use a support skill. But if there’s an enemy with only a slither of health left then you might opt to perform a second attack to finish it off with the penalty being that you’ll have to wait longer for that unit to get another turn. Knowing when to blast all of your action points in one go and when to hold back – or even skip a turn entirely – becomes paramount as Othercide ramps up in difficulty.
The game is rarely a walk in the park, but it’s mostly manageable barring a few difficulty spikes. The last boss in particular is tougher than anything else you’ll face by such a ludicrous degree that you’ll likely feel wholly unprepared to take it on regardless of how much time you’ve spent levelling up. It took us a few – okay, like twelve or something – attempts to see the final baddie off, and while we appreciate a game pushing back, the encounter does feel a mite cheaper than it should in our book.
When you hit a wall in Othercide there are options available to you, however. Of course, you can take on extra combat encounters to level up, or there’s also the option of sacrificing one of your Daughters and infusing her essence into another. Sacrificing a Shieldbearer — a class with high health– will give another unit a massive HP boost, while bumping off a Blademaster — an attack unit focusing on damage — will give the recipient a higher attack stat.
Sacrificing a Daughter for the good of the herd might seem a bit extreme, but as you progress through the campaign you can acquire resurrection tokens to bring back Daughters that met their end by either your hand or in combat. Resurrection tokens can be found by completing the Rescue mission type, in which you need to escort a weak unit from one end of a map to the other, or you can unlock them using Remembrances.
If your entire squad of Daughters is wiped out in a particularly troublesome combat encounter, you’ll begin the entire game again with a new squad of Daughters. The first time this happened we nearly choked on our Pinot Grigio at the thought of having lost all of our progress so far, but this is where Remembrances come in.
You’ll begin your second run with new options, such as the ability to begin with a resurrection token, to do more damage against certain enemy types, or to even skip entire portions of the game. You’ll unlock these Remembrances at a fairly brisk pace, and they’re so useful that the penalty for failure never feels too brutal.
If there’s anything to complain about here – aside from the aforementioned difficulty spikes – it’s that Othercide doesn’t seem to run particularly well. Sometimes you’ll try to attack and it simply won’t work no matter how many times you press X and so you have to exit out of the attack menu, then go back in, and try again. There’s slowdown during both cut-scenes and gameplay, and the game had the absolute cheek to blue screen us on half a dozen occasions during the twenty hours we spent with it. Fortunately, the game auto-saves so frequently that we never lost any progress, but it’s still irritating.
While they share plenty of the same DNA, Othercide is much more than simply XCOM in eyeliner. Sacrificing warriors to boost the stats of other units proves a compelling and flexible mechanic, while the combat encounters ramp up in difficulty at mostly the right pace. A stunning aesthetic and perfectly complementary soundtrack are the icing on the cake, only occasionally marred by unfortunate technical difficulties.