The library of games offered by the PlayStation Minis service is ever increasing and the latest title to be added, Star Hammer Tactics, is from Black Lab Games. It's a turn-based strategy title where players are equipped with a fleet in order to fight off an alien race thus preventing the extinction of the human race. Not only that, but they are tasked with finding out exactly where they appeared from.
The game provides an extensive back story to the game providing pictures and explanations of how the threat came to the human race. Unfortunately, as scientists had predicted, Earth has become almost completely depleted and unable to support life. With nowhere else to go the humans looked deep into space and found a planet named Novus to call home. Novus seemed like a proper Utopia for those who fled Earth, however, the future looked shady after an odd alien probe was spotted. It wasn't long before the humans found themselves under attack by a deadly alien race named the Nautilids.
Despite the initial plot being quite interesting, the campaign from this point on is very objective driven. There are some minor plot lines prior in each mission, but most of these include destroying the scouting parties of Nautilids. Though the story does develop further when the humans learn of the Hive, players must first complete a long series of missions in order to actually get to it. Ironically, the campaign, which is really drawn out by the quantity of missions, has missions which are actually quite short; the majority of them take no more than 10 minutes.
The gameplay takes place on a grid. Players are given a handful of ships in order to create a fleet and move across the map grid. Each of these has its own action points and a short time limit with which a player must make as many moves as possible before their turn ends. Some ships can fire missiles by using their action points too and they may also alter the strength of an attack or the ship's defence. This creates a more interesting strategy for players to indulge in. See a missile approaching and want to block the blow a bit? Simply put up your shields for the next turn.
There are repercussions though as when ships engage in close combat, neither ship is able to retreat until either of them blow up. It's also not uncommon for the smallest ship to destroy the biggest. The health of each ship can fluctuate randomly during these combat events, so the amount of any ship's HP could mean nothing.
Due to this system, it's often far easier to group all of the small fighters together and use them to bait the early missiles, since they can easily out run them. Then once the enemy has used all their payloads, you can simply chase down their ships and destroy the alien fleet. The missiles can only be fired one at a time, which is nice since one is often outnumbered by bigger ships in the later levels and a frequent missile stream would make things nearly impossible. It's also possible to use asteroids as a support system. They can act as a nice shield from missiles and thus save a ship, although at times they are a bit awkward to pinpoint trajectory-wise.
The combat can be quite enjoyable in that there's a different focus on how a player should proceed in each level. The only problem is there are only 4 ships for both sides (aside from one level which adds a defenceless ship which players are required to protect), and these 4 ships are given to the player far too quickly. The game also tends to get a bit repetitive towards the last few levels when nothing new is being introduced.
Graphically some of the details offer a nice touch, such as the explosion animations and the missiles, however the actual combat animations are quite bland. When ships engage in battle, they just flash red when shot and give no actual indication of exchanged fire aside from an array of numbers that appear above the ship which are really easy to ignore. The sprites for the ships are quite bland too. The human ships don't look too bad, but it's apparent the Nautilids had some serious style issues. Green, pink and yellow form the bulk of their colour choices. Considering there is no animation there is very little available to immerse players.
Aside from the campaign which, as mentioned before, is quite short; there is an option to verse other players. Players can decide what ships they would like to deploy based on a "unit limit" and verse a random arrangement of ships on the enemy side. As well as this, there is also a turn based 2-player mode, where both players choose their fleet and then battle each other. Both of these modes increase the amount of time that a player could spend on the game, but they still do not make the game any more appealing.
Star Hammer Tactics does what it should do with regards to the tactical element. It requires thought and offers some interesting manipulations of both shield strengths and attack power. Evading missiles is also quite fun, but despite this, the game is far too short and drags out quite a bit once the player has learned all if the key battle information. It's not as immersive as it could be due to the graphical direction and lack of animation. While the back story is quite extensive, the rest of the plot doesn't seem as focused on the desperation of humanity to survive. It's far from a being a bad game, it's just not a great game either. It provides ample strategy but doesn't do much else.