Much as in chess, a big chunk of the fun comes from guessing how the next turn plays out. I might have Titus ready to charge at an enemy player with low health on the other side of the map, but if he or she dashes away, I could end up swatting at air when I arrive. Or maybe there’s a weakened enemy who could last a bit longer by picking up that nearby health pack, but I could thwart his plans by nabbing it first. Some of the best moments come down to skillful gambling, such as betting that a couple of enemy players will dash into the catastrophic area-of-effect attack I’m about to unleash.
Communication by voice or chat interface naturally makes all this easier, although I’ve been in plenty of winning matches where the only words I see typed are “lol”s when massive attacks miss. Atlas Reactor is nice enough to make this process easier by automatically hooking you up with a Discord channel before each match if you choose, and voice chat does much to get the most out of those 20 seconds.
Could the game offer a bit more variety? Certainly. As it stands, it doesn’t take long to learn the tricks and secrets each of the few maps present, which may be a tiny part of the reason why many random players don’t bother with voice chat. And it’s a world I’d like to see more of. There’s even a story of sorts with lively, humorous cutscenes that’s largely currently locked behind the multi-week “seasons,” which unlock collectibles like banners and emblems. This is a lively, cel-shaded universe that echoes The Fifth Element and any number of other cyberpunk settings while a catchy soundtrack thumps its beats in the background, and its cast of “freelancers” look as though they could rub shoulders with the cast of Overwatch and fit right in.
There are 21 freelancers, with Juno and her twin-cannon harness being the last added for launch after months of beta. More will no doubt fill the ranks eventually, but I already admire how much the experience changes and renews itself when going from my favorite Titus to Celeste (who can steal power-ups with grappling hooks) or the cutesy Quark, who smothers friends with heals but blasts the bad guys with gamma rays. Nor is it mindless shooting–tactics figure in heavily, such as the way one freelancer can bounce laser blasts off walls and shift-clicks allow for precise maneuvers around traps. Even the progression system doesn’t let things get out of hand, as it merely focuses on mods for your abilities and catalysts, with extra taunts and skins tossed in for fun.