Hunters 2 is a relatively new game for iPhone which corners a very specific (but hardcore) niche. It's a turn-based tactical combat game where you tailor futuristic mercenaries with your choice of skills and gear over the course of several harrowing missions. You have a squad of troops that are set up on terrain with a square grid, who each take turns moving, shooting enemies, healing, defending, and engaging in all sorts of other maneuvers. As you play your soldiers gain experience points, eventually allowing them to level up and giving you the option to tweak their specialties. You also win cash for completing levels, which can be spent on upgrading gear. Of course, you can always buy in-game money with real cash through in-app purchases if you're the impatient type. You can also win in-game money and loot for clicking on mobile ads. Overall, I found Hunters 2 wasn't too pushy with those kinds of microtransactions, which is always nice. Once you've plowed through the single-player campaign, there are five fresh missions available daily. Unfortunately, there's no multiplayer just yet, but honestly, the AI is challenging enough as is. It's a Universal app, so you can play it on both iPhone and iPad after buying it once, plus there's full Game Center support for leaderboards.
The story of the game takes place in a dystopian future where corporations rule the galaxy, and mercenaries are hired to implement their will. Early on, your ragtag team is double-crossed by an employer, and they quickly get roped into a conflict against a burgeoning alien menace. Throughout the game, you'll deal with vicious aliens in close combat as well as other soldiers competing for your contracts. The story isn't what really makes Hunters 2, though - it's the fine-tuned gameplay. Seemingly insignificant strategic decisions, like moving that extra square or not facing the right direction while defending can make or break a mission. Establishing line of sight is a huge part of the game, and often you'll encounter tight passages where your own allies will block off support.
Veteran gamers familiar with older titles like the original Fallout, X-COM, and Syndicate, will be well-versed in the turn-based combat/role-playing playstyle. What really differentiates it from the more casual games like Hero Academy is that your characters progress, gain skills, and expand their equipment over time. It doesn't take long before you become really heavily invested in team members; after playing Hunters 2 for a few hours, you'll be visibly wincing when your favourite guy goes down. Personally, I like spending time meticulously deliberating on my next move, but some may find that pace of gameplay too slow and plodding. Replay of campaign missions might also not be quite up to snuff, since enemy positions remain more or less the same. Rodeo Games offers increasing difficulty levels, including a hardcore mode where soldiers die permanently if they go down in a mission, but I find it challenging enough as is that I have to repeat most levels at least twice. The real replayability comes from the daily missions.
The amount of customization adds a ton of depth to gameplay, but may be a bit too much for casual players. Let's take talent trees for example. There's one generic set of talents that you can pick for any of mercenaries. They span the usual areas - increasing hitpoints, increasing damage, etc. Every soldier has access to two other skill trees with more specialized abilities, such as scouting, survival, or support. Depending on which combinations of talent trees a soldier has access to, they get a cool (but mostly useless) title, like Arbiter, Devastator, Stalker, or Sentinel. What this boils down to is that every time one of your soldiers levels up, you have to pick between at least 14 different talents, on top of equipping new weapons you've found, bought or crafted. Multiply that by however many soldiers leveled up in a given mission, and you can be quickly overwhelmed with options.
The music in Hunters 2 is subdued and ominous, and is wonderfully paired with graphics ripe with gritty textures. Although the game itself takes place in a mostly-unimpressive 2D plane, zooming in and rotating the map is extremely fluid, the wide array of high-tech gunfire has impressive lighting effects, and the 3D models used in gameplay and on the title screen are very impressive. Though there are a lot of things to manage between missions, the user interface has been laid out intelligently, and lets you kit out your team with minimal fuss.
Overall, Hunters 2 will appeal to hardened turn-based strategy gamers, but may offer an overwhelming array of options for more casual players (who should probably stick with Hero Academy). As soon as this game gets multiplayer support, I could see it keeping a permanent spot on my iPhone.