Seasonal Suppression Fire
Halloween is unfortunately over. Candy is on sale, Christmas music is being played far ahead of schedule, and the decorations need to be put away. Sometimes said decorations are a bit difficult to shelve, especially when they’re undead and trying to eat your brains like the rogue’s gallery of Research and Destroy. Rally your scientists and prepare to slaughter an entire Spirit Halloween’s worth of spooky supernaturals to reclaim Earth’s surface. For science!
Like Valkyria Chronicles and my beloved (and eternally underrated) Code Name S.T.E.A.M., RaD adds manual aim and a focus on time management to its turn based structure. Each turn you’ll get to control 3 units for 8 seconds per character. Time moves a little oddly, only passing when performing an action that changes the game state. That means taking a step or aiming down your sights takes time, but looking around does not, meaning you can take your time planning the most devastating turn possible but need to execute it quickly.
The combat is the main focus and it’s broadly solid. From a high level system perspective I adore its emphasis on teamwork. Unlike most tactics games where each unit’s turn is largely self-contained, here you’ll often find yourself swapping between characters for a couple seconds of action at a time, setting up elaborate ghost-busting chains. Early on it’s typical to have one character headshot an enemy, have another confirm the kill, and have the third research the corpse for the purpose of between-fight upgrades, and all of that is fine if not especially special. But eventually as you fit your scientists to their niches and can get more done in less time, duties will be split several ways per character and turns will become considerably more interesting. By the end you’ll be fending off hordes while addressing your actual objectives, be they interactables or bosses.
What makes the combat sing is its enemies. Monsters are numerous and greatly varied in appearance and ability. Ghosts go through terrain, poltergeists hurl garbage at you from long range, vampires have to have their remains destroyed or they’ll revive, etc. My favorite by far was the Bogeyman, an enemy that stalks a single scientist and is only visible to them, but can only be harmed by the other scientists who can’t see it. It’s an incredibly clever threat that further emphasizes the game’s excellent teamwork as you use one character to act as a spotter and line up shots with the others.
It’s between the fights where I ran into snags, particularly with gear and loadouts. Many weapons are considerably more niche or situational than others and even in their best cases they can still prove unreliable. Ability-granting equipment is all over the place in terms of quality with movement gear being consistently the most valuable and everything else being dicey. Upgrades are expensive and wildly uneven. Some feel essential, others useless, and it’s difficult to gauge how one will shake out until after the resources have already been committed and you test them in a live fire environment. The game seems to be aware of its own wonkiness to some extent, not allowing players to duplicate equipment on any scientist lest everybody’s squad consist of 3 snipers wearing jet boots.
Co-op multiplayer adds a nice dimension. Rather than dividing responsibilities between each character, each player brings their own 3-scientist squad and the game scales the baddies a bit so that they don’t fold to all the extra guns. Adding even more teamwork to a game already centered on it is nothing but upside, and having so many units means you can actually get away with deploying a suboptimal build or two. You won’t lose much for playing solo as the game is primarily tuned for it, but the ability to bring friends to a genre that’s typically played exclusively alone is a nice touch. Bonus points for couch co-op!
What RaD nails more than anything else is tone. It’s Scooby Doo with guns complete with your gang travelling in a van, only yours can fly and talks. The game is an cavalcade of comedy, not just because of its punchy writing but because of the gameplay itself. Get slapped by an enemy and your braniacs will comically crumple with some top notch ragdolling. Fall off a roof or have a hoverboarding accident and you’ll tumble onto your noggin, taking a chunk of damage and wasting that character’s time, but reducing the sting of failure with belly laughs. I found myself grateful that the scientists are too smart for concussions because this workplace environment is perpetually hostile.
Throughout my playthrough I had a worry in the back of my head, a constant nagging doubt that RaD was going to fall apart. Not because of any technical or mechanical conceit – the game works well as-is – but because I thought it was going to run out of steam. That the comedy would stop landing, that the combat would stop presenting interesting problems to solve, or that it would just plain stop being fun. Many lighter strategy games hit some kind of wall and after getting burned many times prior I couldn’t shake feeling gun-shy. That moment never came, but this was largely because the game ended just before it had the opportunity to feel drawn out. In this case I consider that to be for the best; better to end on a high then run out of ideas halfway through. Research and Destroy likely won’t become your next favorite tactics game of all time, but as a pleasant change of pace for enjoyers of the spooky season it’s more than worthy of a recommendation.
Reviewed on Xbox Game Pass.