I don’t like doing negative reviews, not because of any guilt over hating on something someone put their time and effort into making, but because of the anywhere from 5-60 hours of boring, tedious gameplay that led me to that review in the first place. If I could, I’d only buy and play games that I enjoy. The problem with that is that it’s impossible to differentiate games with great ideas and great execution from those with great ideas and terrible execution. Halfway is definitely the latter, being full of promise, but delivering on none of it.
The story might as well not be there at all
Out of everything that bothered me about the game, this is what really drove a stake through the heart of my enjoyment while playing. Halfway starts with you being attacked by a crazed crew member, and slowly (some would say too slowly) feeds you new information about the phenomenon that transformed most of your spaceship’s crew into mutated monster people. Problem is, it never actually reveals what’s happening. By the time the credits roll around, you’ll only have a few bits of “science fluff” about black holes, parallel universes, and alien material to lean on story-wise, and it’s not anywhere near enough to deconstruct what’s happening. In fact, you’ll fight the end boss without even knowing who or what it is, and this, like everything else, will be left an unsolved mystery when the credits roll. This is a game with fixed characters and non-random stages that somehow manages to tell a quarter of a story that even a randomized game would be embarrassed by.
The characters are passable, at least
There are eight characters you end up with over the course of the game, and I suppose it could be said that all of them have their own unique personalities, though in truth they’re nothing particularly special. Main character Morten and his friend Samuel are typical military grunts. Dr. Schaffer is your run-of-the-mill sociopathic scientist. Nia is an amnesiac who doesn’t ever become interesting. Josh is the game’s token “weird computer hacker guy.” The other characters manage to be a bit more interesting, but you’re never going to be blown away by back story or anything. These characters exist solely for the sake of having eight different combat units, each with their own special skills.
2 AP for you, 2 AP for you, and 2 AP for you
Combat is a lot like XCOM in that it’s turn-based and revolves heavily around finding cover and exchanging shots (each with a percentage to hit) until someone or something is dead. Also like XCOM, each character has two “action points” to use each turn, and can use a single point to move to any area indicated in blue or both points to move to any point indicated in yellow. The video above covers seven minutes of gameplay and accurately sums up the rhythm of each and every level in the entire game: explore, stumble on enemies, kill said enemies, find items, reorganize your items because you can never carry enough, repeat.
The problem with having a combat system similar to XCOM is twofold. For one, the lack of environmental factors like elevation and your inability to use more than four characters for any but the last mission in the game makes things incredibly repetitive and dull, especially since you only have two actions per character and have to sit through a bunch of slowly-shuffling enemies once you’ve used all of them. More than that, you can never seem to move far enough; where in XCOM you could always seem to move to a good cover point and still get a shot off at an enemy, your movement range always feels incredibly limited in Halfway, often forcing you to waste both points just to move into position. This means that you’re constantly wasting turns just moving your units, and while your movement may be informed by the smaller map sizes in the game, this just isn’t a fun thing to do.
That’s doubly true when you consider that even basic actions like reloading (and some weapons only carry 3-7 shots before they have to be reloaded) wastes an action, making things even more repetitive. This becomes a serious problem toward the end of the game when enemies become damage sponges and you have to use strong weapons that don’t hold much ammo to avoid being overrun.
All 8 characters have their own unique active and passive skill. Morten, for example, has the “steady shot” active skill that bumps his shot up to 100% accuracy, while his passive skill grants him an accuracy boost when using assault rifles. Josh, on the other hand, has an active skill that overloads and eliminates enemy shields, and a passive skill that allows him to reload weapons without using one of his action points. Passive skills are always active and don’t need to be activated, whereas active skills need to be selected and have a cooldown that requires a certain number of turns to pass before they can be used again. On the bright side, these skills do allow for different members to fulfill different roles inside of combat. This isn’t enough for everyone to be useful, however.
There are stimpacks and armor, not levels
Unlike many games in the genre, there’s no RPG element to Halfway. Characters only become stronger as they obtain and equip stronger armor and weapons, with one exception: stimpacks. These are items that confer permanent stat boosts (the affected stat depending on the type of stimpack), and though you’re not able to use more than 5 on a character without it negatively affecting their stats and undermining the point of using one in the first place, you’re bound to use most of them on 4-5 of your characters. Part of this is because those are the characters you most rely on, these typically being the snipers who are capable of doing a lot of damage while staying out of harm’s way, though the limited inventory means that you’re often using these stimpacks indiscriminately inside of missions just to free up space for ammo and health-restoring items. All of this means that you’re bound to have several characters with comparatively pathetic stats, and this makes the levels where they become required team members that much more of a drag.
The save system sucks
“The lack of save system” would perhaps be a better way of phrasing that, because you’re unable to save in missions or anywhere else. That’s right—this is yet another abomination of a save system that relies solely on autosaves at the end of levels. Want to make a manual save so that you can revisit a level later? Too bad. Need to step away from the computer? You’d better leave the game running.
You like missing most of your shots, right?
One of the more annoying elements of Halfway’s combat system is its tendency to put you in situations where your accuracy ensures that you have less than a 50% chance to hit the enemy you’re aiming at. They miss a lot, too, meaning entire turns can be wasted hitting nothing but air. The only reliable damage-dealers are grenades and melee attacks, but grenades are expensive to buy and rare to find, and melee means putting a character in the line of fire, often without any kind of cover. Given the awful save system, you’re bound to play it safer than that a lot of the time, which means engaging in boring shootouts where no one is getting hit and little is accomplished but wasting ammo.
Miscellaneous quirks and annoyances
There are just so many things I haven’t even had the chance to mention yet, like how turns don’t end automatically once you’ve used up all your action points, but have to be ended manually.Then there are the crippling flaws such as enemies having their health represented by vague red health and blue shield bars without any kind of numbers representing how much that might actually be. This means coming up against a new enemy isn’t a case of “my weapon does between X and Y amount of damage, so it’ll take Z number of shots to take this enemy down,” but instead requires you to damage it before the missing chunk of the bar gives you a vague approximation of how powerful it is. For a genre that relies on balancing risk and reward, you never have a sense of how much risk you can actually afford, and this undermines a great deal of the strategy of the game, forcing you to approach every enemy the same instead of taking on mobs smartly.
While most of the game is spent dealing with turrets and color variations of the “crazed former crew member” (there’s a serious lack of enemy variance, and more than once I found myself trying to recall whether the blue or orange colored ones were the strong ones), you’re eventually given new enemies in the form of tiny flying saucers. These, as with later color variations of the game’s crazed crew member enemy type, are massive damage sponges, and this makes late-game levels really annoying to have to play through. Don’t mistake that as a complaint about the game’s difficulty, though—it’s less about genuine difficulty and more about how these enemies are scripted to suddenly appear. Sometimes one group will teleport into the room, while other times you’ll have to deal with four consecutive waves. This makes it impossible to tell whether you should conserve your ammo or go all-out, further damaging the strategy element of the game.
Nothing is as bad as the lack of an “undo movement” button, though. I found myself misclicking several times, moving units out of cover into danger and being unable to do anything about it. This is easier to do than it probably sounds given the clumsiness of the camera, and it’s absolutely maddening when it happens.
Energy and the item shop
Between missions, you (as main character Morten) are given the freedom to walk around your camp and speak to the other characters to hear their ultimately meaningless insights. However, you’re also able to purchase items from what amounts to a glorified vending machine. Energy is the currency you’ll be dealing with, obtained by recycling and thus destroying unwanted items, and since characters and your camp storage are limited, you’re bound to accumulate a fair amount of energy to purchase things with. Shield recharging items, health recharging items, ammo, and grenades can all be bought from the store, though I personally found that ammo was the only practical thing to purchase because it’s cheap enough to be disposed of should you need to pick something up during a mission. That’s harder to justify doing for the other items, which cost more.
Sprite graphics and electronic music
The graphics and music are perhaps the only two things I can’t really criticize; while everything else is fairly terrible, Halfway manages to be appealing both graphically and musically, sporting retro sprites that, while somewhat marred by the game’s occasionally fuzzy lighting, are undeniably unique to the game and allow each character to appear unique. They give the characters what little personality they have, basically, and while the lack of enemy variety might be considered a flaw of the graphics, I’d say it’s more of a design flaw to only have a few types of enemies populating the game. I should probably mention that I experienced a near-perpetual blurring in the middle of certain dialogue boxes (pictured in the screenshots; right-click and open that screenshot in a new tab if you have a smaller monitor and the site is resizing the picture) that was strange, but this was hardly a deal-breaker. As for the soundtrack, there’s not much to say other than that it’s a atmospheric, electronic kind of affair that suits the game perfectly. It’s not my preferred genre, but there’s no denying that the game was bettered for it.