Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes is the debut tactical RPG from German developer Silent Dreams. In it, you play a less-than-competent soldier named Drake. As the game opens up, you've just failed your final test at the military academy, and you're contemplating suicide via ferocious mushroom, when you meet "his semidivine humble self," the Holy Avatar -- or just Holy, as he's known to his friends and groupies. Holy lets you know that all of the soldiers who passed their military tests just got wiped out by Mother of God and the Dark Church, and so it falls to you, and whatever misfits you can recruit, to put the world to rights.
As you can probably guess, Grotesque Tactics is not a serious game. You fight silly creatures like albino tigerbunnies and chubby fairies, the women all wear skimpy clothing and require rescuing, and your companions show far more interest in stealing gold and taking baths than they do in defeating the Dark Church. The humor is a definite plus for Grotesque Tactics, and it does just enough to keep the game entertaining for its 15-hour playing time.
The campaign for Grotesque Tactics comprises about a dozen missions. Each mission takes place on a small map, and you get to visit a variety of forests, ruined castles, and graveyards -- plus the crystal cave, which should never be confused with the cave of crystals. You're allowed to explore these maps and talk to people in real time, but then when combat starts up, you shift to a turn-based mode.
Combat in the game takes place on a square grid. Melee characters can hit any enemy adjacent to them (not including diagonals), and ranged characters can hit enemies up to a square away. During the course of the campaign, Drake and Holy recruit eight other "evil heroes" (none of which are really evil), and each of these characters gets a pair of special moves in addition to their basic attack. For example, the angel Angelina can heal characters while the barbarian West can throw his axe, giving him a ranged attack to go along with his standard melee attack. Each special move requires some mana, which can only be replenished by drinking a potion. Characters can also defend or wait.
Each of your characters also has to deal with an "obsession." These obsessions are incremented from 1 to 100, and then when 100 is reached, something (usually bad) happens, and the score is reset. For example, Holy is obsessed with himself, and when his obsession reaches 100, he tells the story of one of his exploits, which puts everyone around him to sleep. Meanwhile, the maidens are all obsessed with Holy, and once he's taken enough damage, they haul off and attack a random character standing next to him.
In between the missions, you're allowed to visit a town, and this is where most of the dialogue and shopping takes place. Characters get three inventory slots -- one each for a weapon, a piece of armor, and a "decoration" (usually some sort of boss trophy) -- but most of the items are hard-coded for a particular character. For example, Drake can only wear leather coats, Holy can only wear shiny plate mail, and the maidens can only wear halter tops. You can also purchase potions for your characters, including a few stat-boosting ones.
As characters earn experience, they also gain levels, which improves their stats automatically. You don't get to choose anything for their development. You also don't get any options for the quests in the game (most of which just require you to kill something), and while you eventually gain control of ten heroes, you don't get to choose which ones go on the missions. They all just follow along behind Drake and go wherever he goes. That means Grotesque Tactics doesn't have a lot of replay value. Once you've completed the campaign, that's about it.
For the most part, Grotesque Tactics works well enough. The combat engine is fairly basic and fairly unexciting, but the game is colorful and the dialogue is amusing. Since Grotesque Tactics is a budget title, there isn't any voice acting, but the included music and sound effects get the job done. And while there are some bugs and technical issues (including an iffy camera), plus some localization snafus (whoever translated the game from German had no idea what the difference is between "its" and "it's," among other things), none of these problems are a serious detriment to the game.
And so, overall, Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes gets a mild recommendation from me. It's definitely a budget title, with all of the pluses (price) and minuses (lack of complexity) such a designation implies, but I reasonably enjoyed the 15 hours I spent with it, and I suspect that other people will have the same reaction. So if you, like me, have a certain fondness for budget titles, then you could do far worse than plunking down $20 and spending a week with Grotesque Tactics.