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The spiritual successor to Invisible, Inc. is finally here

Cyber Knights: Flashpoint just launched in early access, and already it's a real keeper

A white-haired cyberpunk warrior and their scan drone from Cyber Knights Flashpoint
Image credit: Trese Brothers

If XCOM and Invisible, Inc. had a secret one-night stand in the back of a Cyberpunk 2077 taxi, the resulting lovechild would probably look a lot like Cyber Knights: Flashpoint. It's the next game from the Trese Brothers, the makers of Star Traders: Frontiers, and I've been playing its opening missions over the last couple of days. It's good, folks, and there's a lot to dig into with its release into early access this week.

There's a sizable story campaign and a bunch of side missions already playable here, and its emphasis on stealth and escalating security levels whisked me right back to the good old days of 2015 when I first sat down to play Klei's stealthy masterpiece. There are still a couple of rough edges here and there, but if you've been looking for a strategy RPG with a harder-edge than, say, Mimimi's recently released Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, or just something a bit sneakier than your run of XCOM-likes, Cyber Knights: Flashpoint is definitely worth keeping an augmented eye on.

Two characters chat during a mission in Cyber Knights Flashpoint
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Trese Brothers

This being early access, it does have some minor limitations right now. Its XCOM-style base building isn't in the game yet, and its current crop of six character classes (all of which are represented in your mercenary crew right from the off) will eventually double over the course of early access, the devs wrote in a recent Steam post. The rest of its "core features", however, are all present and correct, and the devs have also assured players that any future update won't break your save files (*cough*looking at you, Baldur's Gate 3*cough*). It's promising stuff, and while I've only played a handful of hours out of its estimated 15-20-odd's worth of stuff so far, it's already pretty clear this is going to be something special.

The key thing, of course, being its cyberpunk-infused stealth missions. Sneaking is very much the name of the game here, as going in loud will instantly alert the megacorps' overarching AI systems to your presence, triggering various reinforcements to arrive, the switching on of higher level traps and security measures, and generally making your mission a right old miserable time for you. Figuratively speaking, of course. That means firing your weapons, guards discovering dead bodies and getting caught on camera will all hasten the filling of your security escalation bar - and when things get really hairy, it can sometimes only take a couple of turns for it to tick up yet another level (I say this speaking from bitter experience).

An agent prepares to approach a guard in Cyber Knights Flashpoint
Sneak or sprint too close to a guard and you will be heard, but I'd also like a little more clarification on why some bits of terrain seem to be noisier than others. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Trese Brothers

Assuming you play it cool, however, that escalation bar will only increase very slowly, much in the same way it did with Invisible, Inc. That means you can get away with playing it fairly safe in Cyber Knights: Flashpoint, but you can't exactly waste time fulfilling your objectives, either, as the pressure is always on to get in and get out as painlessly as possible. Like XCOM, your soldiers can get injured if they take too much damage during a mission, and they'll need time to recover back at your safe house. They can also accrue Stress if they feel their mates (i.e: you) are making bad decisions, and if your team has too much Heat on them, they'll encounter tougher security threats and lose the trust of various contacts until things have died down a bit. On the flip side, though, they can get an Edge if they play with characters they get along with and have more Respect for, the latter of which is also earned by making decisions during the course of the story campaign.

A gun fight in Cyber Knights Flashpoint
When you attack, the camera zooms in for the action shot. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Trese Brothers

Some of these emotional ups and downs are baked into the story. For example, the first mission outside the tutorial saw me holding a position while my remote hacker mate went to work on a nearby terminal to find me an exit, which resulted in my vanguard Emile going, "You know what? Maybe I'll lay off the insults next time I talk to them" sort of thing. But I can also see scenarios where your team's relationships might change more organically, such as failing to accomplish one of its Legwork missions.

These are the kind of automated, off-screen missions you've seen many times before in turn-based strategy games, but you can see upfront how likely you are to succeed on one of these Legwork jobs, as well as what you'll have to deal with afterwards if you fail. I've yet to see how repeated failures affect your squad's relationships in the long term, but it's not like they all immediately turn them all against each other if you mess up once - as everyone is, so far, seemingly okay with the fact that my very same hacker dude got compromised on one of my Legwork missions and brought a truck ton of Heat on us as a result. Whether they'll be so chummy after a few more failures, though, I'll have to wait and see. In any case, I hope the Trese Brothers lean into this more spontaneous element of Cyber Knights over the course of early access, rather than prescribing these moments at set points in the campaign.

A man prepares to shoot a guard in Cyber Knights Flashpoint
Hit percentages govern how likely you are to land an attack. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Trese Brothers

Elsewhere in your safe house, you've got skill trees and loadouts to tinker with, cybernetic implants you can splice in to improve the stats and abilities of your crew (at the cost of having some forced recovery time thrown in afterwards, of course), and you've also got to make sure you're earning enough to pay the buggers, as well as your main loan shark Octane, who's funding your little enterprise in the first place (or at least paid for your main Cyber Knight Shrapnel's fancy new cyber spine in the opening story missions). As mentioned earlier, the base building side of the game is disabled for now, but with eight additional "trashed rooms" to potentially play around with, I'd imagine it will scratch that grand XCOM strategy layer itch very nicely indeed once it's in.

Stealth may be the focus, but that's not to say Cyber Knight: Flashpoint's combat isn't worth experimenting with at least a few times during the course of a mission. Some elements of the UI could be clearer to indicate things like the noise radius of your gun, for example, and why some bits of terrain are noisier than others, but most of the time the playful array of abilities you've got at your disposal more than make up for these minor irritations. Emile, for example, can silently run up to guards and knife them in the back - the element of surprise adding a huge damage modifier to proceedings - while others can disable security cameras and movement sensors, or 'anticipate' enemy movement patterns, giving you a heads up on where they'll be moving next so you can plan your heist accordingly.

Agents attempt to slip through enemy sight cones in Cyber Knights Flashpoint
The one thing I miss from Shadow Gambit is knowing how and why you'll be spotted when you're planning your line of attack. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Trese Brothers

I also love that you can take part of a character's turn and then delay the rest of it until later, as you might want to move them into position, wait for a guard to pass during their turn, and then slip behind them rather than being forced to either confront them or waste precious action points. Sure, this can sometimes feel a teensy bit cheesy if I'm being honest, but it doesn't half feel satisfying when waiting for the right moment does, in fact, pay off.

This flexibility extends to how you move and spend your half-dozen action points in Cyber Knights as well. Like Phoenix Point, you're able to move freely around the map rather than snapping to a fixed grid all the time, but there are several neat touches here that still make it feel like you're getting the best of both systems. You can, for instance, snap to bits of scenery that offer half and full-height cover shields, so you always know that yes, you're definitely in cover here, but otherwise you're free to drag your mouse cursor anywhere you like - or as far as your character's remaining action point pool will stretch. Movement can also be done via sneaking or sprinting (the latter getting you further but at greater risk of being seen and heard, similar to how it works in Mimimi's Shadow Gambit and Desperados 3), or a mix of both if you really need to leg it but have to carefully manoeuvre round a bit of cover first.

The safehouse screen in Cyber Knights Flashpoint
You can return to your safehouse between missions, but its base building isn't in the game just yet. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Trese Brothers

The enemy AI, admittedly, could use a little work - at least when it comes to full on combat. During my most recent mission, for example, I ended up having to throw stealth out the window at one point to shoot a gang of four to make off with a briefcase they were guarding. Naturally, gunshots were heard and the security started ramping up, with nearby guards coming over to investigate. But I was able to rush through these alerted sight cones quite easily, it turned out, as guards seemed to either be getting caught on each other as they attempted to investigate my last known position, or their suspicious-investigation-hunting-engaged loops just took one too many turns to really go full pelt and savagely pursue me once I'd been spotted. At other times, even if characters seemed to get caught in their sight cones while a guard was moving to their intended position, the guard didn't then interrupt their action to go and get me, as the only danger zone that seemed to matter was where the sight cone landed at the end of their movement action. I feel like I probably got away with more sloppy mistakes than I really should have in these moments, but hey, that's what early access is for, right?

Ultimately, these tiny cheeselets haven't been enough to stink up the rest of what's already a highly engaging and meaty tactics game. I can't say I'm really digging the excessively dry cyberpunk-ness of its script and character interactions (it's fine, we've been around this block so many times now I'm more or less immune to it), but cor, it sure has been a while since I've played a stealth game quite like this. If you have a hankering for a top-down Deus Ex, a more serious and cerebral Shadow Gambit, or even just a stealthier blend of XCOM and Phoenix Point, do give Cyber Knights a look. If the Trese Brothers can spend enough time with the early access ripper doc on this one, we might finally have a contender to Klei's Invisible, Inc. crown.

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