Capes Review

New Age Heroes

Many of us loved superheroes and always wanted to be one as a kid. However, real-life cases of obtaining powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider are rare to say the least, so we’ve had to settle upon other ways to live the dream, like playing videogames. Videogames such as Spitfire Interactive’s Capes, which brings a tactical slant to the superhero proceedings.

Set in King City, Capes takes place twenty years after an event known as the Showdown. Most heroes died or went missing that day, leaving the city in the hands of the Company. Having set themselves as the rulers of the city, the Company has outlawed all superheroes. They catch, cage, and experiment on any and all super-powered beings. The only ones who can stop them are a team of younger heroes led by their mentor Doctrine, one of the few survivors of the Showdown. This team takes on several of Doctrine’s old foes as they attempt to take back King City.

Capes’ narrative is reminiscent of comics such as Teen Titans or Outsiders. Like them, this rag-tag group of young heroes is attempting to save the city, with little training. The story starts off with a superhero chased down by a villain, showing the dystopic world these characters are in, and giving players impetus to want to see them win. It’s all a great set-up, including Doctrine having some secretive elements to his past and questions about what his role in the story will end up being. But after the first few hours, the game’s story starts to slow down, with a very padded middle section, before it rushes to an unearned melancholic ending. The storytelling isn’t helped by the flat character arcs the main cast have. While this isn’t necessarily an issue by itself, when the main narrative is also a basic superhero vs. supervillain plot, it becomes boring. Capes attempts to give some nuance with things such as the utility of good vs. evil, collateral damage, and the affects of super heroics on family, but it fails to stick the landing on many of these in the thirty-plus-hour journey.

Outside of in-game cutscenes, the game uses these still images

Capes is a tactics game with the aesthetics of XCOM. While characters move on a grid based system, the game has a limited cast of characters and missions. The game uses an alternating turn order, with each round being finished when all characters complete their turn in the queue to the right of the screen. Every character can move and commit to two actions per-turn and, after meeting certain requirements, characters are also given an ultimate ability. This allows them to either do more damage, hold multiple enemies in place, or take extra turns in the queue. These ultimates are free actions but can only activated once per turn.

Missions start with every character placed into the turn order at the game’s choosing, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to affect or move where the cast starts. This means that players may have characters going much later or earlier than others. This strikes at odds with the game’s team-up system, where many characters can do combo attacks together. These combo attacks can add extra effects to their damaging moves or increases their disarm ability. However, the team-up system struggles to function due to the range that characters must be to do these actions. The ranges are small, which can lead to the player need to rely on turtling tactics to keep every character close by for a team-up move. It’s much easier for players to wait for the enemy to come to them. These enemies are human, and as such use guns, melee weapons, and shields to boost their damage. The melee weapons can be particularly devastating, pushing back the heroes’ turn order by delaying them, potentially ruining combos and  doing increased damage compared to fists. Guns are even more dangerous, being able to take out most of a character’s health bar in one burst.

To counter this, every character is able to disarm their enemies, though that has its own tactical struggles. Later in the game, there are enemies with special abilities that will, depending on difficulty, one-shot certain members of of the team. As such, the only way to stop the move/ability/weapon is to disarm that enemy. For some enemies a temporary disarm bar will appear below their health bar. This bar can have several levels, forcing the player to use multiple characters to disarm one ability. Later in the game there will be up to ten different enemies that need to be disarmed, but since the team is only four characters, it can become overwhelming and unfair to the player.

The turn order to the right sometimes places characters together. Sometimes it doesn’t.

There is an experience-based level-up system, with only the active party members taken on missions gaining experience. However, to get new abilities, players will need to complete optional challenges during missions. These can be tasks like killing ten enemies with fall damage or disarming five enemies before they use an ability. Completing objectives give the team the skill points used for ability development. On a mission’s first playthrough, players will often struggle to complete these objectives and have to forgo the bonus skill points, much to their detriment. Since missions become harder as the game goes, and skill points can be rare, it encourages replaying old missions. This can be a tedious mechanic, as the player tries to find the right combination of abilities to achieve the perfect score.

There are side missions referred to as patrols. These usually attempt to give some characterization to the crew or show us small other parts of the world. The game presents the patrols as needed side missions between main missions, and many patrols are actually main quests in disguise. Meaning, that they are required to be completed before the main story can be continued. The game does not alert the player as to which side mission is required and when, however, so it is a guessing game of which to do and how to complete them. By the end it becomes obvious that certain side missions are required regardless of their supposed “side mission” label.

The heroes at the player’s command play somewhat differently depending on their roles. The diamond-laden Facet is a tanky character, able to taunt multiple enemies to help the team avoid damage. The speedy Mercurial is able to disarm enemies and shove them around, moving through the battlefield not taking hits. Kinetic boosts ally abilities and can take down most enemies with a single punch. Each character plays slightly differently. During missions they can perform team up abilities to boost the damage, disarm, or AOE of one of their base abilities, depending on the team member being in range of the one performing the action. The team up attacks are the most fun aspect of the tactical combat taking advantage of different team combinations to complete missions. Even if some heroes are better than others.

Side conversations can be unlocked by completing certain character combat milestones. For example, using Rebound and Facet’s team up attack ten times will unlock a short extra conversation involving the two. These conversations reveal little about the characters and, due to their optional nature, they don t have any baring on the plot either, making them pointless to focus on in the end. Quite disappointing, as these are the few extra chances to get any sort of deeper understanding of the cast, and it feels wasted.

Upgrading and power progression is linear. Characters only get better at what they are good at, but nothing else.

The graphics are passable at best and wooden more often. The game uses in-game models for cutscenes, which are usually when the visuals are at their worst. The models have very little personality, with wooden movements and stiff animations. The other type of cutscenes are are short animations of the characters. These are slightly better but don’t have any form of movement or dynamic action, usually being long conversations. The game plays perfectly well on Steam Deck and is fully verified, with no graphical hiccups or controller issues. The only issue is a small bit of lag with some of the button presses.

On the audio side, the voice acting is great, adding depth to many of the characters as nobody turns in a stilted performance. Music is alright on first listen, but with only a few each of; battle, base hub, and cutscene tracks. This makes the tracks serviceable but blend into the background as Capes progresses.

Capes starts off with an interesting superhero premise of a dystopian city that is controlled by the villains. At the start, the gameplay can be rewarding and engaging, while the characters are well voice-acted, and the game has some nice tactical gameplay until the mid-game. However, things don’t manage to carry through and the latter parts of the game leave much to be desired. Those looking for a new superhero strategy game will get some enjoyment out of Capes, but could easily find themselves hoping there was more to it.


Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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'Above Average' -- 2.5/5
20-40 HOURS

Great voice acting

Interesting world set up

Bargain XCOM, but with superheroes

Disarm system makes combat a bore

Later game becomes more of a puzzle than tactics

Story rushes to an unsatisfying conclusion

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