A band of foes emerges from the shadows. Taking stock of the situation, you realize you'd quickly be overpowered in a head-on clash. So you freeze the action, giving yourself a moment to think. You order Darius to charge an enemy, catching him unawares and drawing his attention, while Fera goes stealth and sneaks in for a devastating attack her target never sees coming. With Zelia using her spells to immobilize enemies and Lanwys healing the party, you gain the upper hand and thwart your opponents, for now.
There are moments of excitement in Confrontation. But they're the exception to the rule, as you lead a ragtag band of heroes along narrow desert pathways, down confined laboratory hallways, and through other restrictive environments, on quests so dryly explained that it's hard to muster up the energy to care about who these people are and what they're fighting for. As its title suggests, it's the conflicts that matter in this game. But although these battles offer moments of strategic satisfaction, tedious pacing, poor pathfinding, and dull exploration sap the adventurous spirit from your journey.
After a brief tutorial, you're placed in control of a party of four companions. There's Darius, the resilient warrior; Zelia, the magic user whose spells can stun and control enemies; and Lanwys and Lothaire, whose skills can heal, empower, and otherwise support the team. Though your early encounters tend to be quite easy, you soon need to make smart use of each character's techniques if you hope to survive. As you advance, your group grows in number, and you can choose which four characters to take with you into battle. This is a strategic decision in itself. For instance, you might opt to take Fera, the stealthy swordswoman whose abilities can do tremendous damage. But her health is limited, so you want to make sure she's accompanied by someone who can provoke enemies and absorb their assaults.
Groups of enemies are typically more than capable of wiping out your party, and only by prioritizing the most dangerous foes and using buffs, crowd control abilities, and other techniques, can you emerge from these battles victorious. You can pause the action at any time during each encounter to size up the situation and issue orders to your party, so although the action proceeds in real time, battles still typically have a thoughtful, deliberate pace. Making smart use of tactics and abilities to overcome the odds is satisfying, for a while.
Alas, though this foundation of strategic combat is solid, the game it supports is riddled with problems. In the midst of battle, you're often told that characters can't reach their targets even when pathways are available, forcing you to micromanage their movements. The goofy sight of characters running up against walls or other characters quickly becomes exasperating, and makes it hard to take these brutal battles seriously.
The voice acting contributes to a sense of silliness; the cast members try so hard to sound gruff or arch or sly as they respond to your commands that you can practically hear them straining their acting muscles. And sometimes, while you're fighting with one group of enemies, another group you had no way of knowing was there emerges from the fog of war, turning a fight in which you might be able to scrape by into a truly hopeless struggle. Being forced to scrap the last few minutes of play and try a different approach not because of tactical errors but because of unpleasant surprises the game had in store for you is frustrating, and it happens on multiple occasions.
Even more detrimental to this adventure is the plodding pacing. Individual levels can stretch on for well over 90 minutes, and eventually, encountering the same types of enemies in the same environment over and over again gets tiresome. Your characters level up as you earn experience, gaining new abilities and improving existing ones, but these rewards aren't significant enough to offset the tedium. Narrow pathways limit any sense of exploration, and the things you do find off the beaten path are never terribly exciting.
Rather than containing valuable treasure, chests typically hold bandages your party members can use to heal each other in combat. You might also find glyphs and points you can use to improve your existing weapons and armor, but there's no loot, no exotic new weapons or other surprising treasures to find, and there's no thrill in finding the same sorts of mundane items repeatedly throughout your quest. The rote lever-pulling that passes for puzzles in these environments only makes your adventure feel even more ordinary.
And then there's the story. Confrontation's world of Aarklash isn't your typical fantasy setting. This is a world in which adventurers wield swords and rifles, in which creatures with genetic mutations and technological appendages burst out of laboratory pods to attack. It's an intriguing world, and there's a rich lore to Aarklash, which you can read about by paging through the game's codex, but it's never brought to life.
You never see your characters having meaningful interactions or get a chance to develop a sense of who they are. Instead, Confrontation's entire tale is recited by a narrator. With a frustratingly halting cadence, he tells you of important events, sometimes prattling on for a few minutes as he informs you of important discoveries your party has made or the actions of your enemies. It's lifeless storytelling that does nothing to make you feel invested in the characters or world of Confrontation.
The visuals don't make Aarklash much more alluring. The juxtaposition of candlelit dungeons and crude machinery is initially appealing, but the same simple visual elements are repeated ad nauseam. Meanwhile, the character models of your party members aren't affected by lights and shadows, and as a result, they don't believably inhabit these environments.
There's a shallow multiplayer mode in which you and an opponent pick squads of four units and fight to the death; the online lobby is usually a ghost town, so unless you have friends who are playing the game, you won't have many opportunities for competitive play, which is just as well. The tactical combat at the heart of Confrontation has potential. But the game squanders that potential, forcing you to spend too much time micromanaging your characters' movements, maintaining no sense of excitement, and giving you no reason to care about its world.