Checking out trailers or screenies for Fights in Tight Spaces (or Fights in Tights, as we’ve come to call it), you’d be forgiven for seeing it as a composite of different games. There’s SUPERHOT of course, not only in the way it looks – like a fight in an Ikea catalogue – but in the way it slows down frantic combat to a step-by-step. There’s John Wick too, and more specifically John Wick Hex. Hex searched for a way to make the incredibly fluid brawling of John Wick work in a turn-based tactical game. Fights in Tight Spaces has similar aims.
The tiny turn-based arenas remind a lot of simpler tactical games, like Into the Breach and Advance Wars. You also spend a lot of time drawing on an expanding deck of cards in Fights in Tight Spaces, choosing a ‘class’ of deck, adding to it with reward cards, and upgrading individual moves. It’s the classic deck-building formula perfected in Slay the Spire, and latterly seen in Nowhere Prophet, Monster Train and more. It also shares the rogue-ish template of these games, as the aim is to get further than before, rather than necessarily beating the game.
That’s a disparate bunch of games to reference. We’ve namechecked a first-person shooter, turn-based strategy games and deck-building card games, all in a couple of paragraphs. It makes you wonder whether Fights in Tight Spaces can pull them all together to make something that’s actually a working, functioning game, let alone find an identity of its own.
Having put some time into Fights in Tight Spaces (it’s emerged on Game Preview, initially exclusively on Xbox, and optimised for Series X|S with Smart Delivery), we can start forming some initial answers to those questions. The real verdict will come in future months, when Fights in Tight Spaces is unleashed onto the Xbox Store proper, but – for now – we can safely say that there is a slick, more-ish strategy game here, and it has an identity that’s very much its own. As the terrible cliche goes, Fights in Tight Spaces is much more than the sum of its parts.
You play as Agent 11, a no-faced recruit of Section Eleven (the fascination with the number eleven isn’t quite explained – yet). You are given missions to complete, which mostly involve getting dropped into the middle of a bright white room, never larger than the size of the screen, with a few enemies dropped in for good measure too. But rather than get all Streets of Rage and start mashing buttons, up pops a hand of cards, and these unassuming things will get you caving heads. These cards initially come in three forms: movement cards, attacks and block/counters.
Movement cards tend to serve a dual purpose. Most commonly, you’ll need to get close to an opponent to attack them, and these cards are the sole means of doing it. They’ll skip you one or two squares closer, positioning you well for an attack. They’re superb for getting out of a tight situation, too: Fights in Tight Spaces has a habit of bullying you into a corner, cutting off most of your escape routes. But with a Slip or similar maneuver, you can move to the other side of the enemy, turning those tables.
Attack cards are the most initially complicated, and getting people to understand them is one of the biggest obstacles that Fights in Tight Spaces will have to overcome in Game Preview. They are undeniably where the joy is at, though. Like other cards, attacks have an action cost (you will only be able to spend four action points per turn), but they can also require the spending of combo points, which build up by performing consecutive attacks. Once triggered, attack cards can do an absolute arsenal of different things. Some, like Push, will do minuscule damage but knock back opponents, giving you breathing room but also the chance to knock enemies into fatal traps, like you’ve become Gerard Butler in 300. Others are situational, like a Wall Kick, which can only be performed at the fringes of the arena, while more still will stun, deal incredible damage, manage crowds or change your starting position. There are 150 cards, and Attacks form a huge proportion of them. They also result in a fluid animation on Agent 11, making you feel like you’re somehow both Batman and 007.
Blocks and counters are more fun than they sound, and latter decks (you unlock different base decks as you progress) are built around them. Rather than dodge or go on an offence-first policy, you can soak up damage and hit enemies on the counter. Build up blocking points and then queue up several counters if you want, making your opponents’ turn devastating. If you are cornered, it’s common that a counter deck will thrive and start the next turn with virtually no enemies on the board.
Each battle plays out in turns, with you having a go before your opponent, much as you’d expect from a tactical strategy game. The cards refresh, and enemies often turn up in waves (a handy ‘X’ identifies their entry point, so you can wait for them, or rudely deny them entry for a turn by standing on it). Kill all the enemies and the battle’s complete; do it fast enough, or meet other objectives, and you can net additional money for the purchasing of better cards.
The mission structure plays out near-identically to Slay the Spire. In-between battles, you are zoomed out and looking at the path ahead of you. Do you go to the restroom, or do you go to the lunch hall? Do you take the path that has an infirmary, letting you refill your persistent health stat, or do you take the one that has an ‘event’, which might lead to a random happening that upgrades your cards or better? Hit a confrontation and you zoom into another battle. All the way through, you are buying new cards, winning them and upgrading them. Your deck improves, and strategies begin to develop. You move from mission to mission, and at some point the wheels will come off: you’ll lose all of your health, and you will return to the start. Happily, Fights in Tight Spaces rewards you with progress, unlocking new decks to attempt your next run with, putting you in the perfect position for improvement.
It’s in the smaller touches that Fights in Tight Spaces may have its greatest success. At the end of each battle, you have the opportunity to watch your choices play out in real-time, without the stop-start turns getting in the way. It does a better job than John Wick Hex in making your actions seem fluid, and we had good fun watching these pocket movies. The enemies in Fights in Tight Spaces are also a hugely varied bunch. We hardly went a battle without seeing a new unit wandering into the fray, including SWAT team members, ninjas and bearded guys who just love to swing a leg and take out anyone – you or enemies – that happen to be in the arc. While it’s not entirely believable, Fights in Tight Spaces positively adores friendly fire, and your opponents will happily shoot, kick and flamethrower each other. Which is amazing, obviously.
There are niggles that Game Preview may well iron out. Fights in Tight Spaces is a complicated game to understand and then master, with an exceptionally high skill ceiling, simply because you are in control of so much. You are handling your deck construction, movement, offence and defence, as well as secondary objectives and the arrival of enemies. It’s a cognitive load to take on board, and it will be interesting to see if a community develops off the back of its time in Game Preview. It’s also relatively slow in comparison to Slay the Spire and Monster Train in particular, so replaying and getting back to your previous ‘personal best’ takes a significant amount of time. It will be interesting to see if Ground Shatter and Mode 7 look into this as the game develops.
But, for now, Fights in Tight Spaces is absolutely a game that we encourage you to grapple with. It’s got plenty to offer fans of both turn-based strategy games and deck-builders, wrestling them so closely together that they’ve become a single fighter. We will be watching it with interest, and you can be sure that a review will arrive once it swaggers onto the Xbox Store.
Fights in Tight Spaces is out now as a Game Preview title at £16.74. It has been optimised for Xbox Series X|S and has Smart Delivery. You’ll also find the game on Steam in Early Access. Its full release date is yet to be confirmed.
Thank you as always to Mode 7 and Ground Shatter Games for giving us access to the Xbox Game Preview of Fights in Tight Spaces.