Tactical combat of UFO:Afterlight is used to defend and expand territories, making sure that strategic objectives can be meet.
The terrain of operation area is determined by nature of mission and type of territory. For example a defend mission in a hilly territory may result in a mining station built on a slope.
Up to 7 soldiers can be sent into tactical missions, except for capture mission you need to leave a space for the captive. Some mission will need multiclass soldiers to attend, for example technicians to repair disrupted stations or scientists to identify artifects.
Originally, only human soldiers are available. When the game progress, it is possible to acquire Reticulan and Martian soldiers and to produce battle robots. Each races has different strengths and weaknesses.
Simultaneous Action System
SAS, or Simultaneous Action System, is used in the tactical game.
Every action in the game takes time to complete. And your action happens at the same time with the enemy. Specifically, it will take time for soldiers to switch between states, such as deploying weapon (holding up weapon) before fire, or picking up objects.
The game can be paused at any time, and the speed can be controlled, for example fast time to skip boring time, and slow time to micro control the soldiers. You have direct control of the soldiers; they only obey your commands, and for example will not automatically attack enemies.
When the game just begins, there are only weapons and suits. Weapons is required to attack enemy; bare fist is not accepted. All soldiers must be equipped with a weapon for a team to be ready for mission.
Suits is required to protect soldiers from enemies, and to protect human soldiers from the Mars's environment. Non-human soldiers can survive on Mars without suits, but without armor they are vulnerable to enemy fire.
Immediately after game start, it will be possible to research and then produce new devices such as mines, medkits, or detection devices. These devices are quite useful, and should not be underestimated.
A bit later in game it will also be possible to research and produce addons, that can further enhance equipments and robots.
Scouting means "discovering enemies", and is important because your soldiers cannot target what they cannot see. In the worse case, they will be attacked but do not know where the attacks come from.
It pays to train up at least one specialist human scout, and research detection devices such as goggles. Some sensory, such as hearing, can pass walls, but normally cannot be used for targeted attack.
The enemy also need to scout your soldiers. They can remain stealthy by keeping a low profile and stationary, and later in game it is possible to research devices to help.
With suitable research and training, the soldiers can acquire different movement modes and poses.
Movement modes affect how fast and how many places the soldiers can reach. Poses affect accuracy. Both affect scouting, stealth, and dodge rate.
Since the game is real 3D, poses and movement modes also directly affect line of fire, both dealing and receiving.
Most actions can only be done when stationary, it is impossible to shoot on the move.
The varied enemies and battlefields make sure that you will need to use different tactics to keep winning.
Sometimes it is OK to form a firing line and wait for the enemy. That suits best for melee targets like spider or martians armed with knives/swords. A tight line between two walls or rock to prevent the fast moving melee targets slip through your formation and make your firing lane blocked. Also a good spot to ambush, like forming a line overlooking the top of a slope and shooting any popping up target. or if you set up a minefield waiting for Matriarch, you form a firing lane and wait for it moving through that.
Sometimes it's necessary to move into their formation and attack. That is generally for dealing with targets move in platoon strength like reticulans, with mind controllers. By moving into their formation, any rocket shot at our own will affect theirs as well, and ruin the concentration of mind controllers. Due to their lesser HP amount, they are more easily affected by collateral damages. This wont work with tough target like Beastmen or spider/mech bots.
Sometimes it's neccessary to shoot and move, like when dealing with Beastmen squads. Their HP is high so they can stand and trade hits, but they can also throw grenades, shoot with different ammo. So we need to hit hard and fast to accomplish an objective (like killing their Shamans) before running away to shoot another day.
Extreme tactics consist of standing on one side of the hill's crest an throw grenades over the top at the targets on other side. This happen when reticulans are massed at great number with rocket launchers and mind controllers and we dare not go straight at them. In this particular case we rely on large empty plain to realize targets, and use the hill slope to defend. This also consume grenades greatly, which is a way to use the plentiful Beastmen grenades.
Another extreme tactic consist of fast runner setting dynamites/mines and lure targets into their killing radius. Other than the timers, contact fuses, we can use grenades to trigger them ahead of the time. Very useful since dynamites are the cheapest explosive with highest explosion damage. Also a good way to form defensive line against matriarchs: even if they are fast enough to outrun the damage they probabbly still can be wounded somewhat and run straight into our ambush lines.
Each weapon also has their strengths and weakness, including melee and pistols. It is well know that dual pistol specialist can shot almost as fast as a Gatling gun, except with higher flexibility. And dual knives, while low damage and affect greatly by TARGET's dodge stat, still can stagger it harder than bullets. Plus, they are stealthy (only emit sounds weaker than gun's noise) so most suitable for stealth scouts. Beastmen guns have different types of ammo and very effective, so if you concentrate on using them, the production's pressure is lightened greatly.