Ah Tower Defense…once a new genre, it has quickly escalated into an over-saturated category in the past couple years as it seems there’s no shortage of tower defense games to play regardless of where you look. Even just telling someone that a game is like a tower defense title they’ll most likely know what they are about. Kuno Interactive is trying to switch things up in an effort to breathe some new life into the vastly overdone genre. They tout Defense Technica as “the next evolution of hardcore tower defense strategy games”, and while they may have gotten hardcore (difficulty wise) right, I’m not so sure about “…the next evolution” of the genre though.
Defense Technica has a story, though it’s so cliché, and to be honest in a genre like tower defense you aren’t playing for the story. For those that do want to know though, it’s essentially about two separate alien factions that come to Earth in peace, but one day these aliens break the pact and force humanity to flee their home planet. Before each mission there is a tidbit of the storyline’s progression, but again, you won’t care because you’re playing a tower defense title. Aliens are still trying to kill you and you need to protect humanity from their attacks with your tower placement strategies; that’s about it.
Originally a mobile game, Defense Technica comes to the PC with some big changes and improvements. First off, the mobile game was appalling for being a ‘pay-to-win’ game, but luckily that whole aspect and design has been stripped away and you have a fully-fledged game with this updated release that boasts better graphics, an improved UI, more stages, and larger maps.
For those of you that aren’t tower defense veterans or know what that genre really entails, you essentially play out a scenario on a small map with an onslaught of enemies trying to get from one place to your “core” in an effort to destroy it. There are designated spots on the map that you are able to build towers of varying types that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. As you progress through the game and get to more difficult scenarios you are given choices of new towers, and even upgrades for each one. Building these towers takes resources and you’re always given just enough to pass the level without too much stress, so utilizing a strategy of tower types and placement becomes key, along with being able to change the enemies’ path to your “core”.
There are only a handful of towers to choose from. The first mission only gives you the option of two, but if you count all the upgrades and tower tree branching you technically have more than a few dozen. This is where some of Defense Technica’s problems start to show, as once you’ve earned enough medals to start unlocking new towers and upgrades you quickly learn that the balancing isn’t that balanced at all. The problem is that some towers are much easier to use and when upgraded they do a much better job than trying to vary your tower types; so just producing mass amounts of a certain type of tower or two generally yields better results than trying to use each type of tower for a broader strategy.
With such a deep upgrade tree for the towers it’s a bit of a shame that most won’t get used once you figure out what ones work best. Most upgrades simply up the damage or range on most towers, but others will actually completely change the functions/mechanics as well. You are able to reset your tower upgrades at any point between missions and try out new unlocks whenever you like. I think this area could have from a test mission or a demo of how they actually work instead of trial and error though.
As you play the various levels you are shown where your core is, where the enemies are going to be dropped off, and the path they will take to get to your core. In the later levels much of your strategy is simply going to be to try and get the enemy to take the longest path possible to get to your core so that you have more time to destroy them. This is called mazing, and having them run through a long gauntlet of towers is your primary goal. This becomes quite difficult even just a few missions in though, as enemies will spawn quickly and become tougher as they progress. Eventually you’ll have to face multiple drop points and even face air-only based enemies that ignore the standard pathways. Balancing where to place your different types of towers becomes quite challenging, and if you think you’ll simply drop your towers without giving much thought to it beforehand you’ll quickly be annihilated.
Defeated enemies drop resources that you can use to build with. The problem here is that you need to actually ‘mouse’ over these energon-like cubes to pick them up. In the early levels this isn’t a big deal, but halfway through the game you’ll be lucky if you can find the time to do so as you’ll be constantly scrolling over the map to each drop zone and pathway. This brings me to another big problem I had with Defense Technica; you can’t fully zoom out of the map to see a complete overview of everything happening, so having to constantly use your arrow or ‘wsad’ keys to navigate the map becomes a pain when you’re trying to multitask and remember to pick up the resources. Given that resources disappear after a short while, you can, and will, find times where you are constantly short of resources to build any new towers. Many times you’ll simply sit back and realize there’s really nothing you can do other than restart the mission over again. It becomes way too chaotic and make the game feel like it is simply trying to keep you busy rather than being engrossed into the gameplay and mechanics.
There are a few interesting ideas that Defense Technica tries, such as the dynamic weather effects that can drastically change gameplay, but this aspect doesn’t feel very fleshed out and more like a checkmark on the “cool new features” list. Weather can essentially make some of your towers almost useless, and since you won’t know when the change happens, you can’t really plan for it either and you end up restarting missions because the fog makes your tower army 30% less effective randomly. Also, if an enemy destroys one of your towers you also lose that tile and can’t rebuild on it. This becomes particularly problematic in the more challenging levels as you’re only allowed to build towers on predetermined spots, meaning every tower spot is extremely valuable.
Graphically, Defense Technica looks like a tower defense title and for me nothing stood out effects-wise. I did have a problem with the bland enemy design because your view is zoomed out fairly far and it’s actually quite difficult to see what type of enemy is incoming; this leads to a lack of information that you need when deciding what towers to place. Towers have specific strengths, but by simply looking at them you have no idea which one is which as they look very similar, and quite average as well. This is where learning by trial and error comes in, as you’re not given the information you need visually which makes the gameplay suffer. It doesn’t feel very rewarding when you have to restart a mission because you can’t tell if enemies are bio-based or robotic. The lack of a mini-map with radar blips or something similar is also frustrating as it means you’re constantly scrolling around the map and can’t really look at one area too long either to enjoy the level design.
It seems like it’s been fixed in a recent patch. When I originally started playing there was some odd wording (something along the lines of “Press the Start”) and the buttons that showed ‘press enter’ and ‘press escape’ would sometimes switch sides for some odd reason. It should be noted that there are some massive difficulty spikes, even very early on, and if I weren’t reviewing the game and needed to progress further I probably would have given up. The game doesn’t help you in any way to learn from your mistakes or help you to get better; it’s simply trial and error. Some missions will take you many restarts to find that perfect strategy, and that’s even if you are able to gather all the enemy dropped resources as well.
Defense Technica is a fully serviceable tower defense game, but I don’t buy the claim of being the ‘next evolution’ in the genre by any means. It is fun in short bursts, but unless you like a grueling difficulty, it’s a game that is tough to hold your interest for more than a short period once you hit that wall. To be quite honest, it’s a good game in its own rights, especially if you love the genre, but it’s also quite forgettable and will blend in with the rest of the genre as time passes by.