We have a gaming room here at The Escapist offices, but given that our space is a wee bit limited, it also doubles as our conference room. I’d spent an hour trying to get through a particular level of Savage Moon, a new tower defense game available on PlayStation Network, when I noticed that it was almost time for the company’s weekly management meeting. I was torn. Clearly, I should vacate the room so that the higher-ups could have their meeting, but just as clearly…well, I couldn’t just stop mid-level, now could I? I mean, there were only a few more waves to go, and I was doing so well and I’d already tried this level five times but that last stupid superbug kept sneaking past my defenses at the last minute but this time I knew my strategy was perfect so maybe if I kept the sound turned down they wouldn’t even notice I was there…
I’d probably still be in there if they hadn’t thrown me out. And I don’t even like tower defense games.
Savage Moon is what you would get if you slapped a tower defense game in the middle of Starship Troopers (the movie, not the book). You are charged with defending a number of mining posts from wave after wave of progressively nastier and more powerful Insecticytes. You have a wide array of offensive and defensive towers at your disposal, such as machine guns, lasers, blocking units, mortars, and anti-air guns; you can also research more advanced tech to help you wage your automated war on the insect kind. Naturally, you have to pay for whatever security measures you choose to take, and though you’d think the mining corporation would throw the coffers wide open in an attempt to save their skins, they’re unwilling to front you that much cash. If you want more money, you’re going to have to kill some bugs.
Fans of the tower defense genre will be able to jump right into the fray, but don’t worry if you’ve never tried a game like this before – the first few levels guide you through the mechanics of gun placement, researching new tech, blocking off paths to create choke points, and other basic strategy. Once you understand what does what and feel comfortable with the controls, you’ll know just enough to really freak out the first time one of the flying wasps does a number on your base and blows you all to hell. Seriously, neglect air cover at your peril.
At any point during combat, you can issue commands that will change battlefield conditions so that your guns do more damage, are better armored, or earn you more money for each kill. Changing one stat impacts the others – up your towers’ effectiveness and you’ll make less money, for example – so you’ll have to decide when and if it’s most beneficial for you to monkey around with the balance. The same is true for advancing the next wave of insecticytes; they’re gracious enough to pause between waves to give you time to buffer your defenses, but you can choose to call the wave early in exchange for a cash bonus. It’s can be a risky move, but given that you can’t upgrade or install new towers without enough spending money, sometimes it’s a necessity of battle.
Savage Moon isn’t exactly going to blow you away with its environments or visuals – one desolate moon looks rather a lot like the next – and even the bugs are generally just bigger and nastier versions of each other. (Of course, if you’re playing a tower defense game for the mind-blowing graphics, you may need to rethink your gaming expectations.) It does offer one particularly fun visual gimmick, though – the ability to view the battlefield from the view point of one of your tower’s on-board cameras. You can’t actually control the camera, so you’re stuck putting up with its whims (“The bugs are over there, why won’t you look over there?”) but watching lasers burn through spiders and mortars blow scorpions to pieces is sickly entertaining.
I’m not going to lie: I really suck at tower defense games. I make my defenses overly complex and usually wind up getting my ass handed to me by some low-level enemy that got through the front line by slithering through a gap I completely neglected to defend. I failed at Savage Moon far more than I succeeded, but I had an absolute blast playing it. Its particular form of punishment is bizarrely addicting, and victory over the bugs is extremely satisfying. Experienced players (or ones who simply don’t suck as much as I do) won’t be quite as challenged by the earlier moons as I was, but will still find much to like about the game.
Bottom Line: Savage Moon doesn’t do much to reinvent the tower defense genre, but so what? You get to blow bugs to smithereens. Sometimes, that’s all you really need.
Recommendation: Tower defense junkies may feel like they’ve seen all of this before, and if you’ve tried the genre and found it not to your liking, this isn’t going to win you over. But what Savage Moon does, it does very well.