Originally releasing on iOS and Android earlier this year, Defense Technica hailed itself as the next evolution in hardcore tower defence strategy games. Its remit was simple: to provide a fresh take on the heavily subscribed RTS sub-genre and offer new challenges to players underwhelmed by the glut of poorly made clones currently clogging the marketplace. In many respects it succeeded.
Featuring dynamic battlefields, with terrain that changes over time and inclement weather systems, players are required to make split second decisions to maintain control and protect their base, or ‘core’ as it’s referred to here. Variable enemy pathfinding is influenced through clever placement of barricades and towers to keep the bad guys on the move and in range of your defences. It’s perhaps not as revolutionary as the developers would like us to believe, but it does bring some new ideas to the table.
Although tower defence games seem to have found their spiritual home on mobile devices of late, they’ve always been a mainstay of most PC libraries. So it came as no surprise when Devolver Digital announced their partnership with Kuno Interactive to bring Defense Technica to Steam. Porting a touch based RTS – which features in-app purchases - to a full desktop experience has not been without its problems. Certain gameplay elements appear to have been lost in translation.
For starters, there is no real story to speak of. All we know is that an alien race is waging a war against mankind a thousand years in the future. Each of the 22 levels are précised with the briefest of narratives, but that can be forgiven. After all, RTS fans usually only play tower defence games to scratch their tactical itch, and in that regard Defense Technica performs admirably.
Another potential stumbling block that becomes evident quite quickly is the game’s tendency to ramp up the difficulty during certain missions. You sail through the first few levels in quick succession, constructing towers of varying abilities and mowing down the waves of enemies heading for your core. Most players will ace the first few missions in one sitting. It’s all very satisfying until you hit one of these difficulty spikes every three or four levels and the game suddenly feels unplayable. It’s disconcerting when your core is destroyed by a final wave of enemy units after a 20 minute battle, especially considering there are no checkpoints.
I suspect this may be a hangover from the mobile version, which offers players the opportunity to purchase tower upgrades via micro transactions - after failing a level four or five times it becomes very tempting to drop some cash to aid your progression. But as this feature is not available on PC and the game doesn’t appear to have been rebalanced, it’s left to players to rinse and repeat by trying different tactics and earning upgrades through hard graft. This can quickly become a grind in later levels, although when you do finally succeed, the sense of satisfaction you feel is worth the price of admission.
Another in game mechanic that works well in the mobile version is the requirement to manually collect resources from fallen enemy units. Tapping on small energy cubes that appear when a unit is destroyed boosts the currency available to spend on more towers and upgrades. In contrast, the need to mouse over those same cubes has not landed well with PC gamers already fighting an uphill struggle.
When you have four waves of enemies spawning simultaneously all over the map, many times your focus will be on different areas of the battlefield and those cubes despawn after 30 seconds, meaning you miss vital resources and can’t construct more towers. In response to feedback on the Steam forums, Kuno Interactive has since removed this feature from the current build. Resource collection is now automated and the game definitely feels more balanced without it.
Above niggles aside, there is no doubt Defense Technica is a solid effort and a recommended purchase for any RTS fan. Whilst the story is contrived and largely forgettable, the level design is clever and the environments are varied. You will be forced to make split second decisions in the heat of battle. Choose wisely, and you will be rewarded with the ability to unlock tower enhancements through a deep upgrade tree in the start menu. These upgrades can be quickly reset in between levels, allowing you to switch tactics every time you begin a new map. Some upgrades completely change the abilities of the towers and keep things interesting as you progress through the game.
Defence Technica in its current state is by no means perfect, so it’s very encouraging to see the developers actively listening to feedback from their audience. Working with players has enabled them to patch the game on the fly, rebalancing to make it more appealing to a casual audience, but also ensuring hardcore fans are still tested.
I’m holding out a lot of hope for this game to continue to improve incrementally over the coming weeks and months. There are better tower defence games out there, but if you’ve already played them and have a thirst for a genuine challenge, you can do a lot worse than Defense Technica.