Gratuitous Tank Battles is a unique take on tower-strategy mechanics, created by a man who clearly has a strong attention to detail. This article will be covering both the base game, released this past May, and its expansion The Western Front, which is being released this today on Steam. Both are developed by Positech Games, which is more or less known as Cliff "cliffski" Harris. At first glance, GTB appears to be a standard tower defense game covered in a fine finish, but things quickly become more complicated. For a bit of background reading, we do also have a preview of the game which goes over the basics from a different point of view.
The tower defense genre feels older than it is, with basically only five years under its belt since Desktop Tower Defense and its kin. But its games have seen so many variations to the model and appeared on so many platforms, that it feels very mature in its parameters of game design and implementation. And this is from a genre that has essentially never received a “triple-A” release and most sales come from direct downloads, not on discs or cartridges.
Solo indie developer Cliff Harris of Positech Games is now officially tackling the genre with Gratuitous Tank Battles, a sort of sequel to his popular Gratuitous Space Battles game from 2009. I had a great time playing that game, but didn’t realize at the time that Space Battles, boiled down, really is a tower defense game too. An excellent example on how varied the genre is, even if you don’t realize it.
But Tank Battles is a proper tower defense game with the familiar onslaught of units marching across the screen and grid-based gameplay that veterans of the genre will instantly recognize. It also features an attack mode for most missions letting you experience the other side of combat, and it wouldn’t be a Gratuitous game without an insane amount of unit creation and modification at your fingertips.
If someone tells you they're going to do a "reverse" something, odds are the result will be terrible. The concept sounds similarly cheesy for games, evoking memories of bad minigames and multiplayer modes. However, for some genres it actually could be a fresh take on the concept, and 11-Bit Studios tries to prove this with their "reverse tower defense" game, Anomaly: Warzone Earth. 11-Bit is a brand new developer out of Poland, powered by a small team of industry veterans. It appears that they've taken an independent mindset towards publishing and distributing, releasing Anomaly directly to Steam and the Mac Store. Thus far, they seem to be having a good deal of success and are proving capable in quickly porting their game to new platforms, including iOS, Kindle Fire (!) and an upcoming XBLA release.
Plants vs. Zombies is a game I've been eyeing for a while. It regularly tempted me at $10 Steam with even cheaper sale prices. This summer's sale finally put me over the edge. Every so often you need some good tower defense action, and PvZ seemed like a unique yet highly praised take on the genre. Its cartoonish, Popcap/flash feel and simple five-lane setup makes things perfect for beginners. And it has enjoyed massive success over a huge variety of platforms. Originating on PC, PvZ has since expanded to every modern platform imaginable, both traditional and mobile. Popcap is undeniably a casual gaming powerhouse. The Bejeweled and Feeding Frenzy creators certainly know how to make products and pricing that clicks with the average consumer. They've been so successful that EA recently purchased the company for ~$750 million.
For the most part, PvZ exemplifies this success. It creates a casual-friendly atmosphere with calculated progressive learning combined with enough longevity and a tad of optional difficulty to round out the complete package. The game starts slowly, at first holding your hand with only a couple plant options (towers) available to defend your house from a weak zombie horde on a completely barren level. With only five lanes to defend, beginners will learn quickly what it takes to operate. In case they make mistakes, the game includes a get-out-of-jail-free card, in the form of zombie-clearing machines that activate and clear the lane should a zombie make it past the plants. For a while, the game introduces a new plant on almost every level, encouraging the player to try them out and discover what they're worth. Soon enough, juggling several plant types on more obnoxious levels will be a requirement.
I’m pretty new to the tower defense genre, I missed out on the first few waves of games including the massively popular Desktop Tower Defense, and first experienced it with Plants vs. Zombies, which is probably a sub-genre of its own. But since buying my Android phone, I’ve been exposed to a lot of games I couldn’t imagine myself playing even a few months ago. Two of those are tower defense games.
Fieldrunners HD and GRave Defense HD are great examples of two distinct approaches at the tower defense genre. Both are easy to pick up and play for 10 minutes, but are amazingly effective at grabbing you in for over an hour. However, that is where the similarities end, and it is their differences that really define them.
Both titles are available right now for under $3 on the Android Market, and Fieldrunners is also available on a wide variety of devices including iOS and the Nintendo DS. Here’s my short reviews of Fieldrunners HD and GRave Defense HD.
Few games on the iOS platform get me excited. There's just such a surplus of bad that even when you hear about Super Popular Game X, you wonder if the masses are just falling for more of the same. When Plants vs. Zombies was announced early this year as a port of the PC/Mac release, I didn't think twice about picking it up. The $3 price tag didn't even make me think twice.
I had watched my brother in law play the full version on his Mac last year, and was intrigued by its porch defense gameplay. I had never even played a tower defense game before Plants vs. Zombies. A genre virgin so to speak. It was easy to see without even playing it why the game was so popular. The zombies would walk slowly from right to left and it's your job to fend them off with some bizarre garden variety plants.
This review will just be on the iOS version (played on a second generation iPod Touch). I have no experience with any other version (though I'm secretly planning to replay it on the Nintendo DS).
Our second entry in this indie game month is a tower defense game by Studio Eres entitled Immortal Defense. I use the phrase "tower defense" lightly here, as while marketed as such, (Immortal Defense – a Tower Defense game), the creators only borrowed the genre basics and strived for much more than tower defense game #481.
In case you aren't familiar with tower defense, it is a strategy gametype where the player is thrown into a fairly large, relatively open area with start and end points. As a level begins, waves of mindless enemies trickle from the start point and make their way to the exit. It is your job to place towers in strategic locations to hold off this onslaught. Resources and available towers are limited at the start, but increase as you kill enemies and as time progresses. Tower types are somewhat varied but usually have characteristics such as single shot vs multishot vs cone vs aoe, perhaps the ability to slow/freeze, and varying ranges from poking distance to full screen. The roots behind the genre have been around for a while but seems to have really taken off over the lifespan of Warcraft III. The mod creation tool led itself perfectly to creating tower defense games and many people were soon spending hours blowing up hordes of mindless drones. Following the huge success of these games, tower defense soon spread beyond mods to more easily accessible flash games and even standalones such as Defense Grid (on XBLA/Steam), and that's where we are now.