I don’t play tower defense games. They’re beneath me. They’re for people who want to turtle in an RTS, but they don’t want to actually play an RTS. They don’t even want an AI. At least MOBA players, who want to play an RTS without actually playing an RTS, are going up against other players. Tower defense players just want to shoot stuff that runs at them to get shot.
So I don’t play tower defense games. But when I do, they have to get four things right. Alien Shooter TD gets those four things right, plus a fifth thing. So if I played tower defense games, I would play Alien Shooter TD.
So for the sake of argument, let’s say that I do play tower defense games.
The four things I need in a tower defense game are pacing, interactivity, flexibility, and progression. Pacing above all else. It can’t take forever to play and I have to be able to speed it up. It’s a tower defense game, for Pete’s sake; it only deserves so much time. These are comfort food games and, really, my involvement is minor. Once my towers are set up, I’m mostly done. So matches have to be relatively short and fast forwardable, especially if I might fail and have to start over. Most tower defense games get this right, because they know they’re for people who don’t have the attention span to play an actual RTS. Alien Shooter TD has the obligatory fast forward button and brief rounds. You unlock open-ended survival maps if you want to dig in for an extended grind. I don’t think I’ve lasted more than five minutes on any of them, which is fine because my reaction afterwards was “I held out for almost five minutes and that’s all I get for it?”. Back to the short mission maps.
Interactivity is the toughest prerequisite for a tower defense game. My main job is to build a tower. Then it does its thing. It doesn’t need me. Eventually, I’ll pile up the resources to upgrade the tower, so that’s my secondary job. Build, renovate. Build, renovate. Build, renovate. Beyond those two things, I’m a spectator. Some tower defense games make me click stuff to scoop it up. There’s a little of that in Alien Shooter TD. Other tower defense games give you a hero, or maybe some active powers to drop on the map. There’s also a little of that in Alien Shooter TD. Some tower defense games let you get in there to do your own shooting. There’s none of that in Alien Shooter TD.
But interactivity in Alien Shooter TD comes from its identity. The developers at Sigma Team have been doing these Alien Shooter games for fifteen years. You move a soldier around, shoot a bunch of aliens, repeat as necessary. They’ve made about ten separate games of this stuff. But in this latest TD version, there’s no moving a soldier around. The soldiers just stand there, shooting a bunch of aliens who are doing the moving. You’ve placed the soldiers like you’d place towers. But you don’t upgrade them. Instead, you give them ammo. You’re basically a quartermaster.
Which might sound dull, granted. But it’s a lot less dull than tower construction and renovation. Reloading a gun is the stuff of action movies. Watching the bullet count go down as the alien bugs surge forward is the stuff of sci-fi movies. A little box pops up when a soldier is low on ammo. The box tells you how much the ammo will cost. Can you afford it? The box flashes red when his gun is empty. Different types of soldiers use different kinds of guns. Shotgunners, assault riflers, snipers, flamethrowers, and a couple of sci-fi laser gun dudes. Each type of soldier goes into battle with three weapons, all thirsty for ammo. When you reload, you’re telling the soldier which weapon to use. You’re making a call about the amount of money spent, the damage done, the time before the next reload, and so forth.
This feels more interactive than the usual tower upgrades. How long should your assault gunners use their Uzis? When should they pull out the Steyr-Augs? This is markedly different from upgrading your cannon tower from level one to level two. Ammo means constantly channeling your resources into reloading the guns rather than saving up to upgrade a tower. These soldiers are like towers that are thirsty for the resources they’re earning by shooting aliens. So do you call in more guys? Do you tell the guys on the map to use their better weapons? A little of both? The graphics change with the weapons, as you can see if you squint. But the sound effects do the heavy lifting. The heartier shotguns sound throatier. The miniguns whirr. The plasma guns make the pew-pew sounds you’d expect. Different sniper rounds have different gunshot sounds.
This is where flexibility comes into play. The solution to any given level is two-fold: which soldier types do you bring and which weapons do they use. Ammo flow is a fundamental part of beating the harder levels, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it in other tower defense games. Alternatively, if you can’t hit on the right combination of soldiers and ammo flow, you can always grind until your soldiers outlevel the mission. That’s where the progression comes into play. Alien Shooter TD has weapon drops, upgradable weapons, and skill trees for each soldier. All of these things are your money sinks. And you can freely play levels over and over to earn that money. It’s as much of a grind as you want it to be.
So if I were to play tower defense games, Alien Shooter TD would fulfill my requirements for pacing, interactivity, flexibility, and progression. But it also meets a fifth requirement, which means I’m playing Alien Shooter TD instead of the far better paced, more interactive, more flexible, and deliciously progression-based Gemcraft (this should really be a five-star review for Gemcraft instead of a three-star review for Alien Shooter TD).
That fifth thing is basically splash. Gemcraft is a great tower defense game and arguably the best in the genre. But it’s a bit, well, dry. Abstract. Detached. It doesn’t have a lot of panache. It’s not fancy or splashy. That’s where Alien Shooter TD comes in. The wholesale slaughter of hundreds of alien bugs is nothing if not splashy. Here’s how the map looks when a level starts:
Here’s how it looks when a level is done:
Think of the gore as a heatmap for the alien bugs’ progress. It’s pretty satisfying. If tower defense is about mowing down attackers, don’t you want the corpses piling up?
The early maps are simple and wide-open, but the harder maps force tough choices based on range, sightline, and multiple avenues of attack. The developers apparently haven’t heard of keyboards, as there isn’t a single hotkey in Alien Shooter TD. Not a single one. The space bar doesn’t even do anything. It’s also strange — but expected, given the genre — that these aliens aren’t actually attacking your soldiers. Instead, they’ve got somewhere else to be. What kind of standoff against aliens doesn’t involve the occasional soldier getting devoured and the defenders overrun? Oh well, the base is lost, but as least no one got hurt! But for a throwaway tower defense game, Alien Shooter TD does what it needs to do: pass the time by slathering a map in alien gore.