The comet has crash-landed.
Tower defence games are becoming increasingly popular on the downloadable game front, and the PSN has blessed gamers with top-drawer stuff like Pixeljunk Monsters and Savage Moon, both exclusive to the platform. Joining them on the protective bandwagon is Comet Crash, but how does it fare?
The title might lead you to think that you're defending an area against incoming comets, but nothing could be further than the truth. You control an 80's sci-fi looking ship (it reminded me of the ship from Flight of the Navigator), and you're charged with defending your base (a miniature Epcot) from your opponent who has the same base and ship. At the beginning of the game, your arsenal is limited, with each successive level revealing some new tech, and this is where the game diverges from most other tower defence games. Not only are you defending your own base, but you are required to destroy the other one. So, completion of some levels will reward you with some new defensive technology, and some with new attacking units. The diversity of units is relatively small, especially compared to the range of weapons offered in say, Savage Moon, but this keeps the game simple, and the faster pace of this particular TD game will probably leave you feeling grateful for the limited options-box.
Your time in the game is split between building defensive structures with which to repel the enemy and factories with which to create an army to crush him. Once a factory is built, it will just keep producing units, reducing the micro-management; all you have to do is specify which unit you want it to produce. Armies are released in a single wave, following a pre-determined path to the enemy base, so even once you've unleashed a wave of destruction, you can largely forget about it and focus on defence, as each defensive tower can be upgraded, using collected cash.
How do the comets feature? Well, they float over the small playing field, and if your towers are close enough, they'll shoot them down, whereupon they will leave some cash, which you must move your ship to absorb. There's a 'field' around your ship which will soak up cash, and it's upgradeable to the point where it will cover almost all of the screen, so you'll barely have to move to collect cash at all. However, if your ship is destroyed by moving too close to enemy towers, you'll get the ship back at your base, but minus the wide collection field, so it's advisable to heal your ship regularly back at the base. You can also use your tractor beam to grab comets and drag them towards your powerful towers (build lasers, trust me) for faster income.
So where does the strategy come in?
Good question. Most of the maps have a fairly wide space in which to place your towers. The trick of Comet Crash is to place the towers within this blank canvas so that the enemy craft have to follow the longest route possible to your base, effectively having to go past the lines of death that you've created. Obviously, the more complex the path you set up, the longer it takes the enemy to get to your base and the more exposed they are to your firepower, giving you the time to destroy them and form an army of your own. A red line indicates the path which the enemy is forced to take, so it's easy to spot weak points in your arrangement and fix them quickly.
The differing units all perform a certain task, and I won't give all of them away here, but you'll have the basic fast attacking units, some tanks and some units that disrupt the enemy towers. Typically, the enemy will be one tech-step ahead of you, and you'll need to overcome the new tech in order to earn it. Different towers are useful against certain enemies, so a blend of units is essential. Get more of your units to the enemy base than they can to yours, and you've won.
Graphics and sound
The graphics are detailed enough, I guess, but the attacking units are really small and not readily identifiable, although you'll get somewhat used to it. The sound effects all sound suitable, without being spectacular and the music is pretty forgettable. Of course, no TD game was ever sold on it's look or sound (although the unique look of PJM is pretty cool), but there's a certain 'bare bones' feel about the entire presentation, from the bland maps to the boring menu - and the screen showing the map for each level before you play it could have been made on a Spectrum +2. All of which would be fine, if not for the fact that...
Yeah man, why the largely positive review, but relatively low score?
...well, it's because all of the strategy that could have been put into this game (I mean, forming your own maze of death! What could be more strategic?) is lost with the hint system included in the game, and the fact that for all of the apparent strategic choices available, the truth is, there's pretty much only one winning strategy for each stage, and if you don't follow the hint in the pause menu, you'll probably fail the level. This removes all element of choice from the game, and makes for a disappointing realisation, about halfway in - you're not playing; you're following orders.
Now you may say, 'Hey, maybe you're just not that good at TD games!' That's for you to decide, but I've got 100% trophies on PJM, most levels rainbowed, and one stage left to beat on Savage Moon, so I'm prepared to say that I know What I'm doing in the TD genre. This game just doesn't stack up when compared to the other two available on the PSN. Is it worth $10? Well, maybe, if you just need to have another TD game, but it's far from an essential purchase, and may just leave you feeling that wee bit hollow.