Grounded by Brutal Difficulty
Time to Finish: 7 hrs.
Most Retries to Complete Single Stage: ~12-20
What I'd Pay: $7
Steam Price (1/21/12): $9
Unstoppable Gorg has an interesting twist on tower defense and style to spare, but it crashes late-game with an excrutiating difficulty curve that squeezes your resources and demands a strict strategy.
Unstoppable Gorg takes a unique mechanic (your towers are satellites in rotatable orbits) and crafts a cheesy sci-fi story around it, complete with B&W full-motion videos that would fit in a 50s B-movie. The plot follows Captain Adam, defender of Earth, as he fights against 3 easily-irritated alien races. Each race has different weaknesses and strengths, requiring different satellites against their swarmers and bruisers. The enemies also change routes as well, so you rotate your satellites to cover a different path, or swap guns for lasers when another race uses the same path.
Since killing enemies nets you minimal cash, almost your entire economy runs off power satellites: do you want a good defense now or a better defense later? Research satellites are even more long-term: they don't help you at all during the mission, but they fill a Research Bar that increases the number of satellite upgrades you can make in later missions. These provide some interesting tactical choices in the early game (and a reason to replay levels), but they become aggravating later.
The first few levels were interesting and moderately difficult. You had plenty of resources to build a variety of satellites, it only took 2-3 tries to beat a level, and the cutscenes were elaborate homages, complete with noticeable strings. Even here, though, the game forces you to replay a level several times before you get it. There's no forewarning of what the next enemy wave will be, or if the enemy path will change, and I often placed satellites in the wrong position/orbit until I memorized the waves & their paths. It was irritating, but I managed without too much trouble. If the game had ended around the 12th level, I would've been satisfied and given it 3 or 4 stars.
But the game wasn't finished with me. About 2/3rds through the game, the difficulty leapt from challenging to brutal. It started by reducing your initial funds; suddenly you couldn't buy half of the cool new toys you unlocked. Then the first waves began sending heavy hitters at you while while your starting cash plummets, forcing you to place 2-3 specific satellites just to survive. The enemies barely give you any cash when defeated, either; you need to rely on power satellites for that. But the last levels are unrelenting, barely letting you spare any cash for power satellites, let alone research satellites. I ended up abandoning any attempt to make them; I didn't need to anyway, since I had so many research tokens I could upgrade all my satellites.
There was barely any margin for error; it felt like there was only one way to win a level, and the game beat you down until you discovered it. For example, on the third-to-last level, it took me 6 tries to reliably survive the first wave, and about a dozen more tries to scrap my previous plan and figure out how I was supposed to complete the level. I eventually beat the game, but instead of celebrating, I just felt relieved the game was finally over. I had no interest in doing the Challenge Levels, or seeing how they could make the Hard or Unstoppable difficulties even harder.
It's a pity; they definitely have interesting ideas & style here, but the later stages demand precise strategies that sucks all the fun out of it.