by Richard Edwards
reviewed on PC
My spaceship for a cow!
Would anyone mind explaining the fascination aliens have with cows? Frankly, it leaves me mystified. They have united their entire race, mastered space travel and gone to all the effort of sending a ship to Earth. Once here they usually content themselves with stealing farmyard cattle. They've done it countless times in countless games – and in Beware Planet Earth! they're doing it again. They've brought an entire armada to do it with as well. They want cows so very badly. And then there's you – allied with a genius mechanic who owns a farm that seems to deal exclusively in hay and cows.
Cue a tower defense game where aliens charge down a preset path and you build turrets to either side of them in an attempt to halt their advance. Their goal is a herd of cows at the end of the path that they have to abduct.
All of the familiar tower defense elements are here. There are multiple enemy types with a wide arsenal of abilities at their disposal. The Ninja Aliens run faster while the Undercover Aliens call for their disguise to be destroyed before your turrets can target them effectively. Every few rounds a new alien type is added creating a complex cacophony of ever-increasing resource and micro-management. At the start of every level you can see what the alien horde is sending against you and pick which towers you want to be able to build that round. While you're tailoring your defenses you can also read about the aliens that are coming your way. This gives you a nice little piece of flavour text and more importantly, a tip on what tricks they bring to the party.
The cows sit in their paddock and await their fate while battle rages on, inching towards them. Once they've been grabbed an alien will attempt to make it back to his spawn point – a rather neat little crop circle – and take the hapless cattle back to the mothership. This means carrying it past all of the turrets again. Running the gauntlet once is dangerous enough, but running it that second time usually spells death for the aliens. As soon as the attacker dies the cow will attempt to get back to the relative safety of its field. However, during this trek back, the cow is vulnerable to being picked up and carried back even further by another attacker. This means that if you're going to lose a cow it'll probably be because the enemies have carried it a little way at a time. It adds a dynamic element to the game that keeps it flowing nicely.
Those you out there who have played Defense Grid will remember the life system that game had. It worked in that game and it works here, too. Lightmare Studios have borrowed this mechanic and put it to very good use. But that's not the only thing they've borrowed. There are plenty of different towers to use, though one is necessary. Unlike most tower defense games the economy system in Beware Planet Earth! is more complex. Usually enemies drop a resource you can pick up and spend on more turrets, but not here. In this game you have to construct a factory turret that will produce the currency you need. Of course, space is limited, so finding the right balance between factories and firepower becomes a core mechanic. After a while you'll fill all the spots on the map, and then it becomes a game of optimisation. This, you might recognise, is fairly similar to Plants Versus Zombies and their sunflower mechanic.
Challenge mode adds to the time you'll spend on this game...
... but not an awful lot