by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Russian Space Zombies
I don’t see myself as a completionist, but when a game challenges me to win a mission without suffering any damage, I’ll bloody well try. In MarZ: Tactical Base Defense though, that’s proven to be no mean feat. Almost right from the get go, the game had me scrambling to survive, let alone do so without taking any damage. I gave up on trying to achieve faultless missions in the game’s ‘Challenging’ difficulty setting somewhere between missions 4 and 5. You would think that lowering the difficulty to ‘Walking on Mars’ would be as breezy an experience as the name suggests, but that would be wrong. It still made me cry.
In MarZ: Tactical Base Defense, your team is sent out to Mars to lay the foundations of mankind’s first colony on the red planet. Upon arrival, though, it is revealed you’re not the first humans to set foot here. In fact, it’s overrun by a variety of Russian space zombies. It would seem that the Russians arrived decades ago, looking for alien artifacts. Obviously the presence of brain-craving-maniacs jeopardizes your very mission and you set out to learn what the Russians where doing on Mars in the first place, and what happened to their men.
Human Defense Game
The story isn’t going win any literature awards, but it holds up well enough as long as you don’t think too much about the sheer number of space zombies you will be mowing down during your 20 mission campaign. Countless numbers of the undead will be hurling themselves at your defenses and if you had not figured out this was a tower defense game when you bought it, the game will make it clear from mission one.
Yet MarZ: Tactical Base Defense does a few things a little different from most of its peers. Where your garden variety tower defense game just has you build as many smartly placed defensive structures as you possibly can, MarZ imposes limits beyond money and resources. Actually, there is no money, and only a single building material. Instead, your most precious resource are the men and women that will operate your defensive structures. While these are not finite, they’re a scarce commodity that is both slow and expensive to acquire.
This means you’ll be building structures much quicker than you can staff them, and the only way to get your mission done is moving people around to where they are needed most. This reminded me of a game of tennis or badminton, where after every serve or return you need to get back to your base. Sometimes the waves of zombies come so close together that you’ll be pulling out people from a zombie hot-zone before you’ve completely eradicated the wave. You can imagine how frantic things can get.
Keeping it fresh
Managing the team was the key differentiator between MarZ and other tower defense games for me, but there are a few other areas where the two-person development team have added some spice. Winning a mission for instance, opens up abilities that may help you shape play style. Before going on a mission, you choose one of these abilities - perhaps a 100% resale value of buildings or a 50% decrease in arrival time for new team members - before you start the mission and then make the best of it.
I also very much appreciated the ability to slow down time. Once I figured out that I could, my missions started to go a little smoother. Coincidentally, my enjoyment of dealing with zombie hordes also went up as the slow motion graphics created a beautiful, gripping cinematic effect that often seemed to highlight just how trouble my defenders were in.
The devs have also worked in a few fun little surprises in some of the missions. I don’t want to give away too much, but I particularly liked an early mission that featured a rockslide - I had just shored up my defenses to the max to guard a specific passage, only to see my efforts go to waste when the passage was closed by the rockslide. I love it when a game throws its players off balance like that.
As mentioned, the story isn’t going blow you away, but I do feel that the voice work deserves special mention. Considering the size of the dev team, it’s of a very high standard and I loved listening to the story unfolding. This level of polish is found throughout MarZ: Tactical Base Defense, suggesting a much bigger development team. It looks like the devs have found and applied outside help where it counted.
I must like torture
I’ve met developers Miriam and Marc Egli twice over the course of the development of MarZ: Tactical Base Defense (originally called MarZ: Rising). They’re incredibly nice people - at least I thought they were. Now they’re not. Well, they still are, but in the same way that your dentist smiles at you and says “open wide” just before sticking you with the pointy end of a modern-day torture device in the name of ‘healthcare’. Now that I have that off my chest, I need to go back. More russian space zombies need slaying, and I am dying to find out what the *beep* they were doing on the red planet in the first place. If you like being tortured, don’t leave this one on the shelves.
A much needed fresh take on tower defense games.