by Josh Butler
reviewed on PC
Mixing It Up
If these genre-hybrids carry on for much longer, tower defence is going to get a reputation for being a loose genre.
In 2011 alone the seemingly shameless genre has hooked up with the action RPG in Dungeon Defenders, real-time strategy with Defenders of Ardania and even went on to flirt with the third-person shooter in Gears of War 3’s Horde ‘2.0’ mode. Now, as Orcs Must Die! breaches the castle gates, the two genres have officially become an item - and their hybrid offspring isn’t entirely hideous.
Crossbows And Tiger Blood
It opens with an aged narrator describing his life’s work. This work largely consists of attempting to stem the endless tide of bloodthirsty orcs who are set on laying siege to his fortress and the precious ‘rifts’ within. This epic battle-through-the-ages is cut tragically short, however. An unfortunate fall at work leads to him snapping his neck on the dungeon steps, leaving his headstrong apprentice to take up his mantle (and crossbow). So goes all the exposition you’ll need (or, for that matter, get) to explain why you control a brash Charlie Sheen-alike defending a fortress and its rifts from waves of the titular green foes.
It’s A Trap
The backstory and motivations offered up for your character may be lacking, but this allows you to immediately launch in to Orcs Must Die!’s trap-setting orc slaughtering with few restraints in the way of cut-scenes or overt tutorials to delay you. By experimenting with the early levels, you will soon discover that well-placed traps and effective traffic management are rarely enough to hold back the swarm. Whether you opt for the swordplay melee approach or choose to keep a slightly more comfortable distance with range weapons like the crossbow when selecting your weapons chest in the pre-battle preparations, a liberal use of the attack button will often be as essential a tool as any in your arsenal.
The line between passive tower defence strategising and having a direct effect, action game-style is threaded with ease in Orcs Must Die!’s gameplay. There are few gaming pleasures as pure as seeing a throng of enemies thwarted in a moment thanks to a tightly-woven web of battlements. Yet Orcs Must Die! is not content to let you rest on those laurels and will happily follow your triumph with further waves of hardier enemies, demanding strategy changing on the fly lest your elaborately designed house of cards topples thanks to a couple of particularly insistent orcs. The action makes it a tower defence game where you genuinely feel involved in the battle - not least because the orcs that must die are often charging right at you.
Punctuation and Pacing
The frenetic action can be overwhelming, but is balanced expertly so that a moment that feels like flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants chaos can be tipped in your favour at any time with little more than clever positioning of a new turret or the merciful timing of a grace-period between waves. Of course the same can also be said of any moment where you feel like you have gained an impenetrable upper-hand through your masterful strategising, so there is no room for the complacency that can rear its ugly head when you have a bird’s-eye view and God-like control of the battlefield.
Orcs Must Die! is thoroughly well paced, and a constant stream of new weapons to use and new foes to use them on prevents the slaughter from descending in to busy-work. The ‘skulls out of five’ ranking system applied to your exploits after a successful battle grants some extension to the game’s life-span. But occasionally you will S-rank a level the first time through, leaving you with little reason or motivation to return to that level – even when you take in to account the opportunity allowed to return to beaten levels with later-game weapons in tow.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
The cartoon style is in a similar vein to Torchlight or Penny Arcade, and is suitably easy on the eyes that it doesn’t lose its lustre after several hours of play. The bold primary colours also fit comfortably within the slapstick world of incompetent apprentices and vicious, monstrous hordes, and are complimented well by a soundtrack full of satisfying *shunks* and *splurts*. The same sadly can not be said for the dramatic score and your noble hero’s witty exclamations, both of which will grate by the final level, no matter how entertaining you found them at the game’s start.
In an ideal world Orcs Must Die! will gain a following from fans of both tower defence and third-person action thanks to its ability to blend the best of both genres’ experiences while excluding many of their worst flaws. It’s not a deep game, by any means, and success will often stem from repetition rather than any superior strategising - however, those looking to hold any seasonal boredom at bay could do worse than take chance on Orcs Must Die!’s brand of short-burst, intense tactical play.
Nice mix of tower defence and third-person action, cartoony style easy on the eyes.
Dramatic score and success will often stem from repetition rather than strategising.