Review

Unstoppable Gorg Review (PC)

Did you know that PopCap’s phenomenal tower defence title Plants Vs Zombies was originally going to be titled ‘Lawn of the Dead’? A swift no-no from the Romero estate curtailed that, but I have to wonder if the game would’ve been as popular as it is now if it had that title instead. Plants Vs Zombies is catchy, intriguing, memorable, and makes you want to play it just to find out what it’s about. Futuremark’s Unstoppable Gorg could really have done with a title like that. Even an exclamation mark would’ve made it 80% more tantalizing.

Ambiguous title aside, Unstoppable Gorg, like PVZ, is a tower defence game. All defending, no attack, hold off the assaulting forces through careful management of stationary defence platforms, the main resource is the sun, you know the drill. Except in this case, you don’t, as those “stationary” platforms are a little more mobile. There’s only a certain amount of spots you can place them, yes, and once placed you can’t move them… but you can move the spot.

Defenders of the Earth!

The setup is that the titular Gorg are aliens invading Earth’s solar system, and you have to defend each planet or space station with an array of orbiting weapon-mounted satellites. There are several rings around the base with only a few places on each ring to build them, but each ring can be rotated so the satellites can change position. It’s a rather clever idea really and completely changes the mechanics of the tower defence genre, putting as much emphasis into manoeuvring your satellites into the path of attacking aliens as building them.

This idea forces you into thinking up a new tactical style which becomes second nature in no time at all, the hallmark of a simple and compelling idea done right. Moving one ring of course moves all satellites on that ring, so you have to regularly shift rings so that the right satellites take on the saucers that they’re best at destroying, and the support/money-producing platforms remain out of harm’s way. You may have set a line of instant death down one particular saucer path (always marked, helpfully), but what happens when another wave comes from the opposite side and you’ve only got a single machine-gun? Answering this question is the core of Unstoppable Gorg, and it’s a compelling one.

What makes it more compelling is that Futuremark have learnt a lesson from PopCap about keeping players hooked. Every level introduces a new satellite or invader that completely changes your battle tactics, so no level is played quite the same as the last. Tougher saucers versus rocket turrets, brain invaders versus lasers, surprises like these keep coming and compel the player to keep playing, at least during the first playthrough.

Furthermore, completing levels unlocks new challenge maps that mess up the rules to interesting effect (such as one ring constantly rotating or be locked in place) or new locations for the Arcade mode, which is basically Survival and is even more dangerously addictive than the main game. In this mode money’s only earned through defeating waves of enemies, and it’ll take a good 20 waves before you earn enough to have a satellite in each slot… and that’s not counting upgrading. Yes, most satellites can be upgraded, and while you assign the upgrades in the satellite-select screen (which is otherwise directly inspired by PVZ) you have to buy them during play… which is where I can start ranting about problems in the game at last.

I would

Upgrades can only be assigned with research tokens that can only be obtained by creating research satellites, and I can absolutely guarantee that by level 5 you’ll have given up choosing them. Building spots are too few in number, money too precious, and as you only have a few slots to assign satellite types to Repair Beams or Psychic Bombs seem a lot more useful to take on the alien hordes with. So you’ll have to strictly manage research tokens too, which doesn’t matter too much since resources are pretty sparse.

The main problem the game has, and I really hate to complain about this since a lot of people will scoff, is that it’s too damn hard. There are four difficulty settings, and on moderate I regularly failed missions or barely passed by the skin of my teeth. There were plenty of levels that I have absolutely no idea how to do on harder difficulties. The game’s very fast-paced and you’ll barely have time to build a single satellite before you’re assaulted. You’ll have to place and upgrade quickly, but you’ll always face a brick wall in terms of resources. I’d often try to build more than one Solar Collector (the main way of getting resources) and by the time I’d had the money available I was either dead or I’d won. Levels just aren’t a satisfying enough length, not to mention the Gorg being pretty boring opponents.

This is a real shame, since outside the levels the Gorg are great. Cutscenes between levels are done as ‘50s alien B-movies and are lots of fun, making battling through the increasingly unfairly tough levels worth it just to see them. They’re black-and-white and authentically hammy, with flying saucers on strings, a posh announcer doing the voiceover, and men-in-poor-costume monsters to keep things entertaining. The music’s also got a lovely Ed Wood/Mars Attacks! vibe that I personally love.

Production design in these videos is top-notch, it’s just a shame a little more attention wasn’t paid into making the game less impenetrable for the vast majority of players. Introducing a new weapon or enemy every level to combat repetition means nothing if you’re stuck on the same one for days, as I most definitely was, and I was cursing the name Unstoppable Gorg by the end.

Die puny aliens!

Furthermore, beyond the glitzy wonderful cutscenes the in-game graphics are occasionally unclear. Granted there’s only a few ways you can spruce up Flying Saucers, and Futuremark wisely introduce other alien ship types like the organic Brain Raiders, but your own satellites don’t get the same treatment – it’s very easy to mistake a machine-gun turret for a cannon, for example.

Unstoppable Gorg is a compelling, challenging, addictive game with a neat ‘50s B-Movie' style and an innovative tower-twisting gimmick, but it’s let down by a few silly points that could’ve been avoided. It gets way too hard too fast, the levels are too fast-paced for the strategic thinking the developers insist on, and despite introducing new stuff every round it does get awfully repetitive. Shame, but that’s the way it is. It also has a crap title that really needs an exclamation mark, but I won’t dock points for that.

Top Game Moment: The B-movie style videos between levels are superbly done, and that Brain Raider queen is uncomfortably sexy.

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Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jan 21, 2012
herodotus
Good to see the review here, as I was looking closely at this one. Moving defence turrets through the orbital spheres looked goo and I expected frenetic activity fairly quickly as each level unlocked. The 1950's "B" movie theme is pretty popular at present ("Atom Zombie Smasher" for one) - shame they wouldn't use the '40s Universal look instead. It's starting to get a bit "been there, seen that".
I will wait, however for the Sales prices as I still have "APAZ" and "AI War:Fleet Command" and it's DLC's to get through yet.