On more than one occasion, because it would be cheaper than picking it up through Steam, I’ve bought a Humble Bundle for only a single game within it. I’ve a pile of titles as a result that I took one look at, decided I couldn’t be bothered, and left to sit stagnant in my Steam “Uninstalled” list. Recently, however, my disposable income has run dryer than Australia’s public welfare resources, and I can’t just pick up what I want when I want it anymore. So while everyone is losing their collective minds over The Witcher 3, I’ve dug through my gigantic pile of shame to pull out OTTTD (Over The Top Tower Defence.) It’s not exactly innovative or ground-breaking, but OTTTD is a ‘roided up tower defence game that’s blown a smallish whole in my impoverished heart and has nestled gently in the crater.
HEROCORP, the 4th largest private military in the galaxy, has fallen on tough times; Peacetime, to be exact. With the lack of wholesale slaughter going around, HEROCORP’s scientists have created Trans-Dimensional Rifts through which enemies can be pre-emptively struck. The parallels between this story and the likes of Helldivers and Starship Troopers are pretty obvious though HEROCORP should be commended for its initiative. It’s one thing to try to kill another intelligent species after accidentally stumbling upon it; it’s something else altogether to go seek it out and kill it for profit.
At least Helldivers had the decency of forging a flimsy pretext.
The thrust of the design is “find a style that suits you and stick with it.” There are four main towers that represent the four damage types, each one performing a distinct role and all of which can be upgraded to level three. Each one can also be upgraded into one of two special towers, which (sometimes) greatly expanded the potential functionality of each tower type. There’re only a few places that the game allows you to place towers, however, so figuring out where to place them and how they work together is important from the outset. Waves of enemies will then storm down a predetermined path or two towards your home base with the intention of messing up it and anything else in range along the way. Your performance is rated with a three-star system at the end, which also determines bonuses. It’s pretty standard stuff really, but the Heroes are where the game begins to set itself apart from the standard formula.
After the brief intro casually informs you of HEROCORP’s plans for thinly-veiled villainy, the tutorial introduces you to the first handful of mercen–“Heroes.” The Heroes are all walking action-movie stereotypes: Either completely insane and way too into murder or grizzled, grumpy types that treat galactic scale xenocide like a boring 9 to 5. This is also where a lot of the games humor comes through with Heroes rattling off one-liners while stomping around in alien giblets. The mission briefings, tool-tips and status reports all follow this same thematic sense of casual jingoism-for-hire and, for me, it’s probably the best part of the game. If nothing else, the game raises for me the kind of questions that I like in a vague storyline.
You could say I’m sort of into that kind of thing.
Perhaps it’s just me and the way I played but I don’t feel like the attack towers had enough diversity to provide the kind of choice the devs wanted. The support tower, for instance, slows down passing enemies but can be upgraded into a shield generator for nearby towers and Heroes, or a healing tower to keep your Heroes alive. That’s a great design and figuring out the right placement for them was what finally got me through some of the most difficult levels. The missile tower’s special upgrades, however, are either a tower that can only attack air units with bullets or one that fires a cloud of missiles at anything that dares to come near. This is pretty typical of the other attacking towers, as well, except for the laser tower that ultimately turned out to be useless.
What this means is that every level comes down to using roughly the same tower strategy, which is a problem when the Hero progression is extremely slow throughout the entire game. There’s an achievement to get a Hero to level 99; it’s one of the few that I feel is worthy of the title since to get it is forever-taking. Heroes don’t have stats that go up with each level, either, so you’re reliant on skill points that you dish out to a set of skills. Skills are arranged in columns of four and to unlock a skill you have to have first spent points on the one beneath it and you can’t see what a skill does until it’s been unlocked. Ultimately, you’ll likely spend points on something you don’t need just to see something that you might want.
I mean, they all commit war crimes – it’s just that you get into a particular groove with this sort of thing, you know?
The currency also poses a problem, since you require both cash and tokens to purchase better weapons and armor or even reset your skills. The cash prices for equipment is pretty god damned high considering the comparatively measly amount you get for completing each mission and you only get tokens for 3-starring levels. You can always go back and re-do a level to get three stars though you had better hope you do it perfectly. You can go so low that it’s almost impossible to fail in that regard and, of course, that gets kind of boring. This is the point where you might switch to other, less powerful Heroes to renew that challenge and therein lies the true nature of the game.
While there’s no Wikipedia article to confirm my suspicions, I’m certain that OTTTD was originally a mobile game, which would explain a lot of the problems with how the game plays. While they’ve been adapted for the PC well, the controls definitely feel as though they were initially touch controls. When a hero dies, they’re unavailable for about forty minutes or so while the clone is being produced, but you can rush this process with tokens. I’ll bet anything that there’s an option in the mobile version to buy a bundle of them for $4.99 or something equally ridiculous. This is to say nothing of the boosts to Hero XP, which I’m sure are available for similarly stupid prices on the mobile version but are, funnily enough, absent from the PC version.
Otherwise their PC sales might resemble their gore graphics. Metaphorically speaking.
For all it’s problems, the devs at least put a solid amount of effort into OTTTD’s presentation. Once you get some different armor on them, most of the Heroes look pretty decent and distinct from one another (though it’s clear a few are just rushed copy jobs.) There’re two dimensions that you’ll bounce between: Nightmare, consisting of zombies, ghosts and other ghoulish whatsit’s, and the Steamcrust dimension, with steampunk sea creatures and an unfortunate name. While the environments aren’t varied (there’s one per dimension), there’s a huge number of enemies with new ones showing up until right near the end of the game. Just do yourself a favor and mute the in-game music, you’ll enjoy the game much better when it’s set to something that doesn’t loop every thirty seconds.
The game is a little grindy without all the micro-purchase buffs I suspect would normally be present. It transforms the difficulty curve into a shackle and chain around your foot that just gets looser the more you struggle. The heroes’ abilities are varied enough that going back and replaying old levels doesn’t feel entirely like rote work, however, and the general humor was enough to keep me interested. You’ll end up playing the same levels over and over but, in the end, if you’re into TD then that’s likely not going to be an issue for you. It wasn’t for me – hell, I’ve sunk 20 hours into it at the time of writing this. It’s been a great little “time-waster,” for lack of a better term; after playing a few dozen more games like this, maybe Witcher 3 will go on sale or something…