Monday, January 16, 2006

Core Defender Review

Core Defender, and published by Centrizone.
The Good: Constant action, some strategic elements
The Not So Good: No documentation or tutorials, high difficulty, no level restart
What say you? A combination builder/shooter that’s an inferior version of Epidemic Groove: 4/8

With as many games that have been published, we’ve come to the point of PC gaming where you must come up with an original idea in order to survive. The problem is, most of the good ideas have been taken, so developers have resorted to combining genres as a way of producing seemingly fresh and new titles. Core Defender is one of those games, combining building elements from real time strategy with the action of 2-D arcade shooters. This is a very similar premise to a game I recently reviewed, Epidemic Groove. So, which amalgam will prove to be more dominant?

Core Defender plays from a fixed overhead perspective but features 3-D graphics reminiscent of first generation 3-D effects, where side scrolling shooters first started to spice up the landscape with some better looking models. The graphics in Core Defender are slightly outdated but still look good enough to make the game enjoyable from a visual standpoint. The models aren’t really that detailed, but you’re zoomed out far enough during the game that it isn’t really an issue. There is a shortcoming with the way units are represented in the game: there is no clear indicator of friendly or hostile units. As you scan the landscape, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between your units and those trying to destroy your units, which is problematic in the heat of battle. The graphical style of Core Defender is not original and wouldn’t be distinctive when held against an assortment of other games. The sound is fairly basic, and has some annoying and overly loud background music, which is more distracting that it should be. Both the graphics and the sound are too generic to make Core Defender a distinct title.

Core Defender features three campaigns (which all play essentially the same) where you construct defenses and then pilot a tank around a map shooting enemy units by clicking on them. You use money earned during each level to buy upgrades (laser, bombs, armor, HQ defense, or production) or additional buildings (power generator, thermal generator, laser turret, missile turret, more ammo). The upgrades result in a more powerful tank and the additional buildings make it easier to automatically defend against the enemy onslaught. One of the bigger problems with Core Defender is the complete lack of documentation. There is no manual, readme, or tutorial in order to learn the game, and I spent a good 15-20 minutes just trying to figure out how to play, constantly dying through the process. In fact, I’m still not sure what some of the buildings do or why they are important; the game certainly won’t tell me. Another knock against the game is that it is very difficult from the start; there is no simple first level to easy you into the game. The gauntlet is on from square one, and this might frustrate people trying to learn how to play. Each game doesn’t last very long because of the short lifetimes you will experience, and you can’t even restart a failed level and must start from the beginning after dying just once. Core Defender is not flexible and doesn’t seem to be designed with the user in mind.

The gameplay itself entails moving your tank around the map and engaging enemy units. There are both stationary and mobile enemies, so you must keep moving because the simplistic AI runs in a straight line towards you. You must use some tactics and strategy to fight the AI; your structures can block your weapon fire and be destroyed accidentally by your tank. There doesn’t seem to be any advanced pathing by the enemies causing you to mix up your strategies, which is disappointing. The difficulty of Core Defender relies in throwing a lot of enemies at you, using the Serious Sam approach. Here, however, the developers try to cover for poor AI by making a lot of enemies appear at once, and it results in the game not really working that well.

Core Defender is a poorer, more confusing version of Epidemic Groove involving base building followed by shooting. The graphics and sound are unremarkable, there are only three similar “campaigns,” and the AI is substandard. We’ve seen base building and we’ve seen shooting, and unfortunately for Core Defender, we’ve seen the two combined before. The complete lack of any documentation and copious number of enemy units results in an annoyingly high level of difficulty. If you’re looking for a mix of base building and action, choose the far superior Epidemic Groove instead of this second-rate title.