Monday, January 02, 2006

Epidemic Groove Review

Epidemic Groove, developed and published by Dejobaan Games.
The Good: Good mix of constructing defenses and action, nice graphics, numerous strategies in building bases
The Not So Good: Have to start at the beginning level each time, no standalone scenarios or room for expansion
What say you? An interesting puzzle/strategy/building/action amalgam: 6/8

If you ever watch television (and if you don’t, you’re a communist), you’ve probably noticed the ever-increasing number of drugs that are advertised. All of your problems can be solved by popping a couple of pills, be it erectile dysfunction, depression, attention deficit disorder, high blood pressure, allergies, or erectile dysfunction. There has been one disease that has not been acknowledged by the government, kept secret all these years: the Groove syndrome. Symptoms of the Groove syndrome include apathy, listlessness, indifference, and occasional drooling, and it has been spreading throughout the country since the mid 1990s. Determined to bring awareness to this growing problem, Dejobaan Games has released the first computer software designed to stop the spread of the disease: Epidemic Groove. In addition to having a really cool name, Epidemic Groove simulates the building of defenses and subsequent defense of cells during an invasion of the Groove syndrome. A combination of defensive base building and action elements, we shall see how well Epidemic Groove prevents the spread of apathy about the world.

Epidemic Groove features some crisp semi-3-D graphics from an overhead perspective. The game looks pretty good, with some nice effects coupled with clean, defined objects. I would much rather have nice 2-D graphics than muddled 3-D graphics that have no real purpose other than to have the game in 3-D, and Epidemic Groove is better suited for 2-D anyway. The graphics here are on the higher end for puzzle games: nothing that will wow your senses, but they certainly get the job done. As for the sound, Epidemic Groove has decent, middle of the road effects. Destroying each of the viruses is accompanied by a satisfyingly gross and squishy sound effect, and the background music is entertaining enough. The sound, just like the graphics, is slightly above average and both are a positive aspect of the game.

Epidemic Groove comes with a tutorial, survival mode, and the main campaign. The tutorial does an adequate job of explaining the game, although help boxes that pop up between each level in the main game clarify the new pieces you have unlocked. The survival mode uses a set defense and you try to fight off the pathogens for as long as possible. The real meat of the game, however, is the main game, which consists of two phases of sixty seconds each. In the construction phase, you build defenses. You earn money by destroying enemies and keeping parts of your defenses intact. Defenses are color rated according to the number of hits they can take, and more stout defenses are more expensive. Defense types include lasers, straight walls, shaped walls (rings, elbows), electric fences, and repair pylons. The variety of defenses is very nice, and results in a multitude of strategic options. Unlike some puzzle games where there is one set correct answer, Epidemic Groove opens the door for a myriad of possible solutions. You can also sell outdated structures, but because of the time limit, there usually isn’t enough time to make all the changes you want, so you’ll need to concentrate on the areas that need the most help. After the sixty seconds are up, the pathogens begin their invasion. During this time, you shoot at pathogens using the mouse to aim your laser shots. There are 10 different viruses of varying integrity (the number of laser hits it takes to destroy them) and destructiveness (the amount of damage it causes). You will usually prioritize areas that are breaking and focus your fire there. The action can come fast and furious, especially in later levels, resulting in some exciting moments as the clock ticks down and your defenses wear away. The game escalates with higher numbers of more powerful enemies that infiltrate your defenses easier and easier. Sadly, there is no single missions or expansion built into the game, so once you finish the main campaign, you’re essentially done. Fortunately, because of the nature of the game, each of the levels can be played many different ways and you’ll become more adept at quickly upgrading and building new defenses. Also, the placement of the pathogens is random each time you play the game, so you can’t concentrate on defending one side each time you encounter level 5. Both of these things help to make playing Epidemic Groove more than once a feasible possibility.

Epidemic Groove is a fun mix of building defenses and shooting at enemies. The game is along the lines of Stronghold, but a lot more straightforward, eliminating all that needless resource collection and management. The graphics and sound are well done for a budget level game, and although you must start each game from scratch and there are no standalone scenarios, and single player campaign will be different each time as you improve your construction techniques. Most important of all, Epidemic Groove is pretty damn fun. The tense nature of the time limits in both the construction and invasion modes provides a good level of excitement and anxiety that’s not really seen in many other games. Epidemic Groove should appeal to puzzle fans, strategy fans, action fans, and the general gaming public as a whole.