Monday, June 13, 2011


DETOUR, developed and published by Sandswept Studios.
The Good: Unique construction-based gameplay, online multiplayer with multiple game modes, explicit item counters, plenty of maps with an editor
The Not So Good: Inefficient interface makes it difficult to respond to enemy items quickly, fairly shallow strategy with common bomb-induced stalemates, weak AI, very fast pace leaves little time to plan, repetitive single player challenges
What say you? This chaotic light real time strategy game is handicapped by its lousy interface and constant bedlam: 5/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

I am a road geek. Exhibit A: I take pictures of the ends of U.S. routes. So it should come as no surprise that a strategy game where you build roads has an added amount of interest for yours truly. DETOUR (more effective if shouted) is such a game: you are trying to allow convoys to traverse across the map by building the routes, and then using typical highway maintenance items like bombs and air turrets to prevent others from doing the same. No wonder the federal government is in debt: they are issuing powerful explosives to the Department of Transportation! I guess that explains all of the potholes.

DETOUR utilizes simple graphics presented in an isometric perspective. Each map tile has an easily identifiable, but repetitive, design laid out in a square arrangement. The trucks are animated slightly as they traverse the map, and buildings show some signs of life. Nighttime maps are dotted with truck headlights, giving a different feel to the game. Explosions and the blurry EMP effects are done well, and round out a solid, plain package. As for the sound design, DETOUR has repetitive effects and very subtle background music: nothing too exciting or notable. Overall, though, I feel DETOUR delivers a decent presentation for the price.

In DETOUR, you are attempting to lay roads to allow trucks to reach the opposite end of the map. To serve as an introduction, the game features twenty-seven single player challenges. These include unnecessary pre-mission dialogue, and fail to incorporate the alternative game modes from the multiplayer aspect of DETOUR. It took me just under two hours to beat all of the challenges, and was only really “challenged” twice: the first medium mission with multiple enemies, and the very last one where everyone gangs up on you. Multiplayer is where it’s at, and DETOUR features an in-game browser to find opponents (although I was never successful at doing so). Games support up to four players, and AI bots can be used if you can’t find anyone else to face. In addition to the standard free-for-all mode utilized in the single player campaign, multiplayer also includes team modes, a shared mode (where everyone on a team uses the same roads, factories, trucks, and resources), a timed survival mode, and turret defense against a convoy bent on your destruction. Match rules can be adjusted, including the time limit, trucks needed to win, starting credits, and income per second. DETOUR features almost forty maps and includes an editor to expand the content even further. Despite the brief nature of the campaign, the multiplayer portion of DETOUR offers the potential for long-term enjoyment.

One of the biggest failings of DETOUR is the interface. For whatever reason, the items are segregated into categories displayed one at a time and can be only selected through two methods: using the mouse wheel to cycle through all of the items one at a time, or using keyboard hotkeys (numbers and function keys). You cannot click on an item to select it, as left-clicking always executes the currently selected item. The means you must memorize all of the hotkeys in order to preserve some sort of efficiency (required since the game’s pace is so quick). Personally, I would have simply listed all of the items at one time and allowed the user to click to select (and then click again to place, and shift-click to place more than one), just like every other real time strategy game ever made. I shouldn’t have to remember that “scan” is F2 and “upgrade truck speed” is 5. Overcoming the interface is truly a difficult task.

DETOUR offers a pleasing number of items you can place on the game map, purchased using credits which stream in at a constant rate (about a credit per second). The first are roads, the means of getting your trucks to the other end of the map. You can connect the roads to gold mines, which increase your income, or garages, which act as mid-map spawn points for trucks. Obstacles such as trees and rocks must be removed (using a right-click), and tunnels and bridges can be used to traverse through hills and over water. Maximum truck speed can be upgraded to speed up the delivery process.

There are a number of methods to prevent competing trucks from reaching their destination. The first is simply blocking their paths with roads of your own: a two-deep block of roads would prevent the completion of a bridge over your highway system. You can also place various weapons around the map: invisible nails to disable trucks, dynamite to blow up a single block of roads, bombs to destroy several blocks at a time, and EMPs to disable trucks and turrets for a bit. The scan feature is very helpful, allowing you to see the entire map for optimal bomb placement; it also makes the scanner tower obsolete, as it only reveals a small portion of the map. Bribes will stop trucks for a period of time, while donating funds will prevent building in wetlands. Ground turrets will destroy any enemy object in a given radius, while air turrets will destroy incoming bombs. These weapons can be defeated: shields protect trucks from incoming weapons and street sweepers defend against nails. Overall, DETOUR features a good balance of offensive items and appropriate counters.

DETOUR is played at a breakneck pace, which makes the dreadful interface even more detrimental. You will be quickly building roads across the map, and then attack the enemy while defending your highways. The best strategy seems to be road proliferation: sectioning off large portions of the map and augmenting your transit system with ground and air turrets. Since you can only build adjacent to existing roads, cutting off the enemy from their goal is the best policy. The cooldown timers and resource costs are small enough where, once you place a bomb, dynamite, nails, and turret, you can do it again and again, leading to a lot of stalemates where everyone’s stuff is blown up and people are scrambling to rebuild. You have to be quick and build the roads first after the carnage has cleared, as there is a small delay between when a bomb goes off and roads can be replaced. Of course, the interface makes being quick to react to dynamite, turrets, and bombs entirely too difficult: the pace of the game is in direct opposition to the speed at which you can navigate the interface. The AI is simply average: it can win if left alone and allowed to make a straight path towards their goal, but it’s generally slow to react to human plans and doesn’t use powers as much as it should (also occasionally picking really dumb places for bombs). The computer seems to get “stuck” when surrounded: if you place two-deep roads and a turret near the end of the AI system, it simply stops doing anything useful, and refuses to call in effective bombs or dynamite to clear your impediments.

DETOUR is a real-time strategy game that isn’t quite “there,” for several reasons. The biggest issue with DETOUR is the interface: it requires you to memorize the shortcuts for all of the game's items in order to be efficient, as scrolling through each item with the mouse wheel on the way to the one you want is highly tedious. You can’t point-and-click on any of the items to place them, and scrolling wastes precious seconds in a fast-paced game. The hurried pace involves a lot of harassment as the opponents attempt to cross the map and deliver their goods, countered through the use of bombs, dynamite, turrets, nails, and laying your roads down directly in the way. The problem is that these interdictions are so frequent that everyone gets stuck in the center of the map and can’t bypass the others. The AI is easy to defeat (even on the highest difficulty level): once you block their path with two layers of roads and a turret or bomb, they get confused and simply cease building. If you ignore the computer they will win, but once it’s surrounded it basically gives up and just lobs bombs and dynamite for the remainder of the match. There are plenty of items to place on the map to slow down your competitors, and each item has another item to counteract it. Because of the AI, DETOUR is better online, provided you can find someone to play with using the in-game host browser. The game’s multiple game modes and adjustable victory conditions are welcome features, especially since the single player challenges are short in duration. DETOUR can be frenzied fun, but the constant item usage and awkward interface make it hard to fully enjoy.