There’s something hugely depressing about tower defence games. I’m not just talking about that crushing, opaque sense of failure that arrives with each penetration of your meticulous defenses. It’s more the unshakable feeling that you’re wasting your time- perhaps because so much of your time with them is spent watching wave after wave crash pointlessly against your towers. Thank goodness, then, that a fellow by the name of David Wilson has made a pretty interesting tower defence/action hybrid freeware game called drone that actually manages to be even more depressing.
The product (David claims) of some 900 hours of work, drone’s idea is that instead of simply letting you spend your cash on towers or towers special abilities, it presents an entire shopping mall of possibility. You can buy towers, weapons, factories which produce minions of your own, vehicles, armour, command towers that let you control minions directly, even damage-absorbing ‘nodes’, all with the aim of keeping your little guy alive as successive waves of enemies move in to scrub you from existence. Be a sniper supporting a regiment of axe-bots, a maddened tank driver, a spanner-armed engineer sat behind wall of defences, it’s all up to you.
As an evolution of an arena shooter, drone’s a wonderful concept and more than worth giving a shot. There’s a dim sense of panic appropriate to the genre in trying to protect your fragile structures, and it’s rewarding to employ a bit of shooter moxie to lure enemies away from your factories, perhaps only to dispatch them all with a deft little pipe bomb. Really, the whole game is as polished as you like. The fonts and movement are smooth, the projectiles leaden, and the whole game proceeds with a strange, mathematical perfection.
Which, I suppose, is where the depression comes in. For all that drone (or, more accurately, drone part 1, since Wilson’s currently hard at work on the next instalment) might resemble an arena shooter, the heartless logic behind it is straight out of a tower defence game. The need for your avatar to routinely buy expensive ammo, the fact that you can be caught in a coincidental pincer movement by two railgunners, your achingly slow movement speed and hefty health bar, all of it grates with the arena shooter’s natural emphasis on pure skill.
As such, a death in drone only sometimes feels like an error on your part. Receiving a withering salvo from a gang of machine gun bots feels more like being bullied than anything else, and while it only takes a few seconds to lose a factory to a boss bot, coming back from that blow to your wallet can seem if not impossible, then at least rough and undesirable. Combine this with drone’s uniquely grey visuals and its slinky, empty atmospheric soundtrack and you’ve got something that, for all the tanks and explosions and dollar symbols, seems to have forgotten the simple rules games like this need to follow.
All this said, I’m really looking forward to part 2. If it’s developed in the right direction, this could be an absolutely awesome piece of freeware. It’s stuffed full of steamy potential like a Chinese bun. Play it yourself and see. Also, since tower defence plus action elements seems to be a
growing genre, I’m just going to suggest right here that we call this new hybrid TOWER ATTACK. I think that’d be pretty good.
For any fence-sitters, here’s a gameplay montage of drone in all its stony glory.