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The Games Of Christmas '11: Day Six

Slay bells

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It’s the season of giving. The season of giving SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTER SLAUGHTAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAHAHAH.
It’s Orcs Must Die!

In a year where so many big game releases – and even some of the indies – have arrived under hype and marketing that encourages us to think of them as epochal, it almost seems incongruous to celebrating a quiet middleman like Orcs Must Die. It’s a game that gets on with being a game, where others spend half their oxygen screaming about how important or moving or crazed they are.

It’s also a game that’s built around a single idea and then adds toys on top of that idea until the whole thing just starts to teeter ominously, at which point it steps back and leaves things to you. You can probably guess what that single idea is. It’s in the title, after all.

Orcs are there to die. In their legions. You know, your character knows it, even the orcs themselves – more resigned than murderous – know it. And so the game tells the same joke over and over, each time in a different party hat and another colour of oversized bow-tie. Stab, squish, sizzle, slam, skewer. It’s a joke that works, that despite its idiot simplicity is broad enough to keep on fuelling a full game. There is a plot, and it’s fine, but it’s just a structure there to provide you with what you really want: a steady stream of new ways to make orcs die, and the freedom to experiment with how to make them die even harder. There’s no artifice here, just the cheerful meeting of the titular promise.

OMD’s also genuinely strategic, thanks to the tower defence (and thus enemy path-shaping) roots that some denizens of this ol’ echo chamber mystifyingly refute, and in a year where we haven’t had quite so many grade-A heavy hitters from the strategy side of things, I’m pleased to see at least some of the values creep into another game. It reminds me of strategy while giving me the direct involvement of the carnage of an action game. Hell, it even offers me the choice of how I want to play, depending on if I pour my build points into my traps or my character’s in-the-fray biffability.

In the first major chunk of the game, you’re basically indulging yourself with whatever trap constructions prove most pleasing to thine sadistic eye – how would sir like his orcs served?

As the game canters towards its end (and the second, far harder take on things that’s unlocked come completion), it becomes about managing the horde, being exacting in trap placements, setting up defences for defences, sprinting about the map through portals to keep yourself and the gateway you’re protecting safe from streams of jabbering text-book fantasy monsters that increasingly know what they’re doing.

Something else that knows what it’s doing is Robot Entertainment – risen from the ashes of Ensemble and free from the po-faced rigidity of Age of Empires to combine deft, thoughtful strategy with open silliness and giggly hi-action. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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