Orcs Must Die!
No, that’s not some kind of rallying call on behalf of Space Marines everywhere, but the title of Robot Entertainment’s Xbox Live Arcade / PlayStation Network title.
A mixture of the real time Tower Defence found in Trenched, with a dash of the resource management seen in the likes of Plants Vs. Zombies, Orcs Must Die! casts the player in the role of a valiant, yet dim-witted, apprentice. When the Grand Wizard is vanquished in battle whist trying to protect the precious Rift from the seemingly endless green horde, it’s up to the player to step up to the role of Orc slaying master.
Orcs Must Die! follows the recent trend of allowing the player full access to the battlefield within a Tower Defence setting, not merely charged with managing their placements but engaging in combat. There’s no time to take a back seat and the need to get in the Orc’s ugly green faces is as much as part of gameplay as using skill and judgement on where and when to place units. This first hand aspect fits perfectly here and thankfully there’s some excellent weaponry to wield – from crossbows to the ability to throw fireballs, each has both a main and secondary ability that comes in useful regardless of personal preference.
The player starts each round with a finite amount of coins, meaning judicious use in the early waves is essential. Each Orc that is successfully dispatched fills up the players coin purse, which in turn can then be exchanged for more emplacements. Here is where Robot Entertainment has imbued their game with a real sense of fun, as some of the toys at your disposal are hilarious to say the least. Watching a ferocious set of blades swing out and reduce Orcs to bloody giblets, or a spring board that launches them to their doom, will illicit many a chuckle, but there is also the practical side too. Spike strips pop up and turn our green-skinned foes into chunks while tar pits slow their progress, allowing the herd to be thinned out accordingly and made a bit more manageable.
This certainly sounds as if the player will eventually achieve a power-based epiphany within the game, but there really is no respite since each unit comes with a caveat. This might mean a cool down period where subsequent Orcs will continue to pile through a trap until it resets itself. Later on, when the player is given access to Weavers, coinage can be exchanged for a reduction in the recharge time etc, but it will never leave the player in a state of being overpowered. Accordingly the challenge is always there and it can be an incredibly fraught experience as wave after wave bears down, snarling and just itching to tear you limb from limb.
Battles can swing back and forth on key decisions made across the various waves and those who dismiss the lack of difficulty in the initial few levels will soon whimper back to the main menu to lower the setting, smarting as losses are snatched from what once seemed like the winning position. But if this sounds as if Orcs Must Die! is unfair or impossible, neither could be further from the truth. The whole genre has really taken a leap forward this generation and this title is no exception, slowly drip feeding new features to the player, augmenting their arsenal, empowering them and attempting to level the playing field, encouraging them to continue in their quest.
The look of the game is playful, with the character design very familiar to Capcom’s Maximo series of 3D platforming adventures from the PlayStation 2 era. Everything is bright and breezy so while the horde of Orcs might not look too different, they are lovingly animated and have a real character about them. Our hero is no slouch in this department either and his victory dance will raise a smirk as he jigs around, content with himself.
The same playfulness extends towards the sound of the game, with some excellent one-liners from the Bruce Campbell-esque main character, to the numb-skull utterances that come from the MENSA-dodging Orcs. Hearing them utter dim-witted lines such as “why can’t we all be friends?” makes for a lot of fun.
Sadly Orcs Must Die! is a single player experience only, but there are leaderboards to contend with. While the main campaign is robust enough to keep players coming back to try and better times and scores in certain areas, it would have been nice to throw another player into the mix in a co-operative scenario.
Those looking for an immersive and challenging experience could do worse than invest in the superb and charming world that Robot Entertainment has created within Orcs Must Die!