Does geoDefense Swarm reach the high bar set by its predecessor? Not only does Swarm meet the bar, it raises it some. Doing a bit of quick math, that makes Swarm my new favorite iPhone tower defense game and perhaps yours, too. For those readers that are unfamiliar with the original geoDefense, you can check out the review here as the game will be referenced later in the review. A quick confession: the original geoDefense was the game that really got me sucked in to tower defense and as such I have made an effort to separate critique from sheer fanboyism.
Tower defense games usually fall into two camps, ones that present an open field for players to mold and ones that shove enemies along a preset path. Either way, the goal is usually to simply place deadly attack towers that will keep enemies from getting from point a to point b. Swarm is really a mixture of the two, presenting a field of play riddled with obstacles and special tiles that will influence the way in which one can or will guide the enemies towards their collective doom. This is not an original concept, in fact defense grid for the PC and Xbox Live Arcade also mixes the two dominant kinds of tower defense in a similar fashion to Swarm.
While the basic premise of Swarm has indeed been seen before, one still feels as if they have experienced something highly original after spending some time with the game. This can be attributed to the clever level design and intensely challenging gameplay that ensues. Challenge is a key part of extending the life of a tower defense game and the fact of the matter is that Swarm, like the original geoDefense, can be devilishly hard. Yet this is difficulty in the vein of games like Mega Man. Swarm’s mechanics are simple, the controls easy to use, and any losses can usually be attributed to the player needing to take a fresh look at the level. I ended up playing the game in the default “Hardcore mode” to try and extend its life span, but a novice mode is available for those who feel maligned by the punishing difficulty curve.
Veterans of geoDefense will remember the standout colorful visuals, quick and kinetic gameplay and choice array of towers. All of that is back in Swarm, and in their new settings each tower serves somewhat of a different purpose. For instance, the standard gun tower is often used now as a path forming tool to guide the creeps. Shock towers can now be used more creatively due to the free form nature of the game, and laser towers can cover more lines with some sneaky planning.
Swarm brings quite a few new things to the geoDefense franchise along with the already discussed “open field” gameplay. The fields themselves are composed of a series of hexagons which means that creeps will never be able to move in a horizontal line due to the offsetting of the tiles. This means that effective laser tower placement is now either across vertical or diagonal stretches of tiles. Some tiles speed up creeps, while others heal them. Each field has an entrance and an exit (which you are trying to stop enemies from reaching) and some fields have multiple points of entry and exit. Creeps have access to special orange tiles which the player is restricted from putting their towers on. A new tower, the “Thump”, has been thrown into the mix. While I appreciated the inclusion of a new tower type, the effects of the thump tower are not truly apparent till its more upgraded form making it a risky early game choice on some levels. Swarm also includes AI, which was not necessary for the original. The addition of AI means that part of the game is to anticipate and manipulate the AI’s behavior, which adds yet another layer to the already challenging game. On a more macro level, the game uses OpenFeint to track high scores. While the majority of people will simply be happy after completing a level, there will of course be those compelled to share there incredibly high scores.
geoDefense Swarm works on a level that few tower defense games do. This does not mean that it is lacking in issues and there are a few elements I wish could be changed. A checkpoint or rewind system like that in Defense Grid would help, because many times there is not a need to rework and replay the early game but one must do so with every failure. Swarm often has many towers on screen, and a tool that would allow for the upgrading of multiple towers would have been helpful towards the end game when money is not really an issue. This could be as simple as a drag/paint to select mechanism or even something that lets you select an area and then upgrade a certain tower type. Adding more new towers instead of just the one could have potentially expanded the gameplay. For instance, I could see an expensive warp tower that transports creeps that cross over it to the next warp being useful. A tower that does continuous damage even after contact could be put to good use as well. Swarm could also do with a level editor, as the hexagonal field would be so simple to edit on one’s phone. While this is not something that immediately detracts from the game, it just seems as if it would be so well suited to Swarm. A complaint that is perhaps unique to me is that I would really like to have seen an option to play a randomly generated or empty level with a random selection of towers.
Complaints aside, geoDefense Swarm is an undeniably excellent take on tower defense and is also my personal favorite of the genre. Swarm is a great value at the launch price of .99 cents, and every person who has ever enjoyed a tower defense game should go pick this up. For those who have yet to get in to tower defense, there is a lite version of the original geoDefense but I will go out on a limb and say that if at all curious one should go out and buy Swarm as it is the better of the two.
Swarm is certainly pleasant to look at and is presented well but there is nothing all too original in this respect.
The sounds fit the game well, and using one’s own music is supported.
Swarm is very simplistic in its nature, it is the arrangement of its simple parts that pushes it into the upper echelons of tower defense.
This game will take a large amount of time to beat and online leaderboards are available. The lack of a level editor or a more sandbox-esque level means gamelife is a bit more finite after completing each stage. Endless mode is a plus, but one can only replay the same scenario so many times.
Swarm plays strongly off of the strengths of the original geoDefense. While it is arguably the better of the two, some minor issues keep it from being a five star game.