Chances are many people have grown tired of the tower defense genre as a whole; lord knows there are tons of titles, and more recently, a few have popped up on the PlayStation Store. Fortunately for those tired of simply surviving wave after wave of faceless enemies, there is now Comet Crash. It may look like tower defense and it even plays like tower defense, but this is straight up real-time strategy (RTS) done right and without the fat.
What immediately separates Comet Crash from its tower defense brethren is that enemy waves emerge from a base, exactly like your own. No longer do the waves spawn off-screen or from subterranean lairs, but simply from a base controlled by the AI, which is just as susceptible to attack as your own. To fulfill that end, you have access to the same stable of units to deploy against the AI base. Conversely, the AI can build all the same tower types.
More like a traditional RTS, most levels begin with your AI opponent already having a prefabricated base, complete with unit-building structures and towers. As the level progresses, the AI will expand a bit further into the level with more towers, but will spend most of the time fortifying its perimeter by upgrading towers to higher levels and better efficiency. While it’s fortifying and sending enemy waves, you’ll be doing your best to devise the most effective defense given the current tech available and the amount of resources handy. This will involve blocking the swiftest paths to your base with either towers or sometimes the handy Gateway structure, which blocks enemy waves but allows friendly units safe passage.
As you’re building your maze of Turrets, Pulsars and other towers you’ll be managing the resources necessary to build and upgrade, and Comet Crash adds a fun arcade style element to the resource gathering. As the level plays out a number of comets of varying size will randomly fly over the battleground. Using your ship, which doubles as your building cursor, you’ll have to manually fly after the comets and grapple them with R2. Once tethered, you’ll drag the comet to your nearest friendly air defense tower, thus breaking it open to collect the resources contained within. Resource collection is livened up a bit thanks to enemy air defense constantly tracking your ship’s movement and later on in the campaign you can easily be blown out of the sky in a matter of seconds. Your ship will then respawn from the base with its resource collection radius reset, but it seems on the hardest difficulty the game should penalize you further afterward with either increased time penalties upon completion or a longer respawn time.
Once you’ve mastered your resource management and defense, it’ll be time to engage in what really sets Comet Crash apart: offense. Offensive units are deployed from your base and require the construction of two different buildings, Basic Ops and Special Ops. The Basic will afford you access to simple unit types that have the sole purpose of getting to the enemy base and inflicting damage. Special Ops will create complimentary units that build much slower but are absolutely crucial to circumventing an enemy’s tower defenses. They include the Carrier, which will lift friendly units over ground defenses and impassible terrain, as well as the Thief, that can turn units from enemy waves into friendlies. The Thief is a perfect example of how Comet Crash forces you to use your units not only for offense but for defense as well, since it not only decreases the amount of incoming enemy units but increases your amount of offensive units. Even the Basic Ops units can be utilized to slow down incoming waves as the two will struggle to pass by each other, allowing your towers to inflict more damage.
With units piling up from both sides, or even four sides (more on that later), the screen can fill up incredibly fast with literally thousands of units on screen at once. While this is a ton of on screen carnage, the game always feels manageable thanks to some incredibly shrewd menu design and implementation. Many other strategy titles require the player to navigate large menus or tech trees amidst enemy waves, but Comet Crash simplifies menu navigation to holding R1 and d-padding through a rectangle of the eight available structures. Additionally, you have units to deploy which has been ingeniously mapped to the right analogue stick, eight unit types and eight directions, hold one direction and it deploys, completely forgoing the need for a menu at all.
What really seals the deal for Comet Crash is its local multiplayer. Not only can you play through the campaign’s entirety with up to three friends, but you can engage in four player battle mode. The co-op can be a lot of fun and is a great tool for teaching your friends how to play the game, but the battle mode really steals the show. When the game starts each player gets to place their base before the round begins and quickly all hell breaks loose. With players all operating within the same board, wrestling for air supremacy to collect resources, directing wave traffic on the grounds and utilizing your Special Ops to upset enemy defenses, the battle mode can be extremely intense. What makes it so great is it really boils down to what most RTS versus modes end up as, except it cuts the fat. Instead of seeing who can quickly research the most valuable techs you’re given essentially what you need to win from the get go and it’s all about building it and employing it effectively. With tons of units and four players trying to direct them into bases, the battle mode almost has a bizarre Chu Chu Rocket multiplayer similarity, and that’s a damn good thing.
Comet Crash certainly isn’t the most sophisticated looking tower defense title, but if you pass it up because of its simplistic visuals, you’re truly missing out. It’s chock full of clever design and great unit/tower balancing, plus it has some of the most generally engaging local multiplayer found on the PlayStation Store. Additionally, it might very well be the best RTS on the PS3.