I appreciate a tough game as much as the next unemployed man. Hell, in my younger years I straight-faced had a stab at playing Ninja Gaiden on the hardest difficulty setting (and considering the game had three of those in place of the typical easy/normal options most developers opt for, that meant something). It was humiliating.
In case it wasn’t clear then, geoDefense is a tough game and it’s gained a bit of a reputation for it on the iPhone. But it’s also routinely held up as being the best example of the genre on a device perfectly equipped for tower defence games and one that isn’t lacking in them. A brief spell spent playing geoDefense and it’s easy to see why.
Firstly it looks ravishing. It’s a chaotic disco of primary colours with enemies erupting like fireworks each time one is vanquished. No slowdown, just a November 5th display in your hand. The game takes after Geometry Wars with its dark, grid-like background and neon-coloured enemies in the shape of warped primitive geometry (although some just plain look like Pacman). It’s a visual feast.
As far as gameplay goes, geoDefense plays like standard tower defence. You place weaponised towers along a set path to halt an army of Creeps from reaching your home and presumably sullying all the furniture and pissing with the toilet seat down. You gain money for kills, which you then spend on either upgrading towers or constructing new ones. You’re free to place towers just about anywhere, rather than on set quadrants, and the top-down view means your only restriction in doing so is the path the enemies drift down.
If geoDefense is tough because you’re given so much freedom and thus there’s so much room for blunder, it’s even tougher for its enemies. It stars the familiar troupe of speedy, slow, powerful and middling drones thrown in to draw your towers’ fire from the actual threatening ones. Alone they’re easily converted into neon detritus but together they act as an aggravated swarm of swift and mighty units that towers struggle to police. geoDefense revels in making you feel inadequate.
To make matters even more iron-fisted, the health, speed and rewards earned for killing the Creeps differs per level, granting the game either a precarious edge or making it utterly exasperating. Thank Odin it’s just the Pacman guys this time, you’ll think before all twenty skip through your armada of missile turrets, laser beams and sniper towers like they’re meandering through a museum.
That robs the game almost entirely of the languid nature other tower defence games thrive on, but that’s not a criticism. It’s geoDefense’s boon. Levels gradually build in tempo, culminating in a stentorian crescendo of enemies storming through your barricade. While that means you’re under siege like Poland circa 1939, it also means by the end you’ll be throwing down a constant supply of towers, making a shambles of your otherwise strategically placed defences.
It’s this fraught wrestling with the Creeps that makes geoDefense grueling but also a virtuoso of its craft.: it’s tactical but wily and just as you slip into the comforting clasp of safety it throws something unanticipated into the fray. As to whether it’s the best? Not in the wake of Plants vs. Zombies and Tower Defense: Lost Earth, but you’d be a pitiless critic to begrudge it on that.
If you can make it through the 38 levels – split between three campaigns: easy, medium, hard – then perhaps consider a job in future strategic warfare. As for me, I’m bowing out, conceding that its reputation for being bastard hard has been well earned indeed.