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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: Unstoppable Gorg (PC)

From the depths of outer space comes…TERROR! HORROR! GORG! Who amongst the human race is strong enough to stop an unstoppable force? Only the brave Captain Adam! Our last hope against the Unstoppable GORG!

I’m not sure about the rest of you but I love old pulp sci-fi movies. Flash Gordon fighting Ming the Merciless, Buck Rogers battling Killer Kane and his henchmen; heck, one of my favourite reads at the moment is Queen of the Iron Sands, a serialized pulp sci-fi story being published on author Scott Lynch’s personal website. There’s some incredibly entertaining about how cheesy and clichéd those sorts of stories can be, yet how they can remain so compelling.

It’s puzzling, then, that there are so few games that try to utilize a theme that could offer such hilarious fun. It seems like pulp science fiction should lend itself to video games so fantastically, it’s confusing why we haven’t seen more of them. Over-the-top action, otherworldly locations and fantastic gadgets that have little to no basis on physics; all these terms can be used to explain both video games and pulp sci-fi. I mean, there have been attempts, sure, but none of them have even come close to being anything special – we all know how Dark Void for console turned out, after all, even if Dark Void Zero was a fun diversion. So what’s the hold up?

Unstoppable Gorg asks that question and then promptly answers by giving us a tower defense game. And, while I appreciate the attempt, that wasn’t exactly the example I wanted to use to make my point.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Unstoppable Gorg is an entertaining little game. But in an industry that’s inundated with tower defense games, I remain a bit skeptical of any new games that fall within that already saturated category. Thus, I approached this title with some trepidation. I’ve played too many tower defense games in my short lifetime and have decided that, beyond Plants vs. Zombies (the classic), Sanctum (a TD with an FPS spin) and Orcs Must Die! (comedic and strategic gold), I need no others. And Unstoppable Gorg nearly earned a place amongst such esteemed company based solely on how well it executes its theme.

Nearly.

The game is broken into three sections: Story mode, Challenge mode and Arcade mode. Arcade mode is pretty straightforward: using the tactics taught to you in Story mode, you are pitted against endless waves of enemies, and it’s up to you to survive for as long as possible. It’s very simple and straightforward and everything you’d expect from your average tower defense game. Each level sets you in orbit around a different planet or other stellar body and asks you to defend the object in the middle against the encroaching hordes. Unlike other tower defense games, however, there is no one set path that enemies will follow. And this is where the game gets a bit confusing to explain.

Pictures explain things so much easier, don't you think?
You see, because your nexus or base or what-have-you is located in the middle of space, it has a gravitational pull. This is represented by a number of circles around your base, each of which has a number of spots to build satellites. It is these satellites that serve as your defenses, varying enough to include things like: satellites with missile launchers; satellites with machine guns; satellites with ray beams; satellites that repair other satellites; and even satellites that harness energy to provide income to build more satellites. Basically all your typical tower defense towers, only in satellite form.

Each satellite must be bound to a particular orbit and cannot be moved to a different orbit afterwards. However – and this is the real key to the game – the orbits can be rotated, thus allowing you to rearrange your defenses at a whim, depending on which path the attackers decide to take. It is this sort of ingenious strategy that makes Unstoppable Gorg more impressive than some of its TD brethren: where other tower defense games force you to build your towers along a single path that the enemies will follow, Unstoppable Gorg sends the enemies at you from all angles and leaves it up to you to move your satellites into position.

This, however, is also ultimately a downfall of Unstoppable Gorg; where Sanctum and Orcs Must Die! allow you to build your own course and funnel enemies where you want them to go, and Plants vs. Zombies allows you to focus on single lanes at a time, Unstoppable Gorg instead demands that you focus on all directions at all times, without the ability to change the direction of the flow of enemies.

It’s a shame that the gameplay ends up being so lackluster because the theme and story of the game is absolutely fantastic. The pulp science fiction theme presented is the best that I’ve seen in a video game, bar none: it is so over-the-top and clichéd and tongue-in-cheek it’s hard to take seriously, and that’s the best part about it!

When you start the Story, you are cast as Captain Adam, an intergalactic hero from Earth, who is tasked with the defense of our planet. Your lady is kidnapped by the Great Emperor Gorg (or some other fantastic title), who then sends you a video showing him killing your woman in an effort to show how evil he is. It is then up to you to save Earth and the entire galaxy from the evil Gorg!

To make matters even better (or worse, depending on your constitution), all the video is live-action! And when you think live-action pulp sci-fi, you think of only one thing: bad special effects. And, true to form, Unstoppable Gorg delivers! 

A selection of the fantastic costumes on show
in Unstoppable Gorg!
That means that, yes, the Great Emperor Gorg is a man in a costume, the UFOs shown are models suspended by wires, and everything else is either still photos or stock footage from the 50’s. It’s this sort of dedication to the source material that really makes this game sing and stand out, even despite the unfocused state of its gameplay. The rotating orbits certainly posed an interesting strategic element unfound in other games of its kind but ultimately leave too much to be desired to make a difference in the game.

All in all, Unstoppable Gorg was a fun little title. It certainly rekindled my love for old pulp sci-fi films – I’m planning on watching the Flash movie soon! – and proved that it could be used in a video game to great results. However, as a tower defense game, it ultimately falls short of the great titles, landing somewhere in the middle of an admittedly large pack.

I’d still recommend you check it out, though, if only to revel in the hilarious goodness that is the battle between Captain Adam and the Gorg!

- Nick J.



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Review: Unstoppable Gorg (PC)
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