And die they do; by the hundreds – by the thousands – they trudge slowly into the maw of a nightmarish trap network where they are cut, stabbed, sliced, shot, sprung, burned, bashed, poisoned and drugged. Kobolds try to scurry over and under but get bogged down in treacle-like tar. Ogres attempt to smash their way through only to wander over a trapped floor panel which springs them back to the start of the gauntlet (or, if it’s available, into some acid). And any Gnolls who successfully hunt down their chief tormentor tend to find him standing under a giant swinging mace that inexplicably misses him and gibs them.
This spectacular array of carnage forms the centrepiece of Orcs Must Die. I found the real pleasure of this game was in building the most Heath Robinson-esque system of traps to funnel those poor orcs into something particularly choppy or burny – my masterpiece so far is the citadel where an elaborate system of spring and pusher traps bounced them down the tower level by level until they plopped into the lava at the bottom. The physics traps are by far the best thing about it but the others also put in a strong showing along with the environmental hazards; levels are littered with ambient traps like acid pots, spiked logs and even chandeliers which can be dropped onto the orcs’ heads if shot. It all combines to produce a truly wondrous harmony of violence that, when the game gets it right, has been one of my better gaming experiences this year.
Unfortunately the developers keep trying to present me with a challenge by limiting my funds or where I can put my traps, which is ironic because even on Nightmare mode Orcs Must Die is fundamentally a very easy game. Is there a chokepoint in the level? If not, create one with barricades. Then set up a swinging mace above some tar and/or some wall blades. This will instantly kill everything except for ogres in one hit, and the war mage’s innate combat abilities are generally enough to see him through until he has the funds to build this setup. Unless the player is particularly anal about getting five stars on every level it makes completing them trivial once the relevant traps are unlocked, so I don’t understand this unnecessary focus on challenge when what the game should have been doing was presenting me with new and interesting ways to kill orcs. There aren’t anywhere near enough stages with lava or acid pits or high drops where the pusher traps are useful, and Endless/Sandbox modes are also conspicuous by their absence.
So as much as I enjoyed the fun levels there’s too many awkward ones in the mix where I was forced to rely on my mage shooting things himself rather than the traps, which is far less interesting to me since the combat pretty much consists of running backwards while clicking the left mouse button really really fast. It’s a bit of a fundamental misstep in the design; I’m given this great toolbox for killing orcs yet the geometry of the levels and the pricing of the traps means I don’t get to use 70% of it. Orcs Must Die is a nice idea, but it’s one I wish the developers had thought through a little bit more before putting into practice.