Just one thing before we start:
GORG! AAAAAAAHHH! HE IS THE UNSTOPPABLE!
Right, now that’s out of my system we can get on with the review.
Unstoppable Gorg is a puzzler-cum-tower defence game with an awesomely cheesy retro 1950s sci-fi flavour. I put the puzzler part of the descriptor first because that’s what Unstoppable Gorg is, primarily. All tower defence games have some sort of puzzle element to them, but they’re distinguished from true puzzlers in that they usually give you the freedom to work towards your own solution, Gorg on the other hand can best be described as a puzzle game with some light tower defence elements.
How did this happen? It’s down to Unstoppable Gorg’s main gameplay conceit, which is that it is set in space. Other tower defence games give you vast swathes of land upon which you can plan and build your defences. In Gorg, there is no land. All the game gives you are a few hotspots on a series of orbital rings surrounding whatever you’re trying to keep the aliens away from. Consequently, missions where you’re able to build more than five or six offensive towers are incredibly rare.
This robs Gorg of what little free-form nature it might have carried over from its tower defence heritage. Instead of trying to find a rough combination of towers which works, you’re trying to find the single tower which will crack a mission wide open as well as figuring out when exactly to build it. And the game doesn’t allow any room for error, either; given the way resource gathering is set up you often only have enough money to build/upgrade a couple of types of tower when a certain wave turns up, and if you choose poorly you can kiss goodbye to your planet/spaceship/space station. I very much got the impression that there was only one “correct” solution to a level, and that if I deviated from this solution even slightly the game would punish me with failure.
On the whole this isn’t a particularly promising recipe for fun, but Gorg tries its best. Since you’re building satellites instead of towers you can rotate individual orbital rings to change the positions of satellites at any time. Tracking an incoming wave with a powerful turret by manually moving it round the station is one of the hallmarks of the later missions. It’s also this more than anything else that makes it resemble a puzzler, as other satellites you’ve put down on the same ring will also be moved, often screwing up your carefully-planned defences. Not only do you have to place your turrets in the right places to intercept an incoming wave, but you also have to place them in such a way that moving one of them won’t leave you open somewhere else
This makes Unstoppable Gorg far more trial-and-error-y than other games of its type, and while the orbital rings and the ability to move them are what distinguishes Gorg from its competitors gameplay-wise I think they end up hurting the game more than they help it. For example, there’s about eighteen types of satellite in the game, roughly half of which never get used because there is so little margin for error you can’t afford to. Some of these are just plain useless, like the sweeper and the gas missile. Others are the “support” satellites that would otherwise form the lynchpin of a successful defence – the slow turret, the tripwire turret, the turret that boosts all other turrets in range – and in no situation is it ever worth taking one of these over something with the capacity to shoot back at the aliens. And believe me, you need to shoot back. You want as much direct firepower as possible firing as continuously as possible because many of the alien ships are insanely hard to kill even for the weapons they’re supposed to be weak to.
Unstoppable Gorg features three alien races. The Sunbots are weak to energy weapons but strong against physical damage. The Brain Riders are strong against energy weapons but weak against physical damage. And then there’s the middle-of-the-road Gorg… people, who are not particularly strong or weak against anything. This is supposed to induce the player to construct a cunning defence network that consists of both types of damage in order to efficiently dispose of each alien race, but since building space is at a premium – and effective building space even more so given the way the rings are set up – and as mentioned the player is often constrained in what they can build at any particular point in the mission by their budget, it’s far more cost-effective to have multiple turrets that can hurt every alien race instead of one or two specific counter-turrets for each. What I would like to have done was spam as many missile launchers as possible since those were the only weapon that was truly effective against all ship types, but often I simply couldn’t afford to do this and had to slum it with something cheaper and worserer.
I’m not sure if this is good design or bad design in the context of what Gorg ended up being. Sure, it prevented me from using the same strategy to win every map, but on the other hand Gorg already does enough to tie the player’s hands. Having to deal with the currency restriction on top of everything else was immensely frustrating at times, and it’s probably the major factor in my saying Gorg only has one correct solution per level – when a certain wave arrives, you have X amount of money that has to be spent on Y turret placed in Z spot or else you will fail the level, and the game consists of trying to find Y and Z for each successive wave. This is reasonably engaging, but it’s nowhere near the meaty strategic experience tower defence is supposed to offer because there’s no flexibility.
So Gorg is perhaps not that great a game. It is solid, it is respectable, but I would definitely hesitate before calling it good. Which is sad, because the thing I enjoyed most about Unstoppable Gorg had sod all to do with the game itself; the entire thing is packaged in this 1950s Flash Gordon-esque box, complete with cutscenes where wobbly saucers suspended from clearly-visible wires assault Earth ships shaped like the classic Flash Gordon rocket with a sparkler jammed up its ass. This did much to endear Gorg to me; I laughed out loud when Radiant Sunbeem first popped up on my screen – a reaction rarely induced by anything – while the frequent news reports contain plentiful treats for those like me who are fans of reading the small print of fake TV newspapers (some of them are actually quite topical considering what this blog has talked about in the past). There’s a constantly-palpable love for the period and the style on display throughout; it’s something that developers often bang on about all the time but which rarely ever comes through in a game after the publishers and marketers are done with it. Its presence makes the game enjoyable in spite of its many, many flaws, and I can’t help but think it deserved a better vessel than the ultimate mediocrity that is Unstoppable Gorg.