The tower defence genre sprung into popularity in recent years thanks to the rapid adoption of touchscreen formats as gaming platforms. However, the genre is limited to a single input mechanism, and as such adaptations of the formula have been seen on controller and mouse & keyboard based formats, and even voice-controlled experiences. It was perhaps inevitable that the genre would make its way into the virtual reality (VR) videogames spectrum also, and leading the way on the Gear VR is Aldin Dynamics’ Twisted Realms.
Tower defence titles, as the genre rapidly became adopting by both casual and core videogame demographics, has seen a great deal of exposition and evolution. Many would argue that the pinnacle of the genre remains PopCap Games’ Plants Vs. Zombies, thanks largely to its the immediacy offered by it’s simplicity and the depth garnered later by its rapidly increasing difficulty. While Twisted Realms isn’t about to knock PopCap Games’ franchise from atop its perch, it does bring a few new ideas that allow it to suggest what the genre can do in VR.
The videogame begins simply, as one would imagine, with only a clutch of towers available to the player on the initial few levels. Twisted Realms offers a fully 3D map, and as such players will have to take into account rises and falls in the landscape when choosing where to place their defensive structures. The path enemies will follow is highlighted, though there is a certain amount of deviation from these routes that the undead armies will take. The player must ensure that their defensive are positioned along the highlighted paths but with a wide enough view and radius to catch those sneaky bad guys that wander off the beaten path.
One of the unique advantages of working in VR is that Twisted Realms operates in 360 degrees. It’s rare that enemies will come at your all-important command tower from all sides, but the player has the ability to mount one of their defensive structures and take direct control of it’s targeting and firing rate. This is a welcome addition to the formula, though it does take a great deal of practice to learn the nuances of each tower’s firing arc and range, leaving you at a disadvantage compared to the automated turrets at first. Of course, the ease of the opening levels allows for a gentle learning curve during this process.
Twisted Realms‘ short campaign is inviting through to completion, and suggests greater things are to come for the genre in VR. The visual quality is certainly on the low end of the spectrum, with muddy textures and stuttered animation on enemy units, but on the whole the videogame does well to create a sense of impending doom; especially on later levels when the difficulty and numbers of the enemy units is upped. The 360 degree view allows the player to skip around the environment as they are called upon to do so, and the fact that everything is controlled simply with the Gear VR’s on-board touchpad lowers the barrier for entry.
A good first look at tower defence videogames in VR, Twisted Realms is a welcome addition to the launch line-up for the consumer edition of the Gear VR. It’s unlikely to be considered a defining title for the format – nor the genre, as more rival titles set their sights on VR – but as a first attempt it’s likely to inspire others to push the genre forward with both its intelligent assessment of VR’s strengths and its flaws.