Siege of Centauri Review: Tower Defense By the Numbers
Remember those simple Flash games you'd find on websites like Newgrounds and Kongregate? If they didn't feature clicker-game mechanics or stick figures exploding, then there's a good chance they included features from the tower defense genre.
Siege of Centauri reminds me a lot of those games, except with a supremely polished coat of paint and (very) high production values. But underneath its shiny exterior, this tower defense title still feels relatively archaic and overly simple by modern standards.
Ideas Under Siege
Siege of Centauri is a top-down tower defense game developed and published by Stardock Entertainment. The game takes place in the same universe as the developer's popular Ashes of the Singularity RTS series. Here, though, you deploy an arsenal of mechanical defenses to protect remote bases from alien onslaughts.
It's a simple premise that's bolstered by lengthy, involved, and entirely unnecessary mission dialogues that actually feature some surprisingly good voice over efforts. It's a shame, however, that the talent feels a bit wasted on content most players will likely skip. Much more of that flavor context should have been woven into the missions themselves to aid pacing and inject some much-needed personality into the overall product.
Instead, after the first hour or so, the game winds up feeling like a bit of a slog. There are about 24 missions in total that will take roughly seven hours to complete, plus a meager endless mode for a few maps, and a level editor that also lets players download community maps.
Generally, though, all of the maps feel the same. There is little variation, especially in terms of enemy lanes and movement along those lanes. Basically, each map is flat and forgoes varied elevation. It simply feels like the game's level designers ran out of ideas far too early in the development process.
Polished But Not Perfected
Now, let me be clear: I'm not saying Siege of Centauri looks, feels, or plays like a hobbyist Flash game. Stardock is responsible for some excellent strategy titles such as Sins of a Solar Empire, Ashes of Singularity, and Galactic Civilizations. That's their specialty. But despite what you might assume based on how much these genres overlap, that doesn't seem to have translated to the same depth, complexity, and thoughtfulness in the tower defense scene.
Thankfully, there are some things that work very well. Visually, Stardock's tower defense title certainly shines through.
Siege of Centauri is undoubtedly one of the best looking tower defense games in terms of not only map design and texture detail but also gadget and enemy quality. Even its particle effects are flashy.
Swarms of enemies pour into maps later in the campaign in such a way that it feels almost like they're stumbling over each other to rabidly attack your base. It can often feel intense and overwhelming for brief moments, which is a welcomed change of pace from most of the game's pacing — and they look fantastic doing it.
It's just a shame that the glorious mobs of creepy, crawly, and sometimes mechanized alien hordes aren't smarter and more dangerous. Other tower defense games really make you plan and think and pick and choose your battles. It's a genre about cost-benefit analysis and this one usually devolves into the same brand of chaos at the end of just about every mission.
While some enemy types are weak to certain weapons and not others, it doesn't end up mattering much in the end since most weapons have similar ranges and area of effect attacks that hit multiple groups at once. If you spread out your weapons enough and summon reinforcements when available, most levels won't be much challenge without manually raising the difficulty slider.
- Great visuals and detailed animations
- Surprisingly engaging voice acting before missions
- Solid, albeit derivative, core gameplay loop
- Level design lacks variety and verticality
- Most missions devolve into identical chaos by the end
- Upgrades aren't very rewarding
- Performance issues plague stability
As far as I'm concerned, Hidden Path's Defense Grid: Awakening and Defense Grid 2 the standard-bearers of the defense genre; they've set high bars that have yet to be surpassed, and Siege of Centauri doesn't come close in any regard. The genre has seen plenty of spin-off iterations like Dungeon Defenders, Orcs Must Die, Plants vs. Zombies, and more bring in extra mechanics. Siege of Centauri feels decidedly stuck in the past by comparison.
All that being said, Siege of Centauri is still extremely playable, brings high-quality production values to the table, and has a brisk campaign that's solid to play through at least once. At $15, you can certainly do worse, but it's hard to commend it much beyond that at this stage.
[Note: A copy of Siege of Centauri was provided by Stardock for the purpose of this review.]