Reviewed: February 6, 2009
Released: January 29, 2009
Savage Moon is the latest game to hit the PlayStation Store. Oddly enough, Iíve had the Savage Moon theme on my PS3 for more than a month now and didnít know anything about the game, but now that I have spent a few days with this action-strategy title, I have to admit I was pretty impressed and slightly frustrating.
Savage Moon is hard. What starts of fairly easy, at least with the tutorial and next two levels, quickly ramps up in difficulty to the point where casual gamers will likely give up in frustration. But for those that stick with it, you will experience a unique take on the ďdefend the baseĒ strategy genre.
In this game itís you versus the bugs in a game that rivals the conflict of Starship Troopers (some of the bugs even look the same), only in this game you have a lot better weapons and most of them are automated so the loss of life is minimized. The concept is simple. You travel from moon to moon where you are challenged to defend the mining base against multiple swarms of Insectocytes coming by land and air.
You start off with a certain amount of drop pods. These are used to deliver items from your orbiting supply ships that you pay for with a fluctuating bank account based on the number of bugs you kill. When you start you can build a machine gun turret and everything else has to be researched. Lasers, air-to-air, mortars, blocking towers, repair towers, any anything else must be researched in the tech tree before it becomes available in the build menu. Select the defense item and pick a strategic location on the map to deploy it.
The landscapes are unique and offer natural paths the bugs will take to get from their spawn points to your base. You can alter their path or try to create choke points by dropping blocking towers in their path. Everything you build can be upgraded and you can even research advanced upgrades for a total of four stages of enhancement. Not only do you need to keep your weapons at top upgrade levels, you will also need to monitor their health and perhaps install repair towers to keep them from getting blown off the map.
With each subsequent wave of bugs, the Insectocytes will be improving their own ranks, both in numbers and biological upgrades such as size and improved armor. If you fail to increase the number of defense turrets and their upgrade status youíll quickly start to notice the bugs make it closer to your base with each new wave.
There are some additional layers of strategy. You have command preferences that allow you to tips the scales of damage, defense, or credits earned per kill. Increasing one will decrease the other, so if you want to make more money for each kill youíll lose firepower and defensive ability. You can adjust these sliders in real-time during the mission, which is nice since you usually need stronger firepower more than money during the final few waves.
You are also shown the types of creatures coming in the next wave, so you can focus upgrade and repair efforts on the installations that will offer the most support against the creatures in that wave. It wonít be long before you find yourself simultaneously under attack from land and air by bugs, worms, and wasps. The entire game takes place in real-time, even during menu navigation, so it gets pretty intense when you are scrambling to repair the main base or fix damaged turrets or build new ones or research new technology. Plus the limited number of delivery pods also restricts the number of installations you can build at any one time, even more so than your money.
Visually, Savage Moon is impressive at first, but it only takes a few moons to realize youíve seen most of what this game has to offer in the first hour of gameplay. The bugs have some interesting variations and itís cool to see your weapons morph into bigger and better ones as you do the various upgrades. The analog sticks offer some slick pan and zoom capabilities, and you can even take control of any turret camera and watch the devastation from a blurry first-person surveillance view. This is fun and kind of cool until you realize that you donít really have time to be watching the action.
The maps are interesting with nice details and smooth polygons. There are rolling hills and sharp canyons but no matter how much pummeling you do with mortars and lasers, nothing ever deforms. It would have been awesome to dig a crater with my mortar to slow down the bugs or blast a new path through a canyon wall. I was also disappointed that a game with relatively no fast movement or an abundance of detail was limited to 720p.
The music is standard military style stuff. Itís actually quite shocking when Savage Moon is your default game on the PS3 and the wallpaper and theme song burst forth whenever you start up the system without a game disc inserted. The sound through the game is fairly 2D in nature, which is acceptable since you are playing from an overhead isometric view, and the gunfire can get monotonous after an hour or so. There are only a half-dozen types of weapons and even if you have a few of each all going at once, it all just blurs into an annoying din.
Savage Moon offers numerous levels although the premise is pretty much the same on each. Analyze the terrain, plot the most likely path, devise choke points, and strategically lay down rows of defense turrets then keep enhancing them to keep up with the evolving Insectocytes. Nothing you do on one moon carries over to the next, so you are basically starting from scratch on each new moon, which is slightly demoralizing. As previously mentioned, the difficulty goes from hard to absurd by the forth or fifth moon.
Savage Moon is an interesting take on the strategy genre offering lots of exciting real-time defense planning, terrain analysis, and gory bug-slaughtering mayhem. With support for both Trophies and Online Rankings and Leaderboards, Savage Moon even manages to offer something for the competitive gamer, even if the game only supports one player.
Some gamers are really going to enjoy this game while others will find it far to frustrating and fast-paced. I can make a cautious recommendation for those interested in the genre but casual gamers should probably try a demo before the invest in the full product.