I have a confession to make. I should be playing a different game right now, preparing to write a review. But I made a big mistake. I installed the game I have to review next. I installed, and played, Orcs Must Die!. Now I can't concentrate on that other game for longer than ten minutes at a time without the sweet call of those rampaging orcs, enticing me to return once more into the dungeons to defend the rift.
The concept is simple: defend the rifts (portals to your home country) from waves of invading orcs. To do this, you must rely on carefully placed traps and minions, along with your own third person fighting ability. As you progress, you grow from using simple spike traps to fireball amulets to giant swinging spike-balls. Meanwhile, your enemies are numerous and varied, from the simple melee orcs to giant ogres to lightning-fast gnolls and even flying devils. As you kill more orcs, your budget increases, affording you more traps and allies - sort of an Evil Genius meets tower defense formula.
Aside from the gameplay, humor is a huge focus, as you essentially play a lovable douche-bag similar to Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. The former guardian of the rifts, your old mentor, dies suddenly (and hilariously) and it's up to you to keep the orcs at bay in his stead. Along the way, you learn a bit more about why you are in this precarious situation and what it would mean if you failed. Along the way, you will hear your Apprentice make sarcastic comments about his dire circumstances and during battle he acts like a cocky loudmouth, all of it witty and hilarious. There are storybook cutscenes here and there, but the humor is certainly more in the general atmosphere of the game than in outright jokes. Similar to the humor, the graphics are lively, upbeat and perfect in setting the right mood. Everything has a cartoonish feel but it doesn't hit you over the head with it (a la most cell-shaded games).
The real story here, though, is the gameplay. The best part about this game is its flexibility. Not only are you given a new trap or power that works great in the level you unlocked it in, but going back, you can tell that developer Robot Studios made sure those future traps also work great if you use your imagination. Sure, you may only get three skulls out of five the first time you run level 6 (skulls are the currency used to buy upgrades), but going back later with the newest shiny killing machine you earned in level 10 will work better than you could have hoped.
But it's not just about favoring one type of trap over another; it's also about combinations. Using barricades to create chokepoints next to a spinning blade wall while covering the floor with tar to slow everyone down? Yeah, that's a good one. How about some springy pressure plates at the end of that madness to fling those lucky enough to survive back down the hallway so they can do it all over again? Even better. You see, the game also has a fairly robust physics engine, so it's not all about straight damage. Sometimes you want to just knock some orcs off a ledge into a pit of glowing acid. You can even create overly-complex traps, like using steam vents to rocket orcs sky high, only to have overwatching archer guardians pick them off in mid air. Winning each level is only half the fun, the other half is finding new and crazy ways to kill.
If there is one downside, it's that there aren't a ton of levels. Nightmare difficulty allows you to go back and play everything again with more and tougher orcs, but even so, if you find yourself addicted, as I did, the end comes all too quickly. Here's hoping they release lots of DLC in the future. But let's face it, if the only negative thing one can say about a game is that there isn't enough of it, that's speaks volumes about its value.
For a fifteen dollar indie game, Orcs Must Die! has given me more enjoyment than most AAA, fifty dollar titles. I wholeheartedly recommend people buy this game, hardcore and casual crowd alike. Even if you aren't convinced after reading this, try the demo and then see if you can resist going back, again and again. As for me, I'm going to have to uninstall the damn thing just so I can get this other review written. Curse you, Orcs Must Die!