MarZ: Tactical Base Defense review – Welcome to Spaaaaace!

Game: MarZ: Tactical Base Defense
Developer: doorfortyfour
Game provided by developer: Yes

He’s dead, Dave. Everybody is dead. Everybody is dead, Dave

MarZ: Tactical Base Defense is a passion project created by the husband and wife development duo at the helm of development studio doorfortyfour. As someone who has always enjoyed a good Tower Defense game, specifically enjoying Kingdom Rush, Bloons TD, Dungeon Defenders and Defense Grid as well as RTS titles like Age of Empires, Company of Heroes and Command & Conquer, naturally MarZ: Tactical Base Defense was ticking all of the right boxes.

Set during the preparations of the first human colony on the red planet Mars, the settlers discovered fearsome creatures and mysterious structures. Digging further, the specialists must clear out hordes of the undead by reconquering zones in infested campaign missions. This is the 80’s sci-fi inspired story that unfortunately runs its course around half way through the 20 mission campaign, it quickly loses its originally interesting appeal as it turns increasingly generic with every passing mission, although it features some really nice voice acting.

Luckily, I never had to pay too much attention to the overarching narrative as I focused on the satisfying gameplay loop and mechanics on offer in this fantastically blended mix of real-time strategy and tower defense.

If you are unaware of what a tower defense game is it can be condensed down to; build defensive and offensive structures and upgrade them using resources to stem the oncoming tide of enemies that follow a set path. In this particular title, you have complete freedom, from within the confines of your energy sources around the map, to place any towers in any order and in any strategic location of your choosing, while gathering resources like you would see in a game like Starcraft.

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In space, no one can hear you scream

With a small, tight-knit group of towers that need to be utilized to their fullest potential by placing them in the most strategic positions it was my mission to eradicate the swathes of infested Russian colonists and to discover how they met their grisly fate. Taking advantage of a cheap but cost-effective machine gun turret, rockets that are good for dispersing a small group of enemies, a consistent laser that can take down even the most gnarly of infected, a tesla tower with a slowing area of effect and my personal favourite; the drone tower that sends an army of drones to overwhelm the attackers with sheer numbers. Each tower can be upgraded using resources gathered by extractors and each upgrade will provide a boost to tower stats and attack range. I really felt the difference once a tower was upgraded as I witnessed hordes of enemies turn to red mist as my crew rejoiced at their safety.

That’s not all, as MarZ: Tactical Base Defense smooshes in some RTS elements like resource gathering and tech research. It is advised to plop down an Arms Factory to research one-use support options directly from HQ.  Trust me, you will have fun extinguishing the flames on scorchers with a freeze ray, plotting a path for the orbital strike to follow or obliterating everything coming your way with one fell swoop of a nuke. These are extremely powerful abilities that can utterly change the route a battle is headed and gave me an unequivocal advantage over my foes.

Hold up! Those buildings don’t run themselves. Extractors, Arms Factories, Tech Centre’s and even towers need to be manned by a hardy space-exploring crew before they can be used, else you will just have a large block of fancy looking concrete as a distraction. Without your crew you ain’t coming out of their alive, remember that Commander.

Being able to move individual crew members around the map is an interesting mechanic that I have never seen used to this scale in a tower defense game before. It adds an interesting dynamic to the gameplay and creates another element that needs to be attended to, adding to the stress and constant fear of being overwhelmed. This is one of the reasons that building spam is completely negated here, ensuring that each encounter is a struggle. Baffling me, I was unable to upgrade my crew or give them better equipment. It would have been a nice option to see some different weapons.

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Oh, that is not all. Not at all. MarZ: Tactical Base Defense features powerful, unlockable perks that can be equipped before every campaign mission or skirmish that will completely alter how you play. My personal favourite was to take advantage of the Unlocked perk which, as you might have guessed, unlocked all buildings from the get-go and ensured I didn’t need to use resources on a Tech Centre to research every tower, before selling it and freeing up that crew member.

MarZ:Tactical Base Defense features a large variety of enemies that required me to use all of the tools in my arsenal as I was swarmed by husks that could overwhelm my perfectly planned base in seconds, speedy enemies who raced towards my lander, hulking behemoths that destroyed everything in their path and even full-blown mechs. I was constantly kept on my toes as MarZ: Tactical Base Defense demanded the best from me. All the time.

Space is boundless. It squashes a man’s ego

With an implemented Skirmish mode, it is possible to get lost in the best-in-genre graphics and satisfying gameplay that MarZ: Tactical Base Defense offers. Especially when that fun gameplay is combined with a fresh and streamlined UI that is intuitive and easy to understand from the get-go.

Skirmish works exactly like any similar mode in your favourite RTS game – pick from one of the campaign maps, select a difficulty, edit the enemy spawn percentages or keep it random, change the size of each horde and the timing between waves among a glut of alternative options. Right now, zombies will attack a base in waves however an onslaught or survival mode is coming in the future as well as the welcome addition of a level editor.

Unfortunately not everything is hunky-dory in this space race. Difficulty is all over the place – some levels are simple and others are perplexingly hard; MarZ: Tactical Base Defense seems to have lost the memo on gradually easing the player in to more difficult situations. This is true even on the lowest difficulty setting. The game demands utter perfection which can stunt player progression as unlocking the aforementioned perks is a necessity as it is glaringly obvious that some missions are centred around specific perks. My favourite perk, Unlocked, just so happens to be incredibly powerful and drastically reduced the difficulty as unlocking every building negated the need for a tech centre as I no longer had to research any towers, saving me a crew member to assign elsewhere, swathes and resources and time. On top of this, I found nowhere that informed me which levels unlocked what specific perks. A problem when I want to unlock a specific perk without grinding through every mission I haven’t 100% completed.

I grew up in an era where unlockables were the norm, so it is good to see those unlockable perks here, it is their implementation that rubs me the wrong way. It is scarily difficult to unlock them as it requires a perfect score on each mission.  A perfect score consists of losing no crew members, having zero buildings destroyed and not getting so much as a sneeze on the lander. There were occasions where I finished a mission perfectly aside from taking 1% damage to my lander or being utterly blindsided by a horde of extremely powerful foes that strike down one of my towers before I can scroll to it. This all without knowing which perk could be unlocked at the end of the mission is disastrous for player progression and can completely grind everything to an alarming halt.

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Each building must be connected to an energy hub.  Each energy hub can take up to four connections, so for example I could connect four towers or 3 extractors and one tower to any energy hub. I think this is a neat idea that provided me with the freedom to layout my defenses how I wanted. Unfortunately, once again the implementation was not as good as it had the potential to be as levels impose a limit on how many energy hubs can be placed, to arbitrarily increase the difficulty in an already hard game.

Energy hubs were finicky to place and the game disallowed me from placing them in such a  manner where their surrounding grid placements overlapped. This is another do it perfect the first time or get punished for it moment.  If I want to place an energy source in between two others and sacrifice some grid space so I can place resource gathering or defensive towers, I should have the option to.

There are too many times where I was railroaded in to doing everything in the exact way the developers thought I should be which stifled my creativity and essentially boils many of the more difficult campaign missions down to go through a series of trial and error mission attempts and try to find out the exact way we intend for you to complete this mission. Once again, unlocking more perks will help this, which further emphasises my problem with the perk system.

I would like to have seen a multiplayer or co-op mode as some of my favourite memories with my friends are frantically defending bases in Petroglyph’s 8-Bit RTS series or competing together in online multiplayer. Working together with others, sharing resources and strategically discussing our plan of attack could be an interesting experience that very few other tower defense games offer.

Verdict

Combining the very best elements of its peers with an interesting, but erroneous perk system and straight up bad difficulty scaling MarZ: Tactical Base Defense is a solid tower defense real-time strategy hybrid with a great sense of style and breathtaking visuals, something that is rarely seen in the genre.

It requires constant attention and I was regularly selling buildings and rebuilding towers in more strategic locations as I had stemmed the horde from one side of the base. Frantically reconstructing defenses to align with each wave and reassigning crew to buildings in the middle of a full-blown war made for intense gameplay sessions that left me with my heart pounding.

Even with its flaws and demanding need for perfection like an overbearing boss to a minimum wage employee, if you have a passing interest in tower defense or real-time strategy I would recommend checking out MarZ: Tactical Base Defense, particularly if you are up for a challenge.

What you are looking at is an incredibly satisfying experience that mixes the best elements of the tower defense genre in to an action packed, tactical-laden adventure.

SCORE: 3.5/5

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