plaYce, the latest in 3D quick engagement games for you and your PC has debuted with their tower defense title Downtown Defender. plaYce’s plug-in allows for easy entry into the game, the visuals of which far surpass your standard browser-based title. Within the plaYce framework developers can create more games – Hong Kong and NYC are rumored to be next – and players will avoid the hassle of downloads. The plaYce plaYer is currently available for Windows XP/Vista and works in Firefox 3 and IE 6/7, and is still in beta. I played in Firefox and encountered no difficulties, and am pleased to report they are working on support for OS X, Linux and Google Chrome.
Downtown Defender showcases plaYce’s mirror world concept, or games set in their real world counterparts, in this case the city of San Francisco. Like any good tower defense game, players are tasked with protecting the civilians of the city by the bay from hordes of monsters that attack in timed waves. You run the show from your Black Hawk helicopter, which enables you to navigate the cityscape and construct your defenses.
Simple controls are part of what makes plaYce and Downtown Defender so accessible. Holding left click guides your helicopter around the city, directed by a blue arrow. Similarly, pointing at a landing pad and holding left click safely guides your Black Hawk down to the building or street level. Once landed, left click also allows you to choose a turret or upgrade from the menu. Holding the right click controls the camera view, and escape pauses the game. Adjusting the camera becomes a particularly important feature as it is possible to get “stucK” on a taller building if you are not careful, and landing on certain launch pads is impossible without it.
Tower building relies on massing a set number of “soldiers” required to create one of a handful of turrets. Similarly, “engineers” must be collected from points around the city in order to upgrade the constructed turrets. Between waves the engineers may appear at a landing pad marked by a red flare for you to retrieve. Similarly, supply pick-ups may also become available, and even some civilian rescue, each marked by their own flare. Oftentimes these options will occur simultaneously, and since they will disappear in a matter of moments you have to prioritize whether you need some civilian rescue (perhaps to add to their depleting numbers down by the water?) or if your defense is better served by grabbing some noxious gas to wipe out the current wave.
This method of currency is a fitting, militaristic take. While using soldiers for a turret will not cost you an upgrade, the decision to pick up engineers instead of civilians, or simply failing to pick up your engineers before they are massacred by the onslaught is integral to the game’s strategy and pacing. This is also where some deft navigating of the cityscape becomes important, and you will be grateful for the ease of controls. Fortunately, the focus of the game is on a relative fragment of San Francisco, and the enemy forces follow two paths in their run for the innocents. As you advance through the waves, baddies increase in number and vary in strength. Should you run short of “soldiers” and need to tamper with your defensive strategy, turrets can be cashed in. Black Hawk’s just aren’t as fast as the name implies, and in many cases time will be your greatest enemy as you try to construct, upgrade and retrieve supplies in the frenzied battle for the city.
The convenience of the plug-in and being able to get into a game faster than you can say “Desktop Tower Defense” cannot be overstated. That the game, once begun, is a compelling shot in the arm to any TD junkie is icing on the game play cake. plaYce, and Downtown Defender, are the kind of “casual gaming” that will tempt the hardcore and uninitiate alike, and I look forward to playing future offerings in plaYce’ gaming playground.