Guards PC Review
It’s not often when I play a game I am thinking about the platform it is on. Games have a right to be on whatever platform the developer feels fits their target audience, but the design of Guards made me think that this would be a game suited to play on a handheld device. The developer, Battlecruiser Games, has created a strategy game that offers a wide gap of accessibility. It’s one for people who do not normally play them, with minimal mechanics and an easy to understand – and surprisingly original – grid-based battle system that allows casual players to jump in and take down a few monsters without the need to study the learning curves that often comes with the genre on PC.
Guards is so minimalistic that it features a barebones opening that is literally a start menu that leads to a save file, which is loaded and then the game begins. To give you an idea of its uncomplicated gameplay, the tutorial is incredibly short, over in a couple of minutes, and the help section is just four images that explain how to play. This minimum design comes across the whole game. There is no time for story, not that a game needs it, but the title does no setup or backdrop info dump about what is going on and why these heroes are in this dire situation fighting all monsters that approach. In a way, that’s kind of cool, it’s a pure old school form of video game, very like the arcades, where people just start the game and go, letting the pick-up-and-play gameplay do all the work to absorb gamers’ attentions. But similar to some arcade titles, once the initial experience has worn off, what’s left is a limited game where its simplicity could very well be a problem.
The game’s only task is to get a team of four heroes through 10 levels (met with a boss at the end, of course!) without any one of them succumbing to death. This might seem extremely short, but the game is designed to be restarted multiple times, with each run ending in a collection of mifril to unlock upgrades, more classes (8 different types) and better gear to give the squad more of a chance to survive the run through to the end. If you manage to beat those 10 levels, the next difficulty, Nightmare, unlocks. Do the same here and the final challenge, Hell difficulty, awaits players who have mastered the mechanics or have managed to pump so much mifril into a team that it makes the attempt through Hell a bit easier. Guards has built itself up to be a game tailored for people who like the mentality to try as hard as possible to get far, improve characters and then try again, getting that little bit further with each go, and it’s an important part in how this game is played. I’ve always enjoyed those type of hard games that adapt roguelike elements, but don’t clean out all your effort that was put into a good run, making it possible to complete the game after enough tries, by that time, you should have learnt how to play the game at a decent skill level.
Battles are the focal point of Guards – it’s the only gameplay that exists in the game, so the developer has tried to implement them in a fresh way. Fights take place on a 3×7 grid, but Guards‘ gameplay isn’t like a typical strategy game, rather, your four units sit on the left side, with one in column 1 and the rest filling up column 2. Enemies come onto the grid from the right side, each enemy moving/attacking on every turn.
The foundation behind the battles is the swapping function that will activate the turn only when one of the heroes has swapped position with another, either with another hero on the front line, changing their lane on the grid, or switching with the back row, a spot that will heal the hero on each turn. Only one swap can happen before the turn begins, in which the heroes perform their attacks and the enemies continue to move towards your team. As you eliminate enemies, new ones are randomly selected to spawn in from the right side until an unknown number of kills has been accomplished and the remaining enemies scurry on back into hiding – a strange design choice, and one that makes the presentation of the battles feel half-finished.
I can see what the Battlecruiser Games was trying to accomplish with this battle system. The swapping mechanic mixed with the eight different classes should add some strategic gameplay into the mix, especially when each class has a special move that they cast every time they move from the back row to the front lines. For example, the Healer gives a tiny bit of health back, the Archer fires a volley of arrows at all enemies and the Amazon throws a disc that does a Captain America speciality and bounces around enemies that are next to each other. But the issue comes down to repetition, and since every run to the end remains the same, with only a slight deviations in the order of enemies, order of hero placement, and what temporary upgrades purchased with coins after each battle (these upgrades are lost when the game begins again, unlike the mifril upgrades), it begins to grind on oneself. There just isn’t enough in the game’s design to keep the attention for long, and soon it’s clear that a party of four turns into a party of three plus healer, as she is an impossible replacement, unless you plan to buy a load of healing items, even then, currency is best spent on other things. Guards‘ lack of variety and simpleness make this a game to be played in short bursts, left. and then come back later – perfect for an handheld. Not to say you cannot play it PC in the same manner while waiting for time to pass, but ideally the presentation and design comes across fitting else way.
Presentation follows the whole minimal idea, with tiny icons at the top right leading to a bare list of options, such as a toggle for full screen mode and a switch between two graphics settings. The visuals are a lot to be desired for with a style that is aiming for a simple, cartoon look, but models are low quality, and for a stylistic reason, feature no faces, making this overall a bland looking game that hasn’t managed to deliver this style in a pretty way. That said, this means you can run this game smoothly on any computer or laptop from years gone by.
Guards is an okay game to sink some free time into that can bring a modest amount of fun, but its downfall is its restricted gameplay that could have been developed that bit more to flesh it out. Guards‘ makes a good case to bring accessible mechanics for anyone who does not enjoy turn-based strategy games due to their complexity, delivering those people a game that can be easily picked up and played for for a few turns before becoming tired of its unique, but limited gameplay. For veterans, however, Guards is unlikely to keep your attention for long, if at all, its a title that can get boring all too quickly with its lack of level, enemy and visual variety.