On paper, Radiant Defense [Free] doesn't stack up when compared to other tower defense titles. It shouldn't be as good as it is. I mean, it only has ten levels, and its free-to-play model gives you just a handful of towers to work with unless you want to pay more. But Hexage is full of surprises, and this free tower defense game is certainly one of them. It might not work on paper, but it sure works in practice.
All too often, freemium titles either lock all the fun behind a paywall or let you skip right over the gameplay if you put down your money. Radiant Defense does neither. I can't say for sure that you can get through all ten levels without making a purchase. I couldn't, because Radiant Defense is crazy hard. Buying any (or all) of the four optional tower packs gives you more room to strategize, but it just barely makes the game easier. Paid or free, you're going to have to get your hands dirty.
Radiant Defense offers a mix between static path defense and the ability to create complex mazes. Players are often handed a few loose modules between waves. These can be used to build walls. Sometimes this is advantageous—drawing enemies out along long, winding paths is a good way to make sure they die well before reaching their goal. Other times it's suicidal. Some enemies regenerate, so luring them away from your carefully crafted kill zone just means they'll continue on, fresh and ready for more.
The tower selection adapts to any situation the game throws at you. You start out with the ability to build or research ballistic weapons for pure damage, energy weapons to take out shields, and the other usual suspects—towers that slow or weaken the enemies, and powerful area-of-effect towers. The purchasable packs add variety, with mines and blades to bar passage, weapons of mass destruction, and a few things that are just plain odd. Each has its own cost and drawbacks, though, making for a decently balanced experience no matter how many (or few) packs you own.
That balance falls on the side of intensely challenging throughout. Radiant Defense is unforgiving, with brutally long levels (making up for their limited selection) and increasingly aggressive waves. The game never lets up—every time you think you might have a handle on all the tricks you'll need, it throws even more enemies at you in even more aggressive combinations. It can be aggravating, but it makes winning all the sweeter.
Not every part of the challenge is as sweet, unfortunately. The worst bit is dealing with frustrating tower AI. Towers will happily shoot the first thing that crosses their paths, blithely ignoring targets that are about to hit the goal. This behavior is consistent, so you can plan for it. It might even be intentional—it certainly gives players a reason not to use tight corridors to their advantage each and every time. But as difficulty goes, this isn't the fun sort. It can leave you floundering moments after you're sure you have everything under control.
There are concessions to this frustration, though. Each wave can be restarted as many times as you need without penalty, so you're free to experiment with the best possible moves you can make with the resources you have. Anything you do before beginning the wave will stick, though, and while you can sell back unused towers at cost, upgrades can't really be reversed. Your strategy may hinge on what seems like a simple decision: whether to spend your cash in the lull between waves or save it for the madness in the midst of combat. The latter is easier to revert but much harder to pull off.
That sort of decision-making drives the strategy of Radiant Defense. It's rarely just a matter of this tower or that tower. Instead you're balancing upgrades, positioning, and pathing, all while you decide if you should meet the current threat with force or save up for an unknown future.
If you're comfortable with difficult games, Radiant Defense is easily worth the download. It's a nice little package—decent art and music wrapped around generally excellent gameplay—and the price is more than right. It's refreshing to find a game that respects your intelligence, money, and time. All the better that it's good fun, too. Take a look, and stop by our discussion thread to share your thoughts.
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