“Violence isn’t always evil. What’s evil is the infatuation with violence.”
I often find that games that try to capitalize on current social or global issues usually come off as needlessly xenophobic and hastily patched together. While American shooters in general tend to vilify every race below a shade of eggshell ecru, those that pander to recent Fox news reports tend to take it a step further and turn up the hate. With this in mind, I didn’t have high hopes for IS Defense when it was unceremoniously dropped on my desk, but as it turns out, I hate ISIS a whole lot more than I hate topical pandering in videogames.
IS Defense, the latest charnel carnival from Destructive Creations – the same people who brought you the heart-warming action adventure Hatred – is an honest-to-God rail shooter that takes place amidst an all out invasion from the emergent Islamic State. With an introduction that sounded so professional I only realized it was fiction when they mentioned the year 2020, we’re told that IS has spread like the black plague, finally breaking the barrier into Europe. As a gunner for NATO, players are tasked with manning a stationary machine gun placement to fend off waves of terrorists in Toyota pickup trucks.
With only three levels – a beachhead hearkening back to Normandy, a shipping yard similar to Battlefield 3, and a desert that resembles just about every other desert – one could assume the game could grow stale or run out of material fairly quickly. I was ready to write off the meager collection of maps altogether until I realized you had to earn each new map through multiple and often extensive replays of the same level, which successfully drags out the span of the whole game. As with any rail shooter, you’re confined to the seat of a spinning automatic weapon, and your only job is to decimate the ranks of oncoming baddies. Placement and appearance of enemy fighters was randomized per try, and the thickness of fighting was on a constantly varying level, leaving scant moments of respite between jaw-clenching bouts of murder.
Along with unlimited rounds of ammo, players are also supplied with several rockets and a Call of Duty style kill streak perk package. Call-ins for kill streaks range from health and rocket drops to bombing runs and helicopter support. Each perk – minus the Supply Drop – was highly overpowered and increasingly easy to earn, but when the throngs of terrorists grew too thick, calling in a nice carpet bombing really helped clear some space. A skill tree, with separate branches for health, main gun, rockets, and kill streak perks, provides a tiny bit of customization that, once maxed out, leaves players in a veritable god mode. By the time I was finished with IS Defense, I never had to reload, I shot ten explosive bullets a second, and killing terrorists refilled my health bar. I’m not kidding you. In 11 minutes, I murdered over 1500 terrorists and blew up more than 130 vehicles. Step aside, Nicholas Cage, I’m the real Lord of War.
Visually speaking, IS Defense is far from ugly but even farther from beauty queen. The graphics speak of a higher-end indie production, and I came across absolutely zero issues running it on the PC. The sound effects wore me down after the first few playthroughs, as there are only so many times I can hear the same explosion or perk reminder before going diagnosably insane. The music, which I turned off thirty seconds into the main menu, is a healthy selection of Gung-Ho guitar rifts, but then again, I expected nothing less.
While it did cater to my whimsical love of murdering terrorists en masse, IS Defense did have several shortcomings. First and and most annoying among them was the fact that you currently cannot play offline. There’s a teeny-tiny leaderboard at the top of the screen and God knows the game would break if no one could see my current score. Forced online play is pointless for a game like this because there’s no real interaction with other players and no one cares (or should care) what my murder count is. Secondly, even for a rail shooter, IS Defense lacks variability. The only distinction between enemies is that some have guns and others are wearing dynamite vests. There is no enemy air support, no tanks, and certainly no bosses or heavies. It just makes for a bland experience.
Beyond that, there really isn’t much to say. It’s hard to tell if Destructive Creations was trying to bank off the shock value they aimed for with Hatred by targeting an all-around shitty group of real terrorists, but in the end, I don’t think it really matters. They managed to create a stable rail shooter with several levels of customization and just enough bonuses and perks to remain interesting. It’s short, but you shouldn’t expect much more content given its high level of replayability and price.