Published on October 29th, 2014 | by Aliya Tyus-Barnwell2
Sentinel 4: Dark Star Review
The dark planet Xenon eclipses the sun before you, its edges gilded, four great claw marks scarring a hemisphere. Your command, the drop-ship Sentinel, sits in space above the alien mothership that lured you away from its home-world. Touching down on the surface of the planet triggers a hostile response — apparently the locals aren’t too happy to see you – but you know what to do. As the alien hordes begin to stream in, you begin to deploy your defenses. Soon the turrets are spitting and swiveling, and you smile down at the growing heap of corpses as they sink into the extraterrestrial mud. Your Commander droid sits in front of your base, waiting to take out any enemy that ventures too close. With turrets logically deployed, nothing reaches him, but this is just the beginning of what will prove to be a very long war.
This is the premise of Sentinel 4 Dark Star, Origin 8 Technologies’ alien future of tower defense. As the fourth installment of the Sentinel tower defense series, it offers new features and graphics that are even better than when players first got their asses to Mars in the original, Sentinel Mars Defense. Overall, the gameplay remains mostly the same; use your turrets, droids and weapons array to splatter any hostile aliens advancing along the various and varied paths to your stronghold.
The menu screens are prettier than ever, with shadowed detail vaguely reminiscent of Mass Effect. The levels themselves are just as crisp, but the zoom is no more drastic than in Sentinel 3 and stops short of the bar set by the main menu and map screens. Followers of the series may have hoped for a bigger graphic improvement to the actual gameplay than Dark Star provides. It is by no means ugly, but the terrain has a degree of sterility that could create a sense of repetitiveness as players defeat 26 levels over four difficulties. The style hasn’t seen any major changes since the last Sentinel. This is not Defense Grid, or Dungeon Defenders, or even South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play, which is at least faithful to its IP. Hopefully a visual upgrade is on deck for Sentinel 5, considering the glut of tower defense games out there it’s a shame that Dark Star’s actual gameplay has the visual appeal of that geeky valedictorian who may win awards but can’t get a date. Don’t worry Sentinel, you’ll be the one getting hired after graduation. The game gets high marks for general ambiance, from the high-res presentation of the opening and the smoothness of the menus to the deep base of the menu screen background music. In the future, there are always aliens to dispatch, and even the most hardened space marines listen to dubstep.
Traditional series tweaks remain in place, like the fact that money made from kills accumulates interest, and different maps offer different secondary bases to defend. Pause is no more forgiving; once you’ve set a turret you can’t change your mind and move it just because the game is paused and it technically hasn’t been built yet. While not exactly new additions, there are some welcome improvements to the RPG elements, like the master upgrade menu that allows you to use credits earned on missions to improve the Sentinel as well as assign turrets and path-blocking units to your command bar for use during levels, and the Commander, the permanent guard unit. It has a slew of special abilities, and can also be upgraded between levels. Fans of Sentinel 3 Homeworld will appreciate the beefed up Commander skill tree and flexibility of the command bar, and players of lesser tower defense games will be awed by the depth these additions create.
The RPG menu improvements are much better than the star fragments menu, which pops up before every level and offers one-time use boosts to things like turret damage or structure health. Star fragments are rewarded based on performance after every level play-through, so those who need more can simply replay earlier levels or try different difficulties. They are the all-purpose currency, exchangeable for coins, commander experience points, or the aforementioned one-time boosts. The price for the game itself has come down on this game since its release and sits at $2.99 at the time of this writing. For me, that’s about right, so I will be hoarding my star fragment level rewards to beat those last few campaign levels on psycho difficulty, or maybe trade them in for XP or credits to get me over the hump. The average player doesn’t need to spend extra real-world cash to progress. The star fragments are relatively easy to come by.
The last but certainly not least addition is the Global Battle Nexus, where the efforts of all the players combine to sway the war. When the worldwide effort reaches a certain threshold, all players are rewarded. A player’s individual contributions raise your rank and reward bonus. Yes, there’s Google leaderboards and trophies, but the Nexus is a broader encouragement, like a feature ripped from an MMO. This in combination with the RPG elements, and lengthy campaign makes Sentinel 4 Dark Star one of the best android tower defense games on the market. Just look away as the identical alien corpses pile up around your square defenses.
Summary: Tower defense fans will have more than enough content to keep them busy.