Review: Phantom Signal16 May 2018 0
Review: Phantom Signal
Released 19 Apr 2018
When you are just minding your own business, idly drifting through the Universe, the last thing that you need is to is to be woken from your slumber by a mysterious signal and then attacked by unknown enemy ships. As an alarm call, it may be effective, but it still makes you want to unpack your industrial fabricator, construct some defences and track down the source of your rude awakening.
Phantom Signal is a tower defence game, heavily influenced by a popular browser-based game with the imaginative title The Space Game. You build mining units to extract resources from asteroids; these resources are then used to build lasers and turrets to defend against enemy attack. As well as requiring resources, everything that you build also needs to be powered by linking them to energy generators. This can either be done directly or through a series of relay points. Resources can also be used to upgrade your units, making them more efficient and powerful.
The game has around twenty-five missions, which are tackled in a set sequence, although there are also a handful of optional side tasks. Win conditions vary between missions; sometimes you will attempt to build a specific number of a particular type of unit or mine large amounts of resources. Other missions will see you wiping out waves of enemy ships or trying to survive an enemy onslaught for a set period of time. Phantom Signal eases you in gradually; the initial enemy waves are infrequent and sparse, allowing you time to gather resources and build effective defences without breaking into too much of a sweat. However, things quickly hot up and you will soon be battling relentless waves of enemies. These include dastardly kamikaze units that hurl themselves at your defences and huge battleships that require massive amounts of firepower to defeat.
Successfully complete a mission and you will earn research points, which can be used for developing new technologies. These innovations include more effective weapons, and time zones that temporarily speed up or slow down the action. There are two individual technology trees that merge together at higher levels. Choices are limited, and it does feel like the designer is forcing the player down a narrow path. In fact, some levels cannot be completed unless you have developed a certain technology. To combat this, at any point you can reset your technologies and re-spend your resource points. This may stop you smacking headfirst into a brick-wall, but it does detract from a sense of developing your own long-term technological path.
At times, the action can get frenetic with wave after wave of enemies laying waste to everything in their path. You can halve the game speed to help cope with these especially manic moments. Alternatively, you can also speed things up to get past those quiet times when you just want to mine some resources. The key to a successful mission is not to be over-ambitious; if you have too many simultaneous units under construction, the drain on your energy generators will reduce your progress to a crawl. On some levels, in order to reach distant asteroids, you will have no other option than to spread your units far and wide. In such cases the gossamer-like threads of units will be extremely vulnerable, meaning that the loss of a crucial power generator or a couple of connecting relays can prove fatal. A useful and environmentally friendly tactic is to recycle redundant mining units and damaged units for some extra resources before enemy ships have a chance to destroy them.
Phantom Signal is clearly presented with a simplistic schematic graphical style. This makes unit identification simple but doesn’t create much of an atmosphere. Most of space is actually, well, space so there isn’t really that much scope for graphical variety. As I built my network of units the symbols and lines gave me some horrible flashbacks to dull college seminars and hastily scribbled mind maps. When you are attacked, it is a bit of a disappointment to discover that the enemy ships are tiny and look like they have escaped from an early 1980’s arcade machine. Thankfully, the soundtrack is excellent, sometimes laidback and minimalist and at other times driving and intense.
Phantom Signal seems at home on the mobile devices, it actually feels like the game was designed for the format rather than being a PC port. The interface generally works well, although I did encounter a couple of issues. During one attempt, the training levels refused to reset and sometimes placing a new unit was unresponsive, which can be really annoying in the heat of battle. I also thought that some of the missions took too long to draw to a conclusion and consequently felt rather repetitive. Even worse is that failure means having to restart a mission from scratch, which soon becomes a bit of a grind. This problem is compounded by the fact that the game takes you down a set path, so you aren’t free to explore or bypass any levels that are causing you particular trouble.
This is a game that isn’t really suited to players who like to make detailed and meticulous plans. There isn’t really much information about your weaponry, so working out ranges, for instance, is a matter of trial and error. You are open to attack from all sides and there are no landscape features that you can take advantage of. This means that instinct and fast reactions are usually the order of the day. The open nature of the battlefield does mean that the player can be more fluid and open in their plans. It also means that missions can be approached using a range of different approaches. However, the tower defence genre is a crowded and competitive one and unfortunately Phantom Signal lags behind the likes of golden oldies such as Plants VS Zombies, Kingdom Rush or Anomaly.