Defend It AR game

Defend It! AR – Game Review (iOS)

I was waiting to play Defend It! AR for quite some time since it shown as a pre-order app on the App Store. The main reason for that is because it’s among the first augmented reality (AR) games to use ARKit 1.5’s vertical plane detection.

Overview

ARKit 1.5 brought vertical plane detection and of course, it was only about time until we’ve got to see developers using this new feature in their AR games.

I’ve already played an AR game Troll Smash which also takes advanced of vertical plane detection. However, that experience really didn’t take a good use of that technology.

It’s important to note that in order to play games like Defend It! AR, you need to lay the game in front of a vertical surface. But that’s not all, the vertical surface should be well-lit and have a distinctive pattern feature points in order for ARKit to be able to detect it.

This means that you cannot just aim the device as a plain white wall and expect it to work. When I start playing Defend It! AR, I had the same issue. I eventually played the game either in front of a painting on the wall or went downstairs to play it on a textured brick wall.

When I went downstairs I’ve discovered another inconvenience. The brick wall wasn’t that high, about  3.3 feet (~1 meter) high. when I started the game, I realized that I actually need to crouch down in order to play it well. This is a huge issue because crouching requires quite a great deal of effort. After like 20 minutes, I went up again and continue playing it against the big inner room wall. This way, I could just play while standing without needing to crouch or being in another uncomfortable posture while playing.

Defend It! AR Gameplay

Defend It! is an action AR shooter game for iOS in which the player needs to defend a crystal from being destroyed by aliens. The player can tap on the screen to shoot aliens, obtain power-ups and upgrade his weapon and abilities to become more powerful. By doing so, the player will be able to survive longer.

Hole in the wall, Defend It AR game screenshot
It really looked like there is a cave inside the brick wall I was playing the game on.

The game features two game modes. The first one is an Endless Wave mode where you fight against aliens with increased difficulty. As you progress you’ll earn coins which you can use to upgrade your weapon’s fire-rate and damage output, as well as upgrade your power-up effectiveness.

The second mode is a more like a campaign, where the player runs through 100 different mission and testing his skill in different combat scenarios.

Item Shoop
The Item Shop. You can unlock new base skins, some grants higher HP, which allow the base to sustain more damage.

Finishing missions reward the player with stars, which can be used to buy a better defensive structure, which actually replaces the default crystal. Those structures that look like trophies have higher HP, which allows them to sustain more damage simply put. There are other structures in the Item Shop which you can unlock by subscribers to the developer’s YouTube channel or do other actions, but most of them don’t carry any actual gameplay benefits. Maybe except the purple crystal which holds +10% HP bonus.

Let’s check out some gameplay action!

Unique AR Gameplay

As I mentioned in the overview section, this games is based on a vertical surface detection and it makes good use of this technology.

Robots coming out of the wall in AR
No doubt, the game looks different than any other AR game that I’ve played thanks to the vertical surface detection tech.

Before each wave, the player will be asked to scan a vertical surface. Once the app detects a surface, it blasts a virtual hole through it. That effect of a hole in the wall looks very convincing. It really looked like a hole in the wall. Inside the wall, you can see another 3D virtual world where the aliens are coming from.

Furthermore, when I move to the sides and close to it, I could actually see the inner area clearer. Now, this is not just for the sake of realism, which was impressive in its own right, but also for the gameplay itself.

When you start playing, robots will spawn from within that cave and move towards the crystal which is positioned outside the cave. Some of the robots can deal damage to the crystal from a far distance, other are melee-based and can only deal damage in close range. Some enemies move fast, others slower. The idea is to learn their movement and build a tactical strategy to help you survive the onslaught.

I couldn't have shot that power-up had I've been standing more on the left side.
I couldn’t have shot that power-up had I’ve been standing more on the left side.

When I first start playing, I was just sitting in front of the wall in like a 2-meter distance. Then I realized that this was really a wrong way to play the game. I then moved closer to the cave and realized that I can shoot the robots while they are inside the game before they go out. Furthermore, I found out that some of the robots actually use the gap in the wall to avoid direct fire. Even some of the power-ups spawn in a place where you could only see them and shoot them from a different angle.

This really got me excited, because I then learned to appreciate the innovative game design and how it was built around ARKit 1.5 vertical surface detection technology.

Gameplay Fun Factor

Although I had some inconveniences deploying and playing the game in certain areas, the new AR gameplay experience made up for it.

Hiding the virtual chest underneath the floor
Same effect, but on a plane surface in ARrrrrgh game.

I was excited from the first time I saw the wall cracking in front of me and seeing enemies coming out of it. I think it was a very smart game design choice. I remember the first time I saw a similar effect in an AR game. It was while I was playing AMON AR game and I needed to get rid of some parts through a hole in the ground.  I also saw the same virtual hope in the ground effect while playing a game with the worst name in the history of video games, ARrrrrgh.

However, this time around, that virtual holes effect no just look great, but actually save an actual purpose as part of the gameplay itself. Obviously, there are plenty of ways you can use ARKit 1.5 vertical surface detection to create immersive and unique gameplay experiences, and I think this one was actually a very good choice.

The shooting experience itself felt lacking somewhat lacking, same goes for the sound effects. The power-up did inject some dynamics into the gameplay but overall I found the shooting experience to be much less exciting than other AR shooters I’ve played. Furthermore, the enemies felt really dumb. I think the experience cloud have been better if some of the enemies were flying outside the cave, not just being always very close to the hole where they exit from.

The virtual hole effect gave the game a nice sense of depth, but that effect could have been further enhanced if the enemies invaded a bit deeper into the room or maybe climbing on the wall. something that would have created a better feel of a home invasion. This game reminds me the game Crazy Monsters Strike AR but with a more appealing look and feel,

So overall, I do feel that with more unique AI behavior, better use of the vertical wall space and real-world space for enemy movement and improved shooting experience, the gameplay would have felt more attractive. Other than that, I have no problem playing a game against the wall, although I found that some people looked at me like there was something wrong with me—that was quite funny 🙂

Conclusion

Defend It! AR is the first augmented reality game that actually used ARKit 1.5 vertical surface detection in a very interesting way to create a unique and compelling gameplay experience.

I do feel that there is a place to improve the shooter experience to make the game more entertaining after the initial WOW effect wears out a bit. The game’s unique visuals are definitely it’s strongest selling point.

I do appreciate the developer aiming to deliver unique AR gameplay experiences. By the way, Wizard Games is the same company who brought us the popular Battle Royale mobile game Guns Royale game which also incorporated an AR mode.

I still haven’t finished the game, and plan to not just put a great deal of time playing it, but also try playing it on different vertical surfaces and see how it feels.

Defend It! AR is available for free on the App Store for iOS, so everyone with an ARKit-compatible device can experience this unique gameplay experience. I am happy that we have one free AR game that can showcase how cool this technology and how effective it is in delivering unique and compelling mobile gameplay experience.

You can download Defend It! AR from the App Store here.

For all said and done, I am glad to award Defend It! AR my Editor’s Choice Award.  An entertaining AR shooter with an original and fascinating look and feel.

AR Editor's Choice Award 2018