Plastic Rebellion is the video game version of those rainy afternoons, when you and your friends built forts out of books and flicked rubber bands at each other’s action figures. Only this time, the toys are alive and if you lose, the world might end. No pressure.
Plastic Rebellion is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
Your parents aren’t home. Luckily, the AI that lives in the 3D printer wants to play with you to pass the time. It’s a fun game: it prints hordes of soldiers, tanks and bombers and you have to stop them from destroying your bases. Classic army men-affair. Only, as it turns out, the AI is actually planning something, and should it succeed, it would mean the end of civilization as we know it. Those of you keeping up with AI research in real life can probably guess what our artificial roommate is up to; everyone else is just going to have to play through the handful of story missions to find out.
I actually really enjoyed the simplistic story. It strikes an excellent balance between being childish – bad army men bad – and being childlike – good army men save the world. If you were the kind of kid who created overarching narratives for the battles, the Playmobil Knights fought against the Fisher Price Pirates, the plot of Plastic Rebellion should sound a lot like the adventures your own toys went through all those years ago.
The story telling doesn’t stop at the dialogue boxes; the devs made sure to include a number of details to further flesh out the universe. Plastic Rebellion never explicitly tells you where the AI came from, or why it’s in your house. Looking around the environments, however, reveals a number of books – “Clean Code” and “How to find Friends in Game Dev”. Clearly, at least one of the parents is a programmer, and almost certainly created the AI. It’s a little thing, but environmental story telling is always nice to see, especially considering the small budget Plastic Rebellion very clearly had.
But as likeable as I find the story, there’re huge problems with it: The AI does not want to play. It has bigger plans. Why in the world would it teach you how to stop it? Why does defeating its soldiers prevent it from achieving its goals? Why does the AI want to destroy your Lego-brick bases? That does literally nothing! They aren’t even protecting anything, none of it makes sense. The story isn’t Plastic Rebellion’s main draw, but a little more thought should have gone into it regardless.
THE GAMEPLAY – A DIFFERENT TAKE ON TOWER DEFENSE
Unlike most games in its genre, this one is played in first person. At first it may seem like you are walking around the level. You know, like a human would. Instead, and quite bizarrely, you are a flying camera. I assume this degree of freedom is meant to emulate a real person’s ability to move more freely than the traditional FPS fridge man, allowing you to stick your head anywhere you want. Just make sure you don’t get stuck under a table or in a book fort because the camera will freak out as it desperately flails around hoping to somehow escape through a wall.
Movement works okay for what it is, but I strongly recommend the developers add buttons to ascend and descend vertically (like in Minecraft creative mode). The most elegant way to move up in the game’s current state is to look down and fly backwards, which is just needlessly clunky.
Before every wave, you can spend a total of 200 Kool Koins on defenses. Over the course of the story, you’ll unlock infantry, walls, mortar nests, anti-air guns, landmines and machine guns. All of these do exactly what you’d think, each fulfilling different roles.
Infantry are weak but numerous. They simply get run over by enemy tanks and trucks, so your basic army men are best deployed slightly out of the way, protecting mortars and AA guns. Mortar nests will lob highly damaging shells at distant targets and are most effective against tanks. Walls are completely worthless, since they are extremely expensive and any enemy vehicle can break through them without even slowing down. Most units are well balanced for their cost, but walls need an upgrade. Either make them a lot cheaper or have them stop enemies more than not at all.
The game always tells you which enemy types you’ll face in the next wave. You are fully refunded for any units lost or sold, so you can completely redesign your defenses before every encounter.
Whenever I play a game that requires any form of strategy, I try to break it using the most hamfisted tactics possible. The idea is that a well-designed game can’t be beat by spamming the same option over and over again. I am happy to report that simply spamming one unit everywhere does not work. You’ll actually need to use your brain to put together an effective defense force. Things get quite tricky later on, so your strategies better evolve over time.
Once you’re happy with your setup, hit space and let them come.
You can’t place any new units during a wave, so you should instead focus on providing your troops with cover fire. You’ll unlock a few weapons over the course of the campaign; all but the starting gun draw from the same energy pool. Energy recharges very slowly, so you’ll need to be efficient.
Your default weapon is a slow-firing FERN gun. It one-shots soldiers and bombers and destroys tanks and trucks in two hits. I think this might be the only game I ever played where the base gun is your most efficient anti-vehicle weapon. Soldiers come in large groups, so the FERN won’t do. When enemies bunch up, launching Baseballs will do wonders. They deal area-of-effect damage on impact, allowing you to rack up tons of kills quickly. The crossbow destroys almost anything in one hit and pierces targets, line up a couple of tanks for the best results. Finally, the laser pointer deals small amounts of damage continuously and quickly became my favorite way of dealing with bombers.
Plastic Rebellion encourages the player to get their hands dirty. Every enemy you take out yourself partially charges your Super FERN meter; this bad boy is a minigun with infinite ammo and ten seconds worth of batteries. It will chew through any target in moments.
The waves are balanced with your involvement in mind, your troops won’t stand a chance on their own. Unlike other games in the genre, you never just sit there and watch your units do all the work – a fact that I enjoy a lot.
Every map features a number of environmental hazards for you to take advantage of. You’ll find vacuum cleaners, toy trains, microwaves and precariously placed basketballs that can be triggered with your FERN gun, instantly destroying any baddies caught off guard. This encourages exploration and rewards players for activating the right trap at the right time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen exploration done in a Tower Defense game, so Plastic Rebellion deserves a tiny gold star for that one.
Every campaign level has six waves, with a scorpion-mech boss capping off each one. I love these bosses in theory. They will evaporate any objects in their path, which is surprisingly intimidating. Despite all of them being re-textured versions of the same bot, they do behave differently. Most memorable was a mid-game boss who suddenly started jumping over my line in the sand, skipping past everything I intended to throw at it. Unfortunately for both the boss and the level’s climax, a single charge of the Super FERN is enough to pop that mech. So long as you save your charge during wave 5, the big bad won’t stand a chance. And if your meter isn’t ready, a few shots with the crossbow can finish off even the final boss. The fact that I had to deliberately leave some bosses alive, just to see what they can do is definitely a sign of poor balance.
Lucky for the bad guys, Plastic Rebellion will sometimes decide to sabotage your FERN gun. It still animates and plays the sound when fired, but no projectile appears, rendering your main weapon worthless for the rest of the mission. This happened to me a lot, and there’s no way to fix it, except restart the entire level. Sometimes it broke right away, sometimes I made it to wave 5 before everything went to hell. The other weapons still worked fine, but their energy requirements don’t allow for constant usage.
And if that wasn’t enough, the positions of the camera and the weapons will randomly desync; this means that you may be lining up a perfect shot only to then find out your gun is actually three feet to the left of where you thought you are. I’ve never seen anything this incompetent in my entire life.
It is absolutely unacceptable for a core mechanic – shooting your gun – to be nonfunctional for a decent chunk of the game. There is no excuse for messing up the absolute bare minimum of the genre.
Survival & Freeplay Mode
Every stage can also be played in two additional modes. Freeplay is the same as story mode, except all weapons, units and enemies are unlocked. Survival is a horrible drag that starts off easy for the first five waves and then suddenly spikes in difficulty on wave six.
Both of these game modes contain the story and tutorial dialogue boxes. That’s fine, it’s lazy, but it’s not a big deal. What is a little silly is the fact that there’s a boss on every fifth wave in survival mode, but the “It’s time for a boss fight” dialogue pops up at the start of wave six. Scratch that, that’s not silly, that’s stupid.
Unless you somehow absolutely need more Plastic Rebellion in your life, just skip these game modes. They add little to nothing to the experience.
And this is somewhat off-topic, but: Guys, make this game again, but in VR. It’d be awesome.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – I MISS BATTALION WARS
That’s enough negativity for now. Each of the game’s maps is decked out with a variety of toys and household items making up the arena. The living room level is filled with the aforementioned book forts, in the kitchen you’ll find serving spoons bridging the sink. The assets used in every mission match that room’s aesthetic and real life purpose perfectly. You might find the same ramp-plateau-ramp element in two separate stages, but it’ll be made of skateboards and toy blocks one time, and ring binders and cardboard boxes another.
The individual assets, though, are overused like nobody’s business. This is most obvious with the books; you’ll find dozens of copies of “Clean Code” all over the play area and in the shelves in the background. This is somewhat goofy, but this is a budget title, so I’m willing to forgive this shortcoming.
Something that I find absolutely no fault with is the music. It’s played 100% straight, using the same kind of dramatic orchestral tunes you’d expect from mid 1900’s war-time movies. This won’t mean much to most of you, but I was reminded of the criminally underrated Battalion Wars games. I am definitely biased here, as I was overcome with raw nostalgia every time the music picked up, but the OST should be a joy to listen to for most players.
Plastic Rebellion was reviewed on PC. A review copy was provided by PlayWay.