Creeper World (opens in new tab) is cursed with an off-putting name that makes it sound like a theme park for pervs, but it is in fact a long-running series of elaborate tower defence games, the fourth of which appeared at the tail end of last year. I've overlooked them until now, which was absolutely a mistake. I have learned my lesson while drowning in an unstoppable wave of blue goo.
Here's the deal: there's a big ol' undulating mass of weird sci-fi fluid ready to swallow everything up, and through the power and science and guns—mostly guns—you'll need to try and stop it. Your enemy is more like a force of nature, tirelessly swelling and rising until everything is trapped within a fluidic prison. But you can still hurt it.
At the start of the campaign—which really just serves to prepare you for custom maps and daily challenges—you only have a couple of things to worry about. You can plonk down cannons powered by your growing network of power lines and pylons to push back the tide, with each strike clearing a bit of goo and giving you more space to build, until you've cleared paths all the way to your objectives. It's straightforward and methodical, and while the Creeper flood is a ceaseless adversary, rising up from multiple sources to surround you, fighting back is unexpectedly soothing.
I let clutter build up. I'm almost pathologically incapable of putting things away when I'm done with them, so I live in chaos. When I do remember to live like a human, it's like a fog lifts. As I start to move all the half-painted Warhammer models off my dining table, or find homes for the teetering towers of books on the floor, I start to remember other things I really shouldn't have put off. Tidying up is invigorating and liberating, and that's really what you're doing in Creeper World.
Every spot you rescue from the goo is land you can build on, another route forward, and you can turn these little islands into bulwarks against the tide. Throw down some cannons to protect them and you can expand the safe zone, until these formerly tiny oases expand across the whole map. Like any mess, once you start chipping away at it, it becomes a lot easier to eradicate.
Unlike the detritus strewn across my flat, the goo almost immediately seeks to fill in any gaps that you create, undoing your work in seconds. You need to keep up a constant barrage, necessitating more weapons and increasingly complex networks to funnel all of your resources into killing machines and building projects. And all the while, the goo level just keeps on rising. So you've got to earn those moments of bliss, where you've pushed your enemy all the way back, by keeping up the pressure. Always building, always pushing forward. It's tower offence, really.
You might be in a race against the goo, but the pace is more like a march. It's a hypnotic, orderly rhythm, which has so far helped me keep my focus even when things threaten to get a bit frantic and the goo is nipping at my heels. Sometimes, though, there's good reason to panic, like when a tidal wave that dwarfs mountains is bearing down on you.
This is Creeper World's 3D debut, so it's now able to simulate 3D waves, which ominously pulsate as the goo builds up and overflows. There's a lot of menace conveyed in those constantly shifting peaks and troughs. There's an even more dangerous red goo to worry about, too, and assorted Creeper villains that you'll need to take out with sci-fi gizmos like your nullifier. Eventually you'll have orbital lasers, terraformers, teleportation technology and an air force at your beck and call, letting you match the goo's constant escalation.
Developer Knuckle Cracker has been working on the series for over a decade, refining it rather than reinventing it, and this laser focus seems to have paid off. Even though we're at game number four, pitting players against a huge flood remains incredibly novel, and the shift to 3D seems like the perfect way to take advantage of this unique enemy. If the prospect of blowing up an alien menace and maybe getting swallowed up by a goonami sounds appealing, there's a Creeper World 4 demo on Steam (opens in new tab) that you can dip your toes into.