Hands-On: Iron Guard VR Is Fun Tower Defense That Plays It Safe
Following an App Lab and SideQuest release last year, Xlab Digital’s Iron Guard VR is now available on the official Quest store. Read on for our hands-on impressions of this tower defense game inspired by classic strategy titles.
Set in the 23rd century and spanning a 30-mission story mode, Iron Guard VR tells a story that wouldn’t feel out of place in classic sci-fi fare. After crash landing on another world, your team finds themselves threatened by rogue terraforming robots who’ve begun self-replicating. Your task is protecting the surviving crew members, and you can see a bit of this in action through the flatscreen PC trailer embedded below. We’ve also got the official story description below, courtesy of Xlab Digital:
The year is 2232 A.D and the crew of “Avalon” has crash-landed on the planet “Akris”, while trying to investigate why the earlier drone ship carrying the AI terraformer bots lost contact. Fortunately, the planet is habitable because the terraformer ship and it’s AI bots had done their job to make “Akris” habitable and sustainable for life. You are 1st Officer Graves. It is up to you to protect the lives of the surviving crew.
Commanding forces from an overhead view, your goal is keeping enemy robots in all their various forms away from your base. For example, scout units are weak but counter this with fast movement and larger groups, whereas fighters are slow, but pack stronger regenerating armor. Each level has multiple routes for waves to advance across, so focusing your efforts on a singular choke point won’t cut it here.
Dispatching these foes is reassuringly straightforward, though. As commander, you can take direct action via a controllable drone, firing shots and aiming with your right controller. Holding the trigger charges up your shot, but if that’s not enough, the drone can deploy a superweapon for a powerful area-of-effect attack. Upgradeable turrets, barricades, and more can be placed in set locations with the left controller, which comes at a cost. Earning money requires killing enemies, and structures can, fortunately, be scrapped for extra cash. That’s also handy if an existing strategy isn’t paying off.
What I’ve played so far is fun, if not terribly exciting. Levels have nice variety and difficulty feels balanced; the only times I got ‘Game Over’ came down to poor planning. Aside from requiring a headset, however, Iron Guard doesn’t really innovate beyond being a tower defense game in VR. It’s functional, never does anything particularly wrong, but never excels at anything either. I do enjoy the customization options, though. Finishing a mission earns skill points that are spent on permanent upgrades, including drone improvements, base resources, and elemental turrets. I wouldn’t call this especially expansive but it does what’s needed.
Where Iron Guard truly excels is in its visuals. It looks great on Quest hardware, thanks to the colorful environments and crisp textures, all of which are complemented by an energetic soundtrack. My biggest problem is that I don’t understand why Iron Guard needed to be a VR game. Notably, there’s a separate flatscreen PC version on Steam. In the VR version, beyond pointing with motion controls and the gameplay that requires planning your base defense from threats in every direction of the map, this isn’t a game that takes full advantage of virtual reality’s capabilities. You can play it comfortably sitting down, there are camera turning options, and that’s about it.
Still, few can deny that VR is seriously lacking tower defense games – Captain ToonHead and Defense Grid 2 aside. Iron Guard VR isn’t the most innovative game going, but the fundamentals are all here, making this a welcome sight. If you’ve missed those days playing Command & Conquer until 3am, this could potentially fill that niche.