Review: DETOUR (PC)

DETOUR
Developer: Sandswept Studios
Publisher: Sandswept Studios
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: 05/16/2011

I’m not a huge fan of Real-Time Strategy games. This is mainly because I think they turns into a click-fest at higher levels and whoever clicks fastest wins the game. Sometimes though, there is a good balance and the RTS can play much more like an actual game of strategy like the turn based strategy games that came before them. I liked the idea of DETOUR, taking command of a construction/trucking company and trying to get your company in a better position than your opponents. I liked the premise, but unfortunately it fell into a somewhat different design trap than I expected.

The idea behind Detour is basically that you’re running a trucking company, but you have to lay down your own paths through cities and country-side to get to the other end of the map and beat out the competition while doing it. Apparently things have gotten a little less than friendly as you’re allowed to dynamite the competition’s roads, drop bombs, sic the police on them, drop building that are in your way, and cause general mayhem while you get your trucks to the other side.

In single player mode, you have a series of objectives to get through in groupings much like how Angry Birds does it. Each stage gets a bit harder and adds more mechanics into getting through a level, either adding more opponents or making you get creative with bridges and so on. This is nice in its own way and there are differing tiers of difficulty as you move through it. My one real complaint is that while the tutorial does cover the basics, that section completely skips over a ton of the options you have available in your menu to use, and you have no idea what they do until you blow your earned points on them. By then, you’ve realized they not helping and you should have stuck with something else.

Like any RTS, you start out with pretty much nothing and have to build your infrastructure and stifle your enemies’ abilities to win. Here you’re laying out the roadways to get to the other side of the map and get your trucks that you can only launch as you have the points built up to do so. Some maps only need three trucks to win, while with others it’s ten or more. The hard part comes in either working around the road your opponent has already laid down, re-building what they’ve destroyed, or dropping some copious amounts of explosives on your opponents’ roadways to build your own through their territory and make your delivery.

Multiplayer lets you realize the road chaos with up to three of your friends. You also unlock options in multiplayer through single player, so it pays to mess around a bit in single player to get a feel for the game before trying to play king of the road with some buddies or people online. Because of the nature of the game and the size of the maps, matches are relatively quick, especially if you manage to make it without your opponent seeing your roads. Fog of war is in full effect in this game, so you won’t know where the other person or computer is going until you come upon their road or they blow yours off the map.

There is some tongue in cheek humor here through the dialogue in-between matches in single player. It more or less adds a bit of flavor to the match itself, but I found you could just pass those by and still know exactly what to do, especially in the earlier matches where they kind of spell it out for you.

One thing I found to be really a huge drawback, was the overly simple user interface. Now, I know in RTS games I helps if your UI isn’t dominating your screen, but here it’s gone too simple. Mainly the menu is my issue. You move through the menu using your scroll wheel on your mouse. This is a fairly quick way of doing it, and at first seems like a great idea, until you realize how many options you have to scroll through to find your trucks to launch them from the road placement menu. Or say after you’ve set your truck on its way and you need to send a message to your opponent that this is your road, and now you have to scroll through a bunch of stuff to find the bombs or dynamite. It’s clunky and annoying, and it really slows things down, even when you have a pretty good idea where everything is. There has to be a better way to do this, because this was beyond frustrating when you’re trying to keep up with either a more experienced player or even the AI players who don’t have to fight with a menu to decimate you.

There are some pathing issues as well when you’re laying down your road. Most of the time if your road just ends, the trucks simply stop and wait for you to finish building it. I had an instance where I had to build through three mountains with tunnels in a row and the had to connect through and after that and head north on the map. I ended up having to redo all that work because apparently once a truck enters one tunnel and tries to enter another it gets confused, manages to do a 180 in the tunnel and then careen out of the tunnel, crashing along the road. I’ve had the trucks get confused on turns a few times as well. It’s not entirely game breaking at the early stages to recover but later on in the game, this can be beyond frustrating.

Graphically speaking, this is not a powerhouse. It does its job pretty effectively with a quirky design style that is reminiscent of a truly demented Bob the Builder. Some of the explosions look great, and bringing down a building is kind of interesting, but overall it feels pretty generic except for the cutscenes with your boss and the rivals. Audiophiles will also find not much of interest here. The soundtrack is pretty generic and during cutscenes you get some kind of random mumbling that reminds me very much of Simlish.

The replayability comes through in multiplayer really, as most of the missions kind of build on what you know, and in multiplayer, even if you’re playing against an AI opponent, you can change up the game a bit to make it more interesting and keep things going. That is if you manage to master the scrolling menu system. The somewhat bizarre pathing issues on your trucks and having to fight the user interface to get to the item you want really killed the balancing for me. It’s not necessarily that it’s a challenge, but that you have to be faster than someone who can scroll and place on your level, or who doesn’t have to scroll at all. The Map Editor really helps to bring things around a bit as you can make your own insanity that you have to navigate around along with or without your friends. You’ve also got achievements in here to try and make things more interesting. For it’s price you’re getting a nice chunk of content and they have a pretty good deal on buying for copies for the price of three. Just be prepared for a bit of a learning curve after the initial feeling that you’ve grasped what to do.

I can quite honestly say I’ve never played a RTS quite like this one. Instead of obliterating your enemy entirely, you’re trying to either be quicker than them or out fox them a bit in how you lay out your own pathway through the maps. On the other hand you’ve got a few staples of the RTS, which includes simply being faster in the menu than another player and the control of resources on the map. I think this one deviates enough form what you expect to actually offer something compelling, I just think it needed a little more work first. I really had a hard time playing this single player. The tutorial section kind of bored me to tears. Even though it was adding a new objective or option to the board, it really felt like the same maps over and over again. Even though there are around twenty-seven different single player scenarios to go through, I didn’t have much fun with it until I started screwing around with it in multiplayer and making my own maps, which kind of ended up being a lot like ones we already had in single player. This is definitely a title that would be more fun with friends.

As an original RTS with a decent price tag I can see the appeal, but really there’s not much out there about the game at all. While it is simple to learn you have to fight with it a bit to actually play, and that’s not much fun either. I’d actually like to see more from Sandswept in this feel, but with a bit tighter AI and controls. There’s a lot of potential here that feels wasted. I wanted to like this game, I really did. But I like to play my games, not fight with them, and this felt more like a fight than anything I’ve played in a long while.

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Enjoyable
Graphics Rating: Mediocre
Sound Rating: Below Average
Control and Gameplay Rating: Below Average
Replayability Rating: Decent
Balance Rating: Below Average
Originality Rating: Great
Addictiveness Rating: Poor
Appeal Factor Rating: Poor
Miscellaneous Rating: Bad
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize DETOUR tries to bring something new to the RTS table with a fresh concept and an interesting play mechanic. Unfortunately, you’ll have to fight the bad pathing on your own side and a poor choice of User Interface to actually be able to play the game. Single Player is ok, but multiplayer is where the game is more fun, giving your far more options and bringing your friends into the mix as well as the ability to make your own maps for the game. I like the concepts behind this game, and I liked where they were going with it but I think it needed to be just a little bit tighter before I could really get to enjoy this one.

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