Elements of Destruction

February 27, 2008

At first glance, THQ’s Elements of Destruction (EoD) gives the impression of being a Rampage-style smashfest, with the giant monsters being replaced by powerful forces of nature like tornadoes and earthquakes. This is somewhat misleading, however, as the game plays much closer to a strategic puzzler complete with objectives, time limits, and limited resources. While this does not change the quantity of fun to be had in this original IP from developer Black Lantern Studios, it does significantly alter the quality, as the two genres tend to attract different types of gamers.

EoD follows a typical strategy-gaming progression, starting you off with the basics against minimal opposition and then slowly ramping up both your abilities as well as that of those trying to stop your quest for destruction. At first your only opponent is time, but before long the game will introduce drones that repair (or rebuild) buildings; those get followed up with buildings that will actually neutralize specific (or sometimes multiple) types of weather. To overcome these defenses, you will eventually gain access to five different types of weather, each with its own strengths and weaknesses that must be considered when plotting out how best to accomplish your given goals for the stage.

Right from the outset, this game is much harder than it appears to be, and that difficulty never really goes away. One carelessly-laid storm can quickly be sucked up by one of the defensive buildings, resulting in wasted time and — more importantly — wasted energy. You need energy to create storms, and you get energy by destroying things. The key is obviously to gain more energy from a storm’s destructive swath than you used to create the storm in the first place, but that’s not always so easy; the buildings that will produce the most energy are also usually the strongest, and are either protected by the anti-weather buildings or are (more often) those weather-sucking annoyances. It will take careful planning to negotiate each stage’s challenge, and that damnable clock is always ticking down.

Fortunately, the game’s difficulty is almost entirely by design and not because of unresponsive controls or a clunky interface. Just about everything is done via stylus, with the bottom screen having a series of icons on the right side for selecting a storm and indicators letting you know which storms you can create with your current level of energy. Once you’ve selected a storm, you either tap the screen where you want it centered or make a quick swipe to set it in motion. From there you can either let it do its thing on its own or redirect it as needed until it either runs out of strength or is eaten by a defensive building. You can scroll the bottom map either by using your stylus or, since that can be tricky with an active storm in the way, by using the d-pad. The top screen displays the overall map, as well as all your other pertinent information like energy level and time remaining. The only problems you are likely to encounter is when action is taking place on the right edge of the bottom screen, as your storm-selection icons may get in the way while you’re chasing down a drone or attempting to stop a storm from flying out of range.

Once I got past my initial desire to just smash stuff up (or, as suggested by the game’s cover, fling around cows), I found the challenge of EoD to be engaging. While some stages just felt unfair in the hoops I had to jump through in order to complete my goals in the time alloted, it was the same sense of “unfairness” that I’d encountered in Advance Wars or Fire Emblem games. Stages never felt outright impossible, but repeatedly had me thwarted as I slowly chipped away at them and figured out what needed to be done. Every hint of progress was another reason to re-attempt the stage, every oh-so-close failure just feeding the “one more try” reflex. If that type of game appeals to you, Elements of Destruction‘s original concept and unique feel should be worth your time.

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.