Hoang Tuan Minh's AI-Conflict looks like your typical science-fiction themed tower defense game, but as with people and calzones, it's what on the inside that counts. Using cash earned from blasting enemy ships to smithereens, you place your defenses along the sides of the path that your foe will follow, and as the game progresses you'll unlock everything from heavy-hitting cannons to flame throwers. Each tower uses ammunition in varying amounts, which replenishes automatically and is represented by the yellow bar, and if there isn't enough to go around some towers won't be able to attack, but by placing ammunition plants to help the regeneration, you can ensure your full defenses are always firing. What's neat in addition to being the key to victory, however, is that each and every one of these turrets can be programmed through simple drop down menus to use very specific behaviour, Dragon Age: Origins party member tactics-style. Only without elven Antonio Banderas and Nigel from Crossing Jordan, though if someone ever manages to patch that in, you need to let me know right away.
Click on a turret and you'll see a menu of target, action, and condition options you can click through to set up how each turret should behave in any given situation. You can do basic things, such as programming a powerful rocket launcher to attack the slow enemies first, since they're the most heavily armored, or more complex combinations that depend on programming you've given other turrets nearby, thus making sure your defenses work together in a way that supports their strengths and compensates for their weaknesses. The ability to copy and paste AI setups from turret to turret makes things easier, as does the option to apply a structure's current AI setup to all others of the same type. Just make sure to mouse over the enemy icons at the top of the screen between waves, however, since you can only purchase defenses and program them when not in combat, so you'll need to be prepared and plan ahead. You only have a certain number of lives that deplete each time an enemy makes it through your gauntlet, and if they all run out, you'll need to either restart the mission, or just the last wave! Unfortunately, the only way to get upgrade points is to play the Facebook version and pay real money... while helping a developer make ends meet is understandable, this feels a little restrictive. Upgrade points may not be necessary to finish the game with strategy and planning, but since they're so often a key part of incentive and reward for players to keep, well, playing, some might feel the sting of their paywall more than others.
AI-Conflict is not without its issues, such as the way most levels seem overly long in a way that can make them drag, but in most cases the problem is simply a lack of easily accessible information. You can see what type of enemies a wave contains, for example, but not how many of each, or even how many waves there remain in a level. You can get very basic information when you hover over a turret before you build it, but still not the more detailed statistics and information from the main menu. At the same time, however, the game's gorgeous presentation and clever concept deserve to be recognized. There's a wide variety of enemies with special powers and abilities, and tweaking your turret AI to make up a plan that combats each new foe is both satisfying and surprisingly easy to grasp. Clearly there's been a lot of work put into this, and while there's still room for improvement and polish which the developer has been more than open to incorporating, AI-Conflict is a great idea with a massive amount of potential and challenging gameplay.