GemCraft: Chasing Shadows (Steam Edition)
For seven years, indie developers Game in a Bottle's GemCraft series of free tower defense games has been a wildly popular hit with browser gamers, and now GemCraft: Chasing Shadows is now on Steam. With improved visuals, a pile of extra stages, and a new Iron Wizard mode to test your mettle, it's an upgrade of the original free browser version, and a great way for fans to show their support for developers who have given so much so freely for nearly a decade. Never played Gem Craft? In it, you repel waves of enormous bugs by planting gems in towers along a path. Different towers have different abilities, like green poisoning gems, and can be made in various powerful tiers. Towers attack anything within range, but gems can also be socked into traps to damage anything that passes over them, flung as explosive bombs, or even combined with gems of different colours to create hybrids with multiple affects. Survive the stage with your base intact, and you'll gain experience towards leveling up, which unlocks points for you to spend in skill trees. You'll also earn shadow cores you can use to upgrade your talisman for new bonuses and challenges, like traits you can unlock for stages to make them more rewarding... extra speedy bugs, anyone? With complexity and strategy aplenty, GemCraft is one of the most beloved and respected tower defense games around, and offers something for every fan of the genre, from the newcomer to the veteran alike.
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The Steam Edition of Chasing Shadows doesn't deviate much from the original browser version, which was arguably the most elaborate incarnation of the series yet with its introduction of new mechanics like Wizard Towers and locked treasure chests. The series has always placed an enormous emphasis on strategy by forcing you to contend with limited resources and learning how to best utilize and combine your gems in the face of overwhelming odds. Few fields offer more than a single tower or two to get you started after the initial beginning stages, and the game pulls no punches with its swarms of foes, so you really need to think carefully about every decision. Most stages even restrict the types of gems you have to work with, so figuring out how to make them play off one another effectively is important. Grinding through completed stages for more levels isn't going to make an enormous difference in most cases, though the various upgrades like decreased building costs definitely help. Throw in a somber, atmospheric aesthetic and an integrated tutorial that gives you tips as you go without holding your hand, and you'll understand why the series has been so popular.
For your money here, in addition to supporting the developers, you're getting a bunch of extra stages, bring the total to over 190 that can be played on different difficulties with various modifiers, over four hundred achievements, trading cards, as well as the Iron Wizard mode, which gives you a mere five skill points per stage completed. It's a nice, substantial upgrade to what's already a pretty beefy game, and though you're likely to be clueless as to what's going on in the story that pops up in the pages you find between levels if you've never played the series before, it's still a great entrypoint to newcomers that showcases of some of the series' best features. Try the browser version if you're curious about the gameplay! For fans, if you've already burned through the entire original game, you might not find that there's a world of difference between the two versions in how they play. You're getting almost thirty new stages, and while the battlefield backgrounds are still pixelated to help with any lag players might experience, largely it looks fantastic in its new widescreen format on big monitors. In the end, the best endorsement I can give to fans is that, as a fan myself, I bought this for myself, even though I'd already bought the Magician's Pouch on Armor Games' browser version. GemCraft is one of tower defense's great titans for a reason, and the Steam release of Chasing Shadows offers a lot of additional polish and content from a developer that's consistently delivered it for years.
Get the full version (Steam)