Apr 1, 2012

Review: Defense Grid: The Awakening

Brought to us by Hidden Path Entertainment, Defense Grid: The Awakening was released for PC December 2008, Xbox Live Arcade September 2009 and also ported to Mac OS X in July 2010 by a different developer.  There have been a few DLC's released for it since then, and it wasn't until the Steam christmas sales 2011 I was even aware of the game when the complete pack with all DLC released was offered at a heavy discount.

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a traditional tower defense type of game, where the player is tasked with placing defensive towers to block and destroy big waves of invading alien enemies.  While nothing new is brought to the genre, the game is unique in its high production value presented by detailed 3D levels and enemies courtesy of the powerful gamebryo engine, perhaps better known for its use in games such as the Elder Scrolls III and IV, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, Warhammer Online and Civilization IV.

Tower assisted alien genocide simulator Defense Grid: The Awakening
...Was unique in this respect I should perhaps say instead, since the more recent and highly polished releases Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die. However, Defense Grid is different enough than those to be of interest still.

Story-telling doesn't play a huge role exactly in Defense Grid which doesn't bother me the slightest. It's a tower defense game, there's no need for cut-scenes, quests and whatnot.  There are some bits of it though, largely presented by the player's AI companion that accompanies you at all times while you play, and usually in small doses at the start of each mission.  The AI can be quite interesting to listen to thanks to quality voice acting, but it can drag out and become a tad annoying once you start replaying levels over and over to try different game modes and improve your score.  Thankfully there are options for muting him and removing the subtitles once you get to that point.  Unless you're playing the You Monster DLC in which case you should absolutely leave the voices on, the exchanges between the AI and GLaDOS (Yep, the one from Portal 1+2) are very humorous!

But before talking about DLC I should probably go over the core gameplay.  The player typically starts each level with rather scarce resources, enough to plonk a couple towers down. Defeating the invading aliens earn more resources to spend in preparation for the next waves, but you also earn interest on whatever resources you have on hand, encouraging you to not spend more than absolutely needed to defeat each wave to ensure you earn as much as you can.  To further boost your income there are also command towers which increase resources awarded for all aliens destroyed in its vicinity.  End scores for each level is also determined by remaining resources, so penny saving and tactical placement of command towers are crucial to achieving good scores.

There are 10 types of towers of various effectiveness against the different types of aliens.  Some towers do area damage for dealing with large clusters of enemies, others do heat damage which continue to damage them for a while after they have passed the tower's reach which is essential for dealing with the faster moving aliens.  There's also towers that are especially effective against shielded aliens, and a missile tower for dealing with air threats.  Finally there are temporal towers which slow down aliens's speed, and the aforementioned command towers that increase income but is also essential for scanning stealthed aliens.  Towers can also be upgraded to increase their damage, range and other effects.

The number of tower types available feel about right to me, although I wouldn't have complained about having a few more choices.  Since you don't have a character to run around and assist defending with in this game in contrast to for example Dungeon Defenders, a somewhat wider tower selection could've been good since this is all you're going to be concentrating on.  The good thing is, there's no overlapping between the tower types in their roles, and it's usually fairly easy to get an idea what types of defenses you need to be building to fend off the oncoming waves of invaders.  You will also often find you need to utilize all the different towers on some levels to be the most effective,  as the game does a good job throwing varied waves of aliens to defeat.

As for these aliens then, they come in all shapes and sizes too.  There's the regular walkers of various strengths that have no particular abilities.  There's swarmers which attack in great numbers making some form of area damage towers necessary. There's small but lightning fast aliens that will usually need some source of heat damage to bring damage since they spend very little time within tower attack range.  You've also got aliens with shields which make heat towers virtually useless, and stealth aliens that can only be fired on when passing directly next to a tower, unless you've placed down command towers for detection.  There's slightly tougher aliens that continually spawn smaller aliens until they're destroyed, and transports that unload a number of aliens when brought down.  Then there's the flying aliens which can only be hit by gun, cannon and missile towers.  Not surprisingly there are also boss aliens of all of these types as well.  Figuring out a good defense grid to defend each level properly can be quite the challenge!

The levels themselves typically come in one of two varieties.  In particular early on in the game, the aliens will have roads to walk on where you can normally only place towers beside the roads or nearby.  These levels are in my opinion the least interesting, at least when you compare them to the more common type of maps where you can place towers more or less where you want, letting you shape paths for the aliens to walk.  These levels can get pretty darn entertaining when you're allowed to get creative and carve out the longest possible mazes for the aliens to get through.  Many of the maps are biiiig, too, with a lot of options for where you want to block the aliens, and it can take quite some time learning the most effective ways to play them, example below.

Most of the levels can be played in a variety of game modes, in addition to the original campaign mode.  As if getting gold medals on the original maps aren't hard enough, you can play all maps in a campaign challenge mode with tougher aliens, but there's also Grinder and Shredder modes which drastically change the level into marathon sessions of up to 99 waves of aliens to beat.  While tedious sometimes they can be tons of fun to master.  There's reverse campaign mode where the entrance and exit points are .. you guessed it, reversed.  This little change totally changes how the levels play out as well.

There's also poison and frozen Core modes, poison core has only one core in the housing, but if its released and the alien carrying it killed, the core will destroy all aliens it comes in contact with on its way back to the housing.  The downside is, you don't get resources for the aliens killed by the core, so its important (and hard!) to not fall behind by letting the core kill aliens.

Frozen cores mode is also a good challenge, as the cores dropped by aliens stay right where they're dropped which can quickly get out of hand one they get those cores moving.

Another tough cookie is the green towers only mode, which limits you to level one towers only.  This mode can be darned tough, but it also teaches you forcibly how to use your towers most efficiently.

Finally you've got the tower limit modes which won't let you build more than a set number of towers.  Nothing like the feeling of silliness you feel when you eventually beat the level you previously mazed aliens on with 30+ towers, this time with say.. 10 towers.

I'd say the real strength of this game lies in the number of modes each map can be played in, especially if you have any completionist genes running in your blood.  Getting all the achievements and gold medalling all the modes on all the maps is a biiig project that will keep you coming back for many, many, many hours.  Add online ranked boards to this list of maps and modes and Defense Grid: The Awakening turns into a remarkably competitive single player game that still has players doing weekly challenges on the Steam forum.

To use my own statistics as an example, I've spent 135 hours on Defense Grid so far, and I'm still not done with it.  I've cleared all the Awakening gold medals, and am working my way through the DLC medals.  About half way done on the "You Monster" DLC now, and I'll be done.  If I'll have the mental strength to try topping ranked leaderboards after that remains to be seen.  Anyway, better players than me will probably have cleared it in half my time invested but I think my point still stands, there's an immense amount of hours of entertainment packed into this title.

Summing things up:

Defense Grid: The Awakening + DLC is a high quality tower defense game.  If you like tower defense, you can't go wrong with this title.  If you don't know what tower defense is all about, try some flash based tower defense games and if those are even moderately entertaining, you're almost guaranteed to like Defense Grid.  And if you don't like tower defense games why did you waste the last 10 minutes reading this far? ;)

Defense Grid is challenging, has a lot of content that will keep players busy for a long time and having fun doing so.

Steam has a demo which you should be able to download by clicking here, or just looking it up on Steam store.

For my reviews on the Defense Grid: The Awakening DLC's, click here!

Final verdict: 8 / 10

As always, I'd love to hear your comments about my reviews! It doesn't matter if you thought it was a fantastic read, or it made your face pop with rage, let me hear about it! :)

No comments: