Tower Defense games are popular right now with quite a few already available for the PC and even on the high definition console stores. Hidden Path Entertainment recently released Defense Grid: The Awakening on Steam but for $20 does it bring enough to the table to make it an addictive and fun experience?
Defense Grid is set in the future where you have to defend the remains of a civilisation from an alien menace. To do this you must stop the power cores getting into Alien hands. On every level aliens enter the map and travel the shortest path to the power cores then make a run back carrying them to the exit. If they escape with the cores then they are lost for good and if you lose them all then you lose that level and have to start again.
Stopping them is the entire game experience and you must build towers to pound the aliens into dust. You get gun towers, flame towers, laser towers as well as cannon towers as the basic units. Later on the game expands and gives you access to concussion towers for raining bombs and Tesla Towers for electrocutions. Temporal Towers are even supplied to slow the aliens down as they pass them, leaving them open for more attacks. The more powerful towers cost quite a lot of resources and upgrading them will quickly drain your cash. You earn more money by killing aliens and each level is a constant battle to overpower each wave of attack and to stop your valued cores from getting into enemy hands.
To make things more challenging, the aliens in Defense Grid are very varied. There are the run of the mill grunts which are easily disposed of with gun and flame towers but as the game progresses there are juggernauts which take substantial damage to destroy. To make matters worse some of the units have shields which absorb many attacks before the aliens are vulnerable to damage. On some levels there are also "decoys", these are units which take a lot of damage before the aliens behind them can get targeted. There are fast aliens which can race through defenses making them hard to hit. There are flying aliens which need specialised anti air towers to take them out as well. One of the worst are the turtle aliens which absorb masses of damage before dying, only to unleash several more aliens from their husks.
Each of the levels is composed of between three and thirty waves of attack and they get more difficult to push your defenses to the limit. Luckily there is a wave system at the top of the screen which shows the forthcoming units in the next wave so you can prepare for the onslaught. For example, hordes of ground units are dealt with well by flame towers and racers are obliterated by upgraded laser towers. The game balancing is very well handled and its difficult to stop some of the trickier waves without losing at least a few cores. To help on your quest you are given a superlaser which targets a huge area and wipes out anything in its range. The recharge time for this is very long however so careful use is required.
All in all there are 20 levels which get progressively more difficult. At the start the level design is friendly towards the tower placements meaning you can get long linear paths for wiping them out, however in later levels the positioning and choice of your towers is critical to success. When you combine this with the fact that there are frequently multiple paths for the aliens to take then it can quite often become a frantic task to survive at all. The level design is very strong and it is clear that a lot of play testing went into the game before release. There is a strong sense of progression and the difficulty curve is generally spot on, apart from the last level which is insanely hard – it took me 10 hours to work out a strategy to beat it, and even then I only managed to hang onto two cores. The open levels provide a virtually unlimited ability to alter tactics and this boosts the long term playability. There are also leaderboards to compare your scores with others and a challenge mode that increases the difficulty level.
The graphics while not cutting edge by any definition of the term are very capable and surpass anything I have seen in this genre to date. The engine is 3d and allows for tiers which adds depth and complexity to the game play. The sound effects aren’t bad and there is a posh computer voice who sounds a little like Jeeves The Butler with a strange obsession for raspberries.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is a total triumph, especially when you consider the budget $20 asking price. Keeping track of time is difficult and for the last two weeks I have been playing and replaying the game quite regularly. The game leaves you wanting for more and this is a good sign for future expansion packs. You can count me in!
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