Name: Defense Grid: The Awakening
Genre: Tower Defense, Strategy
Generally speaking, the Tower Defense genre made its arrival as custom maps made by fans of games like Warcraft and Starcraft. The gameplay involves stopping waves of enemies from making it across a level, and there are really two main types of these levels. One has players building defensive structures on the sides of a set path, giving players a limited amount of space and making the type of towers placed a major aspect of the game. The other type has the path changed by the placement of the towers, allowing for players to create a maze for the enemy horde. Defense Grid: The Awakening combines these two types of gameplay into one that’s more accessible and fun than either, and creates one of the best games in the genre.
Aliens have awoken, and are traveling through different, uh, levels, or something. It follows a very loose story, which is present to give background to the enemies and areas. Enemies need to get from a starting area to a location where they can steal power nodes, and get back out. Once enemies are killed, any nodes thy carried are dropped and slowly make their way back to the source, but can be scooped up by other passing enemies, allowing the aliens to run a relay race of sorts, dropping the baton so their brethren may continue their trek through the many different types of towers.
Where the maze creation comes into play is in the enemy AI, which will always choose the easiest clear path if there is one. If a player blocks off one exit from a platform, the enemies will take another, and they will never cross through a tower’s force field if there’s a possible path through the level. Because of the game’s fantastic level design, it’s easy to learn to create extremely long paths for the enemy to take, forcing them to travel a gauntlet of towers.
Presentation is better than average for a typical defense game, and the narration is oftentimes witty, if occasionally redundant and repetitive, and usually offers helpful advice. Enemy models are well differentiated from one another and the particle effects are top-notch, giving the game more polish than any other Tower Defense game. Compared to its competition, which is mostly Warcraft 3 custom maps and Nintendo DS titles, Defense Grid is absolutely the best looking game in its class.
It’s painfully obvious that the game was built with other systems in mind. The controls work on the PC, but certain aspects feel strange, as if the developers prematurely prepared the game for a console port by stunting the PC version’s controls. Placing towers and navigating the map is simple, but building and upgrading towers seems strange, and the controls suddenly switch from clicking to selecting. This might not seem like a terrible problem at first, and it really isn’t, but it’s can be frustrating when the levels begin to grow more complex and speed is necessary.
It might grow repetitive, but with clever game design the developers were able to harness exactly what makes tower defense games so addictive. At the price of only $20, the game is a steal for the amount of content. The later of the 20 unique levels can grow frustratingly difficult, but the amount of replayability due to different challenges and scoreboards are more than enough to justify picking it up, or at least buying it when it eventually makes its way to Xbox Live.