Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Defense Grid: The Awakening Review

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a stand alone tower defense game built with its own custom engine, available on Valve’s Steam platform. If you don’t know what a tower defense game is, this title may not interest you much. However, if you’ve dabbled with the likes of Warcraft III TD’s or Desktop TD, then you will likely love what Defense Grid brings to the table.

For starters, the game sports good looking modern graphics. A TD game has never looked so good. You will play along side a computer AI as you set up a ‘Defense Grid’ to repel alien invaders. The story serves as a nice backdrop to the game, but certainly isn’t memorable.

Defense Grid offers up 20 different missions, each composed of a unique 3D map and anywhere from 3-30 or so waves of enemies. To stop such aliens, you have 10 different towers at your disposal, all of which are upgradeable. The missions themselves start out quite simple. A single road on which the aliens travel that twists and turns through a 3D environment. Several build points dot the areas next to the road, and allow the player to build their towers. These earlier levels do not have any opportunity for the player to ‘maze’ and alter the routes of the alien waves. However, as the levels progress build points do pop up on the alien paths allowing for some extremely unique mazing. Many of the later levels have multiple spawn points and paths for the aliens, and offer the opportunity for extensive and complex tower mazes.

The towers themselves are all unique and powerful in their own ways. In my first playthrough, I tended to favor a few towers over others, but almost all of the towers can be used to great success if built at the right point and the right time. The aliens you kill are also all varied and interesting. Some are weak and clump together, requiring area of effect towers to kill, while others have shields making them immune to such area of effect towers. There are easily 10 or so different types of enemies, each of which come in multiple colors signifying different amounts of hitpoints. There is really great variance here, and they will often spawn in combinations which will test your defenses in innumerable ways. Each alien can be your undoing, and as such I greatly applaud the developers for creating such a great mixture of aliens who are all balanced and fun to fight.

The 10 different towers are equally diverse, including some of the usual TD suspects (the slowing tower, for instance). My personal favorites were the Concussion Tower (which launches grenades in all directions making for a great area of effect tower) and the good old Gun Tower (which is cheap and great for mazing).

Since the game is built from the ground up as a TD and not as an RTS, there are many unique and well thought-out features built into the engine that will please anyone who has played a TD before. For instance, you can speed up time by simply pressing the ‘F’ key. This removes the often boring wait if you’re quick to wipe out a wave of rushing aliens. There is also an orbital laser that can be fired every few minutes, and serves as a nice lifesaver to kill off that one alien who managed to slip through your defenses.

The game itself takes about 6 hours to play through, but there are additional challenges for every mission – such as tougher alien waves, limited money, limited number of towers, etc. On top of that, your performance on each mission or challenge is posted on leaderboards so you can see how you compare to your friends and the public in general. These added features are compelling, and you will likely spend time going back and playing some of the added challenges or beating your friend’s best scores. The challenge of finding the best spots for certain towers or the most efficient maze was enough to keep me coming back for more. All in all, the game could easily net you 15-20 hours of good fun and many more if you’re a perfectionist and want to unlock all the achievements.

It should be noted that the one item missing from Defense Grid is multiplayer. It would have been really fun to have had co-operative missions and vs. modes as seen in many of the Warcraft III TD’s. If these were included, I would certainly have paid a full $50 for the game. However, for $20 you get an exceptionally fun, unique, well-polished, and well-balanced game. I recommend Defense Grid: The Awakening it to anyone who has played a TD before and enjoys the genre.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10


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