It is kind of strange. With the success of the XBLA, there really have not been many too many tower defense style of games, the last being a port of the somewhat simplistic Final Fantasy Crystal Defenders. Hidden Path Entertainment has really broken this mold and set the bar high with Defense Grid: The Awakening and its highly addicting and well balanced gameplay.
Like other games in the same genre, the goal is to stop an incoming horde of enemies from taking your “power cores” by strategically placing gun turrets to stop their progress. When an enemy is defeated, the player is rewarded resource points, which are spent like currency to build new defense towers/guns. The game requires a fair amount of thought because some weapons are more effective against certain types of enemies, bringing a high amount of balance to the gameplay. Should I upgrade this tower or build a whole new one? Would it better if I placed a cannon over here or in this spot over here? I could buy a gun turret now or should I save my resources to purchase a long range meteor cannon…? It is questions like these that will constantly weigh on the player’s mind. A poor choice of gun tower placement at the beginning of the stage can haunt the player’s chances by the end of the stage.
Enemies will spawn at Point A, travel to Point B to collect a power core, then travel back to Point A (or even a Point C) with the collected goods. Stopping them along the way is always a difficult process, but each stage can be viewed as a trial and error process. There will be times when the player will make some bad choices, especially during the more difficult final stages. But with each attempt, strategy is learned and honed, which prevents the game from reaching that “I am so frustrated I will never play this game again” finality. The last stage in particular, is very challenging, presenting the game with near perfect pacing. There are several highlighted points during each battle and the game will automatically save so if you made a bad decision on your cannon placement, a simple press of the Back button will instantly return you to the last checkpoint.
Before the baddies start flooding the screen, a computer AI, spoken with a British accent that sounds almost Patrick Steward-ish, will explain some minor detail to unwrap a plotline. The story is definitely not the highlighting feature of the game, but provides just enough reason to keep the player playing until the end. The best reason to play this game is for the addicting qualities, but the story does throw in a little unique personality.
As if choosing which type of gun to place in which spot isn’t difficult in itself, the game also adds challenge even as enemies are defeated. If an enemy carries a power core close to the exit point and is defeated, that power core will slowly float back to it origin. Along the way, however, a different alien can pick up this power core and finish the job without traveling all the way to the edge of the screen and back again. This means that it is in the best interest of the player to kill all enemies as soon as possible, another important element that reflects the success of your mission.
The main quest is about 20 missions long which could take anywhere from 8-12 hours, if not longer, if you see “Game Over” a lot. But when each mission is completed, several new unique missions will become unlocked for this same map. For example, the player might have 10k resource spending limit, or can only build only Level 1 turrets, or enemies will start at the exit point and travel in reverse – these are just some of the new available missions. Each extra mission usually requires an entirely different strategy which constantly keeps the game fresh and entertaining. While there is no multiplayer component to the game, each mission has its own Leaderboard. Your high score can also be accessed through the main mission selection screen as opposed to venturing to the dedicated Leaderboard option from the main menu, making things a little more convenient.
Defense Grid is also a great looking game. Complete with the game’s cool futuristic menu screen, it is obvious that the developers took their time to create something with high presentation values. The only negative aspect of the game’s graphical quality is that the framerate can suffer slightly when there are too many enemies/explosions going on at once, and there is no option to rotate the camera. By default, the game is always laid out in a 3D isometric view point. Although it is definitely playable, there were times when I would have like to have rotated the camera to a straight forward camera angle. Yes, you can zoom the camera in and out with the flick of the second analog stick, but not having a rotate function holds back the high quality of game’s graphics.
For 800 Microsoft Points ($10), you definitely get quite the bang for your buck. I really have not been this addicted to an XBLA game like this in a long time. If you are a tower defense fan, you need to download the full version of this game. And if you are a not a fan of the genre, Defense Grid just might have enough in its bag of tricks to convert you.
Unique Use of: the Gamebryo Engine
Better Than: NinjaTown DS
Also Try: Final Fantasy Crystal Defenders