Defense Grid: The Awakening

September 8, 2009 by Jeff Barker  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox Live Arcade

Overview

Title: Defense Grid: The Awakening
Release Date: 02nd September 2009
Developer/Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment
Genre: Strategy & Simulation
Platform[s]: XBLA

Storyline

Defense Grid is a tower defense game – for those of who don’t know what that means (and I expect that’s the majority of us out there), remember the scene in Aliens where they set up automatic machine gun units to see off the Xenomorphs?  That more or less sums up the genre. Obviously, this game isn’t that easy, but it is based around the premise of your home planet being under attack from aliens, and while everyone else has (wisely) done a runner, you are the only one left ready to take on the aliens, with the help of your onboard computer, who sounds suspiciously like Geoffrey out of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

DG-Screen

Gameplay

Your job is to protect your planet’s power cores from the Lost Planet/Starship Troopers-esque aliens on a variety of differently staged maps – each map holds your power cores, a series of empty spaces for you to place your weapon turrets and entry and exit points for your adversaries. Simply select an empty slot for a turret, hit A to bring up the weapon select screen and then A again to build your turret – it really is that simple. The kicker is that as you progress through the levels, each map springs newer and progressively harder layouts for you to decipher – with the onus on getting you to think strategically about where to place your turret, and which type of weapon to go for.

Weapons range from your basic gun turret up to Tesla Cannons, Rocket Launchers and Flamethrowers – each with its own strength and weaknesses, and each needing to be precisely located in order to get the best out of its firepower. This leads to a large amount of frustration as your best laid plans go to waste within minutes of the aliens entering the map, as they nab all your power cores and run off laughing at you. If all your power cores are removed, the Defense Grid powers down and that’s it, game over. The aliens themselves are many and varied, and range from annoying little blighters who are easy to dispatch, to massive boss-type characters who are slow and meandering, but heavily armoured and able to take a massive (and quite disturbing) amount of damage before giving up the ghost.

Defense Grid is all about resource management – you begin each campaign with a preset amount of money which you can use to place turrets, and each time you frag a bad guy, your resources go up and you can purchase more turrets or upgrade the ones you have. You can trade in (or sell, to quote the game) any turrets you currently have on screen, but by doing so you will only receive a percentage of their worth back into your resource wallet, encouraging you to think long and hard about each turret’s use before you place it – which, in the heat of battle, is not always an easy thing to do. For a game that only requires you to point and click, Defense Grid is one hell of a frantic experience, causing untold amounts of panic as you watch that unbeatable defense you spent ages strategizing over cause less than a blemish on your enemies – but when a plan does come together, it produces a warm, fuzzy glow and is quite simply one of the most rewarding effort to payoff ratios of anything currently on Xbox Live.

Graphics

Simple, yet effective was obviously Hidden Path’s mantra when creating this game, as you view the action from a diagonal-top down angle quite similar to Populous or Theme Park. Each map is well designed and looks different, and range from industrial areas to volcanoes and so on – you have three zoom levels, and even when you’re focused right in on the action with literally hundreds of aliens and weapon effects on screen at any one time, there is next to no slow-down. Loving touches like heat haze coming from your flamethrowers or the alien’s shields add to the effect, and you can quickly identify each alien type as it runs on screen. The only complaint we had was making out exactly what was going on when things got particularly hectic – at some points it’s literally impossible to see your enemies amid all the flame, Tesla fire and explosions, but as long as they don’t come out the other side then hey, that’s a good thing!

Sound

Defense Grid sounds good – each weapon sounds different and even when you’re on a completely different side of the map it’s comforting to hear your Lasers and Rocket Launchers firing off elsewhere. Add to this the suitably urgent musical score and it’s very easy to feel that you are actually orchestrating a massive defense bid against a seemingly unbeatable alien force. And your computer’s Hooray-Henry English accent is brilliant.

Overall Score and Replayability

All in all, Defense Grid is a very tasty package – along with the 20 standard maps, Hidden Path have also included the Borderlands expansion pack, offering an additional four maps for you to defend. Each map from the main campaign and the expansion pack has several challenge modes added on top of the standard story mode, which offers you well over 100 different scenarios to conquer. Add to this the 800MSP price tag, and the fact that XBLA is responsible for bringing yet another hidden gem onto our HDD’s and Defense Grid is pretty much a must-buy. It harks backs to the halcyon days of yore when games were as they should be, simple yet effective – it will draw you in and keep you there until you’ve conquered that map and believe us, you will WANT to conquer each and every map…download, now.