Defense Grid: The Awakening(Microsoft Xbox 360)

Defense Grid: The Awakening
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment LLC
Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment LLC
Genre: Strategy
Release Date: 9/2/09

Tower Defense games are something I have never really gotten a chance to get into. The idea of placing towers and letting waves of enemies take something from you didn’t sound appealing to me. Of course I have played numerous real time strategy games that involve defensive towers but they also utilized offensive strength as well. In fact, when I played games like Starcraft or Civilization I was always about building up my defenses and maximizing my armies with upgrades before crushing my opponents. This made for a longer game experience and sometimes my own destruction as some opponents couldn’t wait to be crushed by me. There have been a few tower defense games like Crystal Defenders that have made it to the XBLA, but they have only fueled my lack of appeal for this genre. That particular game was just plain awful. Defense Grid comes to the XBLA having been ported from a PC game that came out a while back. It was pretty popular on the PC but can it transition well to the XBLA and change my opinion of this genre or will it be another arcade game to be forgotten within a year?

Let’s Review

Story/Modes

With strategy games like Defense Grid you can’t expect too much of a story. Basically some aliens invaded a thousand years ago and now they have come back to attack your power cores. The power cores keep your British accented A.I. alive and offering to buy you drinks. Well, he said he would buy me a drink if he could. Now that the aliens are back you must build defense towers to protect your cores. There is a little more to the story but not much more. Let’s be honest :for those of you who enjoy these types of games, a story is not necessary. All you need is something to protect and that is what the story is set up to do.

The game comprises of 20 story campaigns that should take about 10+ hours to complete. Even more time is required if you suck at strategy games. After completing each campaign, you have the option to complete additional challenge modes on them. There are anywhere from two to six challenges modes per map. In all there are over 100 different challenge modes. Each challenge allows you to play the map in a totally different way. Also included with XBLA is four additional campaign maps called the Borderlands. This expansion for now is exclusive to XBLA. These maps also include challenge modes as well. I actually had great time trying all the different types of challenges.

Store/Modes Rating: Enjoyable

Graphics

Well the graphics are not stunning in Defense Grid, but they are what I have come to expect from XBLA. Every map has its own unique look and color scheme, so there is plenty of visual variety. All of your towers have different animations for their weapon type and there are plenty of different enemies to look at. In order to view all the variety of enemies however you will have to do a quick zoom in. This game has three zoom levels that can easily be changed with your right stick. After exploiting the zoom option a few times to check out the aliens, you will likely cease to use the option as gameplay using the feature is not necessary.

Strategy games in my mind are less about graphics and more about gameplay. So it doesn’t bother me that the game’s graphics are less than spectacular. They do get the job done and met my expectations. It is by far one of the more visually stimulating tower defense games and much better than the cute animations of most tower defense style games.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

Sound

In Defense Grid there is only one voice actor and he does the voice for the A.I. Early on he is very helpful at pointing out how to play the game similar to a tutorial. Later in the game he just points out the obvious. It’s kind of like a sports announce doing play by play. He will point out when you lose power cores, gain power cores back, that your certain tower is very effective. As I said before, he would buy you a drink if he could. He has a quirky British accent that reminded me of C-3PO and he’s just as whiny.

The music in the game is suitable for the gameplay. The custom score is nothing special so I just ended up just streaming some Rammstein, NIN, and Marilyn Manson with my Zune. For some reason it just seemed appropriate for this game. I am not saying the music is bad – I just prefer not to here the same score repeated over and over again in a game like this.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

Control/Gameplay

Tower defense games have a pretty simple style of game play. You have a map. On that map you place towers. Once towers are placed waves of enemies arrive at one or more points on the map and exit at one more points. Some tower defense games allow you to upgrade your towers and placement after every wave. With Defense Grid, the waves of aliens never stop and you can constantly place new towers and upgrade your old ones. The towers have three levels of upgradability. There are some occasional downtimes between waves of marauding aliens. Later in the game these are fewer and fewer. You start with a set amount of resources in which you use to build and upgrade towers. You can only earn more by destroying aliens or earning interest on your pool of resources. Earning interest only works well if you have some resources in your pool to begin with. The more in you pool the more you can make just sitting idle. The game has an autosave feature that allows you to replay at your last checkpoint should you fail. It would be nice if you could go back multiple check points because sometimes your mistakes were made a lot earlier.

There are quite a variety of towers and each one acts differently. Most do damage but some slow the aliens and others increase the resources you earn from kills. Where you place them is essential in this game. Some of the maps have pretty linear paths that aliens pass so it best to try and put your towers where you can damage them the longest or twice. Later on, the maps have lots of open areas where you can place towers and direct the path of the aliens. Usually you want to direct on long paths of destruction while keeping them from stealing your power cores.

There are many different types of aliens: weak ones traveling in large groups, flyers, shielded, fast ones, and large ones that take lots of damage. There are quite a few variations. Certain towers working better on certain types of aliens. For example the inferno towers, which are basically flame throwers, work really well on the packs of weak ones. You can speed up the waves of aliens by pressing either the right or left bumpers. Holding these down can be a little bit of a pain. It would have been nice to just turn it on and off with the bumpers. Towards the end of the game you will have a little of everything on your map to protect those precious cores.

The killing of aliens is quite fun. Watching them walk into your carefully laid path of destruction is quite rewarding. Having them slip by your defenses however is not. You lose the game once all of you power cores have been stolen, but at least you’ll learn from your mistakes and try again. I only have a few gripes about this game. One is the lack of camera rotation. I would have been nice to be able to see from different angles as the maps are 3D. You can zoom in, but as I said before, this is more for visual effect. Another thing that was kind of convenient once I located it was the health indicator for the aliens. This is not present by default and you have to turn it on from the options menu. The most bothersome thing was the amount of lag in certain waves of the final levels. There was so much going on that the slowdown was a little frustrating. It didn’t happen a lot so I won’t knock it down to much for that. With this kind of game, the gameplay is a very important element and it is definitely up to par in this area.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Great

Replayability

Tower defense games are made for replayability and Defense Grid is no exception. After completing the story mode in this game, there are so many different variations like poison core and grinder mode. Grinder and super grinder were two of my favorites as they both have 99 waves and are set up for massive amounts of towers. The slow down really takes place a lot in this mode but it is still fun. You can also replay all of the story modes to attempt to get higher scores and earn silver and gold medals. There are achievements for having all of the medals in the story mode and at least 40 gold medals in story and challenge modes combined. Trying to get the gold medals is very challenging as you have to use your towers wisely to protect your cores and maximize your resources.

There are no multiplayer modes available. However there are leaderboards are available to compete with your friends and others XBOX live. Each map and mode within that map has its own leaderboard. This is easily a game I could stop playing for a while and pick back up months from now. That is if I could stop playing it first.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance

Defense Grid has a very difficult learning curve. It starts out pretty easy in the first couple of levels just to give you a feel for the game, but becomes difficult very quickly. This basically forces you to become good at the strategy of this game very quickly. This was fine for me as I pretty quickly learned from my mistakes and repeated the level and succeeded.

This game will only set you back $10(800 MSP). This is what I love about some of titles coming to the XBLA. They have a lot of bang for your buck. With so much replayability with all the levels you will definitely get you $10 worth. When this came out on PC last December it was priced $20 on steam. XBOX players get it at half the price with four extra maps.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality

There are a lot of tower defense style games out there and Defense Grid isn’t bringing that much new to the genre. What the game does accomplish is being one of the best and most polished games of this genre. The ability to steer your enemies was something new to me and was pretty cool. It added a new factor to apply to your defensive strategy. Traditionally tower defense games are pretty cartoonish but this game offers more modern graphics for the genre.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

Addictiveness

Defense Grid is like Pringles: once you pop, you can’t stop. You have the ability to pick this game and play it for like 20-30 minutes, but more than likely you will play for a few hours at a time or long marathon gaming runs. As I am writing this review, I feel compelled to play the game instead. There is something about the rampant destruction of aliens to my defensive towers. It is very rewarding when you make impenetrable defenses and watch even the big bosses crumble as they try to approach your power cores.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor

Defense Grid will definitely appeal to anyone that is a fan of this genre. It should also appeal to a broad range of player because is so simple to just pick up, play, and learn to strategize. The price point is excellent for of game of this depth. With so many games approaching $15 range on XBLA, it is nice to see a good one at the $10 level. Most player s will know if this is the game for them by just downloading the trial. One of the great things about XBLA is that all of the arcades games have trials for you to decide yourself if you want this title.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous

Defense Grid is proof the strategy games can work well on consoles. The controls are pretty smooth and I would like to see more strategy games like this appear on the XBLA. I know that there have been a lot RTS games on consoles but none have been really successful. The only thing game could use is co-op as some of the maps are large enough.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

THE SCORES
Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Defense Grid: The Awakening is great tower defense game for XBLA. As it was a pretty successful PC game, it definitely is worthy of your purchase. It is only $10(800 MSP), which is a reasonable price for all of the numerous levels and modes you will get. It’s easy to learn gameplay style is very addicting. If you like tower defense games, then this is a must buy.

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