Defense Grid: The Awakening. Tower Defense with Fancy Pretty Graphics

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a tower defense game. I’ve been playing a lot of tower defense games lately, because they require little time investment. I can start, play a level or two, and then go do something else. I was a huge fan of Rampart back in the day, and within the last year or so I’ve played a fair amount Desktop Tower Defense and Gemcraft. The idea is pretty simple: there’s a playing field, either with a pre-set maze or a canvas to be divided and sub-divided into a maze. Enemies come at you, and you keep building and upgrading towers to shoot them down. They are games of delegating. You do not shoot monsters. The towers shoot the monsters. Who built the towers? Well, you did, but you can not be blamed for the monsters’ deaths, can you? No, because they knew the towers were there. They knew the towers were there. Why did they still attack? It’s not my fault they’re all dead! I swear, I just built towers with guns, how was I to know they were being used to shoot at waves of monsters? HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW???

Where was I? Ah yes, washing my hands. But I digress.

Defense Grid follows the typical tower defense pattern to a T. It’s well designed, the mazes are fun, and there’s the usual variety of towers. The enemies, part of some weird alien race, attack your base to steal one of the 20 power cores it contains. Once an enemy grabs a power core, the alien carries it off, unless your towers manage to kill the alien. When you kill an alien holding a power core, your power core slowly floats back to your base, unless another enemy happens to grab it along the way. This adds an excellent twist to the usual “kill them before they make it to the other side” dynamic. Alien grabs core. You kill alien. Another, fresh alien grabs the core. Hopefully, you kill that one too, and your core floats safely back the base. Otherwise you watch as a series of weak aliens manage to relay your power core off the map. Lose all your power cores and you have to replay the level.

It’s only major addition is pretty graphics, which surprisingly enough, actually add quite a bit. Is there anything more fun than watching aliens explode? If so, humanity has not yet discovered it. (Idea for a show that would not be the most fun thing to watch: Howie Mandel eats shards of glass. He occasionally stops, looks at the camera, and spits out of his blood-soaked mouth: “This is howie do it.”) As you build towers, your maze slowly becomes a battle zone of fiery goodness. (Having the aliens’ corpses remain on the battlefield in some way would be a great addition. Even little charred marks where they fell would be nice, so you could see the choke points in your maze slowly turn gray, and then black.)

I have some slight qualms with Defense Grid, but those don’t keep it from being worth $5-$10.  Although you can replay the levels in various modes with tougher enemies, or with limitations on resource spending or time, it isn’t a long game. There are levels enough to keep you entertained for around 4 hours, but after that your only goal is to replay the same 20 levels with slight variations. And, of course, there are achievements scattered throughout the game. If you play this on Steam, however, the achievements page doesn’t actually bring up your achievements, but instead takes you to your Steam user homepage, where you can search around for your achievements. Minor, but annoying.

You only have 3 zoom options in Defense Grid: The Awakening. Why limit it?

It is 3D, and it is fancy and beautiful, but there are only 3 zoom levels: useful, not very useful, and useless. You will only spend time using the basic, medium level zoom (useful), and never bother zooming in farther (not very useful), or microscopically small (useless). The transition from zoom level to zoom level is smooth, which means that they could probably have had a typical zoom range, rather than set levels. It would also be nice to zoom out more. The default, widest camera level is not even high enough to see the entire range for some towers, such as the meteor tower, and many of the levels are big enough to require constant scrolling around.

My last problem with Defense Grid: The Awakening is your helper. A very British, very C-3PO sounding guy was trapped in a computer for some reason, and he now guides you through the game, explaining the mechanics of new towers and enemies as they appear. Fine by me. It’s like having Al, from Quantum Leap, if Al was British and Sam Beckett were trying to build towers to kill aliens, because before someone hadn’t built towers to kill aliens, and oh boy is that a problem. But, there need to be more in-game speech sound bytes. Many of the sound bytes are tied to specific events, such as a laser tower killing a larger alien, which happens frequently, so you are “treated” to certain bits of speech far too often. It never gets frustrating, but it does get irksome.

If you like tower defense games, try this one. Sure, it’s more or less the same shit in a fancier package, but it’s a very nice package.

Curtis Retherford

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