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Defense Grid: The Awakening (XBox 360/PC)

Posted: September 21st, 2009, by Alex McChesney

I’ve purchased three games for the XBox 360 in the past month. A two-for-one coupon bagged me cheap second-hand copies of Grand Theft Auto IV and Bioshock from a local shop. Fine games, both, they were developed by large teams and retailed at full price upon release, and neither has had a look in since I spent 800 points (about $10 or £6.80) to download Defense Grid.

Games in the “tower defense” sub-genre are generally pretty simple affairs. A pre-defined stream of baddies march into your base, intent on grabbing some of the resources held there and making off with them. You have a limited amount of cash with which to purchase towers that have various effects on the enemies, the cheapest and most common of which is simply to fire a stream of bullets (arrows, whatever) at them. Killing bad guys earns you more cash with which to build more towers, or upgrade those you have, with the level ending when you wipe out the enemy or all your resources have been stolen. Like the best games of strategy, from a simple rule-set a complex web of interactions and tactics emerges, and because of the relative ease with which they can be developed, they have generally manifested as lightweight “casual” games, or browser-based timesinks like FlashElementTD.

So why spend actual cash money on Defense Grid: The Awakening when you can play virtually the same game for free many times over? Well, for one, the definition of a tower defense game is loose enough that it can be easily screwed up. A tiny imbalance between enemy unit types and available towers could render the game unplayable, or so easy as to be pointless. As you work your way through each level of Defense Grid’s story mode, it becomes clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into the design of the enemies and the towers themselves, ensuring that there is never a single one-size-fits-all solution to any given situation.

But while you can tell yourself that you’re only interested in the intellectual challenge, part of you is still tickled by big, flashy spectacle, something that Defense Grid delivers in spades. The core gameplay may be relatively basic, but it’s presented with the glossy sheen of an expensive mainstream title. Your bases are lonely sci-fi ruins perched among canyons and glaciers, the enemy a horde of alien mechs destined to melt under the concentrated firepower of your laser turrets and cannons. I may be advancing through my thirties, but I still get a little thrill from making a giant alien robot explode prettily, and I expect you do too. Beyond the graphical sheen you also have an amusing AI narrator who sounds to these ears to be a dead ringer for Patrick Stewart, and a serviceable if generic soundtrack.

The main story mode comprises three diverse maps, plus three bonus levels and a stack of rule-tweaking challenge modes. If you’re of a mindset that enjoys a thoughtful experience at the same time as blowing shit up, Defense Grid’s well worth the few bucks being asked for it.

Official Site
Defense Grid on XBox Marketplace
Defense Grid for PC on Steam

Alex McChesney

Alex was brought up by a family of stupid looking monkeys after being lost in the deep jungles of Paisley. Teaching him all their secret conga skills (as well as how to throw barrels at plumbers), Alex was able to leave for the bright lights of Glasgow where adventure struck him and he needed all his conga skills to save the world and earn the hand of a lovely Texan princess. He now keeps a low profile alphabeticising his record collection and making sock monkeys in the likenesses of his long lost family.


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