Score: 8.0 – XBox Live Arcade – 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00)
Last week, we gave our preview coverage of Defense Grid: The Awakening and after getting the time to play through the full retail release of the game, it definitely lived up to our high expectations of the game. Defense Grid: The Awakening towers over the previous XBLA Tower Defense Game, Crystal Defenders as well as every free flash tower defense game on the internet in not only graphics and control but most importantly in fun. It has also set a high bar for South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense which is coming out in the coming months.
As described in our preview coverage, the game continually evolved with each level. From the addition of upgrade levels and additional tower options to the change from preset Path type maps and hybrid maps, there is constant variety over the course of Defense Grid. For each of the first 10 levels, the game adds a new tower in each level except in level 8. Here is where things get really interesting as an orbital laser that takes much of the time spent in the level to charge up to get ready to fire, but it allows for a 1-shot kill that garners no experience. But it’s one heck of a last resort weapon to preserve those last few precious cores the player must defend from the alien invaders.
In addition to new towers, new levels bring new enemies. From the most basic cannon fodder grunts and fast moving runners to drone spawning “Seekers” to massive lumbering powerhouses, a lot of strategy is required on a playthrough of this game. Some towers shoot faster at close range while other towers have a slow rate of fire with massive damage. Still, other towers don’t even do damage but instead grind enemy speed down to allow damage over time towers like the Inferno to deal more damage as aliens stay in their short radius. Even more strategy comes in to play when flying enemies are introduced that can only be targeted by a limited number of tower types and fly a different route that is not affected by the layout of the map the same way ground units would be. Luckily, the game takes this pathing in to effect and lets the player see the path air units will take when they are building their towers so they are not unpleasantly surprised by this new enemy type.
For a game that came from the PC originally, it translates great to the XBox 360 controller. Because the interface is simple over layers of strategy, it makes tower placement, sales and upgrading extremely easy. One button does all your placement. Another brings up the critical information about enemy units and one more speeds up the game. This simple three button interface does it all and allows a game traditionally played point and click style on a mouse to be easily accessible through a console controller.
By way of graphics, Defense Grid: The Awakening sets itself apart from all flash games in its 3D angular grid setup. All the aliens have fairly distinct different looks that can all be examined more in-depth in the information panel or see up close in one of the game’s three zoom levels available. The only visual design that feels somewhat lacking comes in the design of the different towers and their upgrade levels. It is often hard in the heat of gameplay to tell different towers apart as they all have a very similar design and black and silver cover scheme.
As far as challenge, Defense Grid: The Awakening ramps up rather quick. Out of the game’s twenty levels and the additional four bonus maps from the Borderlands map pack, only the first few maps come across as easy. Much like the developers discussed with us, the “road” style pathways are not much of a challenge for experienced players but with the introduction of the open maps and hybrid maps where tower placement affects the route the enemies take, the difficulty ramps up rather quickly. A player should be able to make it at least through the first five maps before losing any power cores. After that though, don’t expect too many perfect levels to follow.
Overall, Defense Grid: The Awakening feels like a great combination of a casual gamestyle like Tower Defense combined with layers of strategy that can often be found in more advanced RTS games with the options for so many different tower options and placement strategies. The game looks great and plays smoothly. This is one of the top XBox Live Arcade games thus far, and that’s saying a lot considering the tremendous summer XBLA has experienced. This game is definitely worth a try of at least the demo for all players and because of its addictive nature will probably have you shelling out your 800 Microsoft points quickly.