Preview: ‘Defense Grid: The Awakening’ for XBLA

DefenseGrid_ArcadeBox_smAs we had done with the Summer of Arcade, The Flickcast has done its best to keep you abreast of the latest downloadable releases for XBox Live Arcade. (Keep an eye out for special download code giveaways for XBLA games in the near future). To help with that, we recently got some time with today’s XBLA release, Defense Grid: The Awakening . By the time of this posting, it should be available for download with a trial and the full game for 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00) on the XBox Marketplace.

For those who are unfamiliar with the title, Defense Grid: The Awakening is originally a PC tower defense game. With the popularity of the up and coming genre from simple Flash-based games, it has recently made its way to handhelds and consoles with titles like Pixel Junk Monsters and Crystal Defenders. Developer Hidden Path set out with the goal to make the definitive tower defense game by looking at what they considered the 84 best tower defense games, such as like Vector TD .

For their efforts, Defense Grid: The Awakening received numerous PC game awards such as PC Gamer Editor’s Choice, one of IGN’s Top 10 “2008 Games You May Have Overlooked”, and Gameindustry.com’s 2008 Game of the Year: Puzzle. We got the chance to sit down with Hidden Path developer Jeff Pobst who talked with us about the process of creating a tower defense game. In their research they found out there were two main types of tower games.

The first was a “Road” type like Frontline Defense First Assault where there was a set path for hostiles to walk through and the player sets defense towers along the edge to prevent them from making it to the end of the path. “Open” type games like like Desktop Tower Defense allow players to make their own pathways by placing rows of towers next to each other to impede the progress of the hostile creatures trying to cross as quickly as possible. Players tend to group towers and shape pathways in a way that hostiles spend more time near their most powerful towers, thus increasing the damage dealt.

Hidden Path found that Open games were often much more entertaining for advanced players but road type is much more easily accessible for new players to learn on. Defense Grid: The Awakening holds to its credit being the first game to have hybrid maps, combinations of layouts that follow both Road and Open map types.


grid

Defense Grid: The Awakening was created by the design team with members who worked on Age of Empires, Mech Warrior and Homeworld and is powered by the Gamebryo engine which was used with Oblivion and Civilization. It includes the PC version’s 20 level maps to strategically position your defense towers and prevent alien invaders from stealing your twenty four power cores per level as well as one hundred unlockable challenge modes. It includes Borderlands Mission Pack of four exclusive XBox only maps. The single player only experience consists of roughly twelve hours of gameplay, longer than some retail box games offer.

During Defense Grid: The Awakening, the player uses resources to place and upgrade various towers throughout the map to stop swarm after swarm of invading aliens focused on stealing the player’s power cores. They gain additional resources by destroying invading aliens, Every level for the first ten levels, a new tower is introduced. Some examples of different towers are the Gun tower, the game’s basic tower which is very cheap to build and does moderate damage, the Inferno tower which acts as a flamethrower with area of effect damage, the Laser tower which keeps enemies burning even after they are out of range of the tower, and the Tesla tower which gives a powerful chain lightning discharge. Different enemies are susceptible to different towers so a blend of varied towers is often one of the best strategies but the game is built so that single tower type strategies can work as well. Every tower also has 3 upgrade levels.

Every player has twenty-four power cores which are kept tract of by icons on the HUD at the top of the screen. A Green core shows the core is still safe in the power core housing, A yellow means that a core has picked up by enemy or is floating back to the housing after the enemy carrying it has been killed. A red core represents cores that are lost to the enemy. If a alien wave crosses paths over a returning core, they can pick it up, referred to as a “hand off”, and turn around towards the exit with the core. The “Hand off” is unique to Defense Grid: The Awakening. Once a player survives all waves of a level or loses all their cores, the level is complete.

grid 2

The second the first tower is placed on the board, enemies begin their trek towards the power cores. During our demo we got to take a look at two levels of the game. Level 3 “Acient Research” consists of liens entering and exiting from one place on a road looping around the core housing and trying to return the same way they entered. Level 7 “Barrier to Entry” is the first time a player sees an open map. Aliens will always take the shortest route that is not blocked. If you completely block the aliens, they will squeeze in between towers.

Towers placed Diagonally will also impede alien movement. In later levels, new aliens appear which cause players to come up with new strategies. A perfect example comes from the appearance of “Seeker” aliens which create portals that other aliens can use to transport in to the middle the map. Because of this players cannot only focus on their front line and final line towers as their main defense. The middle must be kept safe too.

Each of the 24 maps in the game has multiple gameplay modes such as Campaign, Challenge, Story Challenge where aliens are tougher, Reverse Mode, Grinder Mode which is a constant influx of enemies “in to the meat grinder” and Poison Core where there is only one core but if the alien is shot, it kills them and other aliens that try and pick it up, but the player doesn’t get resources for those kills.

The game looks fantastic like most other recent XBox Live Arcade games as you can see from the screen shots. No longer to XBLA downloadable games have the look of cheaply made, quickly pieced together games as some early releases felt like and this PC port is proof of that. Be sure to stay tuned to The Flickcast later in the week for a full review of the entire Defense Grid: The Awakening and make sure to check out some of our video coverage below.

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