The Tower Defense sub-genre has been around for while. In large they are all the same, but with different settings and art styles. Ranging from the normal castle being invaded by monsters, to Final Fantasy characters defending a crystal. The genre is fun, but exceptionally unoriginal overall. Defense Grid: The Awakening is a Tower Defense game that somehow manages to be exceptionally original amidst general mediocrity.
The game starts much like all Tower Defense games. Simple path, a few towers to put on blocks to destroy monsters. Pretty uninteresting to start, but the genre has never been boring, just not immensely unique, so it’s still fun. A few levels in you find out that Defense Grid is different. Rather than have just areas to plug new towers in along the edge of the map, you also have them scattered along the paths enemies walk on.
The reason why this is significant is that these towers along the enemy’s path changes their walking route. At first it’s just a short detour for them that gives you a few precious seconds to destroy one enemy. Later levels make this the crux of your strategy. A full map with bridges that lead directly to your tower can be turned into a labyrinth of flame throwers and machine guns that force the enemy to your whim.
This new way of structuring maps through use of your towers is absolutely refreshing, and makes for actually making strategy beyond just plopping down twenty dozen towers in a row. The extremely varied maps also take a large part in this strategy. The are so many unique levels to give you a try at your strategic chops that it can be a little overwhelming at times.
Some of the towers aren’t exceptionally unique, but the heft some of them carry can send you into silly giggle fits. You’ve got your standard machine gun and flame thrower. Then you get stuff like the temporal tower, which slows down enemies near the tower when it pulses. Long range cannons that do serious damage, but are slow to fire. The two interesting ones are the Tesla and Laser.
The Laser can devastate some enemies that normal projectiles can’t, and after that continue to do some damage even after it stops attacking due to it superheating the metal. You’ll often find yourself not using this as it’s less destructive to most units until you find enemies that take your usual arsenal with stride. The Tesla is a relatively cheap tower that has unique properties. The longer it has to charge up the more damage it does, and not only that but it chains to a few enemies near by. It’s sort of a trump card, but can be exceptionally useful in pinch.
Learning to utilize these towers to their fullest has to come quick as the difficulty for the game quickly escalates. It took me several dozen tries to get the perfect pattern to set down towers in a level where you get an orbital laser cannon nearer to the end. Despite it’s great difficulty at times the game remains fun. Trying new tower placement strategies in a trial-and-error method is rarely frustrating, and can make for some great unique experiences.
Unlike most Tower Defense games there is a story with in Defense Grid, but in large you don’t notice it. The story just sets up alerting you to some tips, or new towers you can try. It explains the reason for some of the extremely varied locals, but completely ignoring this backstory won’t do much in the way of ruin your experience. That being said, the story is fairly interesting in that the character that talks to you through the game has a strange relation to the player.
Knowing the Tower Defense genre means you know what kind of replay value you can expect. The game offers different objectives, like scores for different levels of medals. Even beyond that after beating a level you can try your hand at an even harder version of the map, or just go sandbox with it and play with the map to your hearts content with no fear of losing.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is a surprisingly refreshing take on the Tower Defense sub-genre. The level of strategy they’ve created, the incredibly large number of unique maps, and even some fairly unique towers make for a very distinct game with in this usual nondescript genre. The game has a story that can be ignored, but in large the game is entertaining. For 10 dollars, it’s a great take on the Tower Defense Genre. You can buy the game on the PC and Xbox Live Arcade.