“Keep playing” was the response I received from Hidden Path Entertainment’s CEO, Jeff Pobst, when I questioned the apparent lack of difficulty in Defense Grid: The Awakening. Hidden Path’s upcoming PC (and later, Xbox Live Arcade) tower-defense title had seemed a little easy up until this exact moment — and as if on cue, a wave of speedy flying enemy units invaded my base and promptly annihilated me. Pobst cocked his eyebrows and smiled, silently and justifiably tellng me “I told you so.”
This was the moment where it clicked for me that what I’d been hearing Pobst say prior wasn’t something that he’d sticky-noted to his bathroom mirror that morning — the game really was accessible for beginners and challenging for veterans. Tower-defense, for the uninitiated, is a simple concept built around strategy: players construct various towers to defend a specific area from being reached or destroyed by increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Defense Grid is taking it to a new level by evolving beyond the traditionally simplistic visuals while maintaining that ease of entry of a flash game.
Set in a sci-fi-inspired industrial-themed world, players are forced to repel a typically cliched re-awakened ancient evil that’s hellbent on bringing about mankind’s extinction. In the future, protecting the human race requires building big-ass towers that spew death on any poor robotic bug-thing that happens to walk in its attack radius. Stopping the baddies from hijacking cores from a single defense point on a randomly generated map is your top priority, and where typical tower games see you panicking the second your defenses are broken, Defense Grid isn’t so simplistic.
Redirecting enemies through specific strategical placement means you’ll always be thinking about what towers to drop where while you keep an eye on the ticker at the top that lets you know what kind of foes (and how tough they are) you’re dealing with next. Since certain kinds of enemies can’t be harmed by flames, electricity, flaming hot lead or lasers, you’ll need to think in advance about how you’re going to tackle a given situation. Fast aerial attackers need to be damaged as much as possible before they can reach your cores and head for the exit — another neat twist, and also a second chance to finish ’em off — while slow, lumbering tough-guys need to be taken out over a long stretch of ground; airborne attackers can easily evade the barrage of flame scorching their grounded allies, and the tesla tower or other energy-sourced nodes won’t affect a certain breeds of invaders.
It might sound like a lot to take in, but the intuitive control scheme gives plenty of opportunity for fast acting in the heat of the moment. The mouse cursor is always centered and as you surf your ranging-sized playing field, you’ll simply use the left and right click to build, upgrade and sell your units. It’s not a far-cry from its roots, but Defense Grid‘s depth is in its mechanics, not its conotrols.
It’s a solid looking game with grandiose special effects that only become more glamorous as you spend the cash you earn from killin’ to upgrade. While I’m still floored by how easy it was to get in to, and how much challenge there is for a seasoned player, I’m still curious as to how Hidden Path will curve the difficulty. The difference between the first stage and the seventh stage I played was immense, particularly structurally. It’s infinitely more easy to defend against a horde that wanders a winding path than one with that can freely move about a solid 20×20 grid, but if they manage to maintain a consistent curve, then that beginner they’re shooting for could potentially become a deity of defending. If not, where is the beginners-crowd going to just stop playing because it’s simply too tough?
I’m excited to play more and build strategies of my own but I’m curious if the Stargate-esque art style and surprising amount of strategical depth will attract or deter newcomers to the genre. Defense Grid: The Awakening is apparently taking it in to their own hands and evolving the tower-defense genre. Be sure to check out this bound-to-be-addictive sci-fi strategy game this fall on PC, and then later on Xbox Live Arcade.
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