Defense Grid: The Awakening (PC) Review

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Defense Grid: The Awakening Publisher: Hidden Path Entertainment
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment

Platforms: PC and Xbox 360
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 1.8 GHz Processor, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c and Shader 2 compatible video card, 1 GB HD space, Windows XP or more recent operating system

A millennium of peace has lulled a distant planet into a false sense of security. Fortunately, when the alien invasion began, it was just barely possible to reawaken an ancient defense grid, capable of constructing defensive weaponry emplacements guided by the digitized personality of a long-dead operator. The defense grid needs only one thing to save the planet from a deadly onslaught – an operator capable of balancing the available resources against the planet's defensive needs.

Kyle Ackerman

I find tower defense games, in which you build a series of defensive structures to eliminate an inexorable stream of enemies, a lot of fun. As strategy games, they can require a lot of thought and planning, but not the macros and split-second reflexes of most real-time strategy games. At the same time, they require focus – they aren't turn-based games you can walk away from without pausing. I think of them as beer-in-hand strategy games (or soda, for the younger gamers). I can play with one hand and be entirely focused, but still lean back and take a swig.

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a superb tower defense game with only one serious flaw, and that only affects a small fraction of users. As released, if you play with certain surround-sound configurations, the game runs into a conflict and turns into a slideshow, ultimately freezing. Hidden Path Entertainment claims that this only affects a small portion of users, but it took me two hours, two computers and a lot of tweaking graphics settings before I finally stumbled on the solution. For those of you with the problematic setup, just set your sound to stereo and enjoy the game, but know that I've dropped the score by a half star for releasing the game with a serious (and seriously annoying) problem. (Update: The sound issue has now been patched.)

With that out of the way, Defense Grid: The Awakening is a shining jewel of the genre. The campaign offers around a day's worth of play, with plenty of replayability available to those who enjoy striving for high scores with more efficient tower configurations, or trying the game's many challenges. The difficulty in Defense Grid: The Awakening is nicely tuned. There are 20 levels, and for the first half, I had no problem breezing through while preserving all the energy cores I needed to defend (to keep the defense grid operational). I only had to work if I wanted a high score. For the next five levels, it was easy to survive, but preserving all the cores made me sweat a little. And the last five levels were a serious challenge.

As with most games in the genre, towers can only be built in predetermined locations. This makes the game easier to balance, and ensures that your towers are somewhere near the path of the oncoming aliens. In Defense Grid: The Awakening, not only are there usually lots of doors through which towers can emerge, the most entertaining levels are those where much of the battlefield consists of doors and I needed to use the towers to shift the aliens onto longer paths and herd them into killing zones. As usual, flying and walking aliens take different paths, and different types of towers are good against different aliens, so much of the fun is figuring out what combination of towers works best against a particular ordered onslaught of aliens.

Even the AI aide in Defense Grid: The Awakening is entertaining. He's a former operator with an effete accent, downloaded into the defense grid's systems 1,133 years ago. As a tutor and commentator, he's entertaining without being obtrusive. Also the story device of an ancient system being restored to functionality provides a nice justification for gradually introducing a variety of tower types, and only allowing those towers to be upgraded after a few missions.

The game's challenges further extend play. These challenges range from simply presenting the same level from the story mode but with tougher aliens, to completely different situations, with limits on the available number of towers, resources, or wave after wave of nasty armored walkers. Gah! All of this takes place within an environment that is polished and pretty (although the system specs seem high relative to the admittedly high graphical bar the game sets), allowing the player to zoom and watch that near-infinite supply of walkers get cut down.

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a strong game that offers a lot of fun and plenty of challenge to PC gamers. So, with such glowing praise, why doesn't Defense Grid: The Awakening get five stars? First, the game was released with a significant technical issue, and secondly, this site's review criteria take into account value, and at $20 the game seems a touch expensive. It would be a cinch to recommend at a slightly lower price. All told, Defense Grid: The Awakening is a strong sophomore showing from the studio that brought us Wits & Wagers.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 11, 2008 11:46 PM.

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