Defense Grid: The Awakening (Xbox 360) Review

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

Platforms: PC and Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

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

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a superb tower defense game whose extreme polish on the Xbox 360 benefited from its previous release on the PC, resulting in a game that is slick, balanced and (most importantly) seriously entertaining. 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 shining jewel of the genre. The campaign offers around a day's worth of play, with plenty of replayability available to those striving for high scores with more efficient tower configurations or try the game's many challenges. The difficulty in Defense Grid: The Awakening is nicely tuned. There are 20 levels in the "Awakening" campaign, 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. Besides, 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. All of this takes place within an environment that is polished and pretty, allowing the player to zoom in and watch that near-infinite supply of walkers get cut down.

At 800 points ($10), not only is the game an easy recommendation, but it's much cheaper than the launch price for the PC version of the game. Additionally, the game comes with four "Borderlands" maps that didn't launch with the PC version. 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 September 8, 2009 10:16 PM.

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