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Defense Grid: The Awakening (Xbox 360) artwork

Defense Grid: The Awakening (Xbox 360) review

"The Defense Grid allows the player to create defensive structures called towers that come in several types. Youíll start off with the basic, cost effective gun turrets and area-of-effect flamethrower towers. Different types of towers become available as you progress through the gameís 20 distinct levels, and are usually necessary for successfully fending off alien hordes."

At last yearís Penny Arcade Expo, I had the opportunity to meet with members from Hidden Path Entertainment and get some hands-on time with Defense Grid: The Awakening. Being primarily a Mac user, I never got the chance to play the final retail version of the game last fall. Now itís been released for the Xbox Live Arcade, and Iím just as impressed with the title as I was when I initially previewed it.

Defense Grid is a tower defense game, and much like other recent games in the genre such as Crystal Defenders and Plants vs. Zombies, your goal is to defeat, block, or otherwise hinder enemy units from reaching their destination by placing units of your own in their path. In this game, you operate an ancient technology called the ďDefense GridĒ in order to stop alien invaders from stealing your planetís supply of power cores.

The Defense Grid allows the player to create defensive structures called towers that come in several types. Youíll start off with the basic, cost effective gun turrets and area-of-effect flamethrower towers. Different types of towers become available as you progress through the gameís 20 distinct levels, and are usually necessary for successfully fending off alien hordes. However, advanced towers such as the meteor tower can compensate for this deficiency by firing across the entire map. If you plan accordingly, no mission is impossible.

Strategic planning becomes imperative in later levels when placement of the towers dictates an enemyís path. You can only place towers on specific squares that are highlighted green with your cursor. The enemy AI will take the shortest path possible to your supply of energy cores and to the exit, but will resort to taking the longer path to reduce the amount of damage they take should you place a tower in their way. There is a catch, however: you canít outright block their path, since theyíll simply move between your towers and neutralize your strategy.

In addition to acquiring new types of towers, youíll eventually be able to upgrade your towers twice, with an additional cost of resources for each upgrade. These upgrades can increase a towerís attack range and attack power. Defense Grid uses different color schemes to represent the strength of individual units. Green units are the weakest, yellow units fit in the middle, and red units are the strongest. All of your towers start out as green units, and change according to the upgrades you provide. Incoming enemy waves on your radar are also represented by these colors.

Enemy units come in various forms and resist certain attacks from your towers. For example, shielded units block any fire or laser damage and can only be damaged by gunfire. Additionally, flying units forgo the ground path altogether and fly across the map. These units are out of the range of all but the gun turret and cannon towers. Therefore, diversifying your defenses becomes essential for achieving victory.

The campaign grows gradually more difficult as you progress through the game, and in the later levels, I often had to retry at least two or three times before completing them. It also doesnít help that I get very obsessive about losing even just one power core out of the 24 that are provided. This desire to protect your cores becomes more apparent when you try to go for gold medals in each level. The game is tough, but itís at no fault of the game mechanics or user interface; the 360 controls work well, despite not having pre-programmed keyboard macros and other luxuries youíd find on a PC. Most of the time itís human errors that cost me the mission, but sometimes I do wish Iíd have more available resources than whatís provided from the outset.

The campaign takes anywhere from 5-10 hours to complete, depending on your skill level. After finishing any level, there are additional challenges for you take on, such as the 10k Resources Challenge, where you start with 10,000 resources with no additional resource recovery; or the Grinder Challenge, where you must endure 99 waves of aliens in the ultimate test of survival. Thereís plenty of content to keep you occupied long after completing the campaign, which may make up for the lack of multiplayer. Your scores are posted on an online leaderboard, but thatís the extent of the titleís online component.

Usually with tower defense games, you donít expect much in the presentation department, but Hidden Path went all out with Defense Grid. The title uses the Gamebryo engine that was also used in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3. There are three perspectives you can view the game at; a close-up view for looking at the details on the units, a mid-range view, and a far view. More than likely, youíll be using the distant perspective so that you can see all of the action and play better. These environments stand out from levels youíd find in similar games and range from the ruins of a futuristic city, to a geothermal core, to frozen canyons as they fend off against alien invaders.

The soundtrack isnít anything impressive, and itís usually lost in the action. Itís mostly generic, unremarkable music, typical of tactical games. Most of the time youíll be hearing the repetitive one-liners from your seemingly British AI companion who acts as a guide for your tour of resistance. Most of the time, the AI will mutter something about the cores being stolen well after Iíve defeated the perpetrating units, and it becomes nothing more than a nuisance.

While it doesnít offer the fluid controls of a mouse and keyboard, the XBLA version of Defense Grid is still a well-polished strategy game. It doesnít add anything new to the genre, but itís definitely a game Iíd recommend to veterans and newcomers alike.

Ness's avatar
Freelance review by Matt Olsen (September 13, 2009)

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