Review: Defense Grid: The Awakening (Xbox 360)September 17th, 2009 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: Reviews, Xbox 360
While PS3 owners have enjoyed a good selection of tower defense games for the past couple of years, Xbox 360 owners have largely been on the outside looking in without any real choices. Hidden Path Entertainment has come to their rescue with a port of their cult hit PC tower defense game for Xbox Live Arcade, called Defense Grid: The Awakening. Defense Grid ends up being the best tower defense game on XBLA and one of the best out there in downloadable form on the consoles.
Defense Grid doesn’t really have much of a direct story, though there are bits that you’ll pick up when you play through story levels. You’re assisted by an AI ally who comments on how you’re doing and adds a little bit of a story about his past that isn’t really all that clear without much clarification in other parts of the game. There seems to have been an invasion by aliens of many varieties and it seems that this Defense Grid is the key to saving the Earth, which is activated by killing aliens with defensive towers that you place strategically around different levels.
The basic gist of Defense Grid’s gameplay revolves around placing towers around a level to protect a number of power cores from being stolen by invading aliens. Like Savage Moon, you can use towers to block off certain paths, but if you block off all possible paths, enemies will walk through your towers anyway. There are an impressive ten towers in the game, which range from fairly basic archetypes to some more inventive towers that also offer two levels of upgrades to increase their firepower and range. You even gain the ability to fire a massive laser from a satellite wherever you aim it, as a last resort attack if your towers aren’t finishing off enemies.
Once you have most of the towers at your disposal, Defense Grid really opens up and offers more freedom to improvise with whatever towers you prefer. Levels generally come in two flavors, linear and open, so tower placements and choices are more important when there are multiple entry and exit points in the open levels. Certain levels do have certain towers that are key to success, so figuring that out is important but challenging as it may not be unclear when a large variety of enemies appear in that level.
Defense Grid does offer some interesting features that are new to what we’ve seen on XBLA and PSN. The first has to be the detailed reports you can access with a press of the B button that show you their health and shield bars along with a description that can give you a hint of their strengths or weaknesses. Defense Grid’s core elements are uniquely interesting as well, since once you kill an enemy that grabbed an ore, it slowly floats back to the core reactor where nearby enemies can pick it up and run off with it in sort of a bucket brigade mechanic.
The game also takes periodical saves during the mission, so you can easily go back a bit by pressing the back button if you need to fix a mistake or try a new strategy. Defense Grid even saves your spot so you can freely quit and continue where you left off if something comes up and you can’t continue.
Defense Grid is quite a good value purchase, as this is a $20 game on Steam that only costs 800 points ($10) on Xbox Live Arcade. Along with the main campaign’s 20 levels, this release also includes the Borderlands expansion, which offers an additional four levels. To go with the basic story levels, there are quite a few challenge versions of those levels that offer a variety of different objectives that range from harder or easier enemies to restrictions of towers or money you have at your disposal, which add a ton of replay value with more ways to play the same levels you can beat the first time. The game can get hard at times, usually when the levels are more open or have multiple linear paths, though most of the main campaign levels are manageable if you have an idea of how to use and place your towers.
The visual style of Defense Grid is probably its weakest link, as most of its levels and the main menu are completely brown. While the level designs are interesting and challenging, there are only a handful of levels that take place in more varied locales like snow-covered mountains or volcanos, missing an opportunity to add much needed variety to seemingly uninspired levels. The enemies have a similar kind of boring style to them, with plenty of uninteresting designs that are at least saved by the meter that shows what enemies are approaching, called Tactical Recon in the game.
The musical aspect of Defense Grid is not much better than the visual aspect, as there isn’t really any kind of memorable music playing along to the action. The AI that narrates a bit of the action is an interesting character that definitely talks with an understandable sort of pessimism, having seen a lot of destruction and death. So he’s basically a depressing AI, but he perks up when you win.
Defense Grid: The Awakening offers what is easily the best tower defense game on the Xbox 360 and is a game that anyone interested in that genre should check out. Besides the fact that this game is only half of the price (800 points or $10) it costs on Steam and other digital download services on the PC, the 24 levels with quite a few alternate challenge missions adds a lot of replay value that will keep you busy for a while.