There’s something special about the way that Tower Defense games innocently draw you in and the next thing you know it’s 2 o’ clock in the morning and you are still fighting the invading swarms of aliens. Defense Grid: The Awakening doesn’t deviate from this general rule of thumb and promises to keep you entertained with the hours of gameplay it offers.
For me it started on the PC with WarCraft Tower Defense with a number of other titles filling the gap between then and now, with notable mentions going to PixelJunk Monsters, Savage Moon and Comet Crash. With so many games falling into this genre already available on the market, it’s essential for a title to have that little something extra to set it apart from the others and keep you wanting more. Luckily Defense Grid: The Awakening manages to do just that, and it does so by adding power cores to the mix, the ability to fast forward the action and fire the orbital laser at the last minute to try and save your base. A humourous narrator with an endless supply of one-liners also helps to keep the action fresh.
Allow me to explain. Once again you will find yourself defending a base from waves of 15 different enemies, but this time around the enemies won’t be attacking your towers. Instead they will have their sights set firmly on stealing your power cores. As they make off with your power cores you will notice that your power core meter will start to drop. If they manage to survive your attacking prowess and shuffle off with all your power cores, you will have sadly allowed the swarms to conquer you.
However, making off with the power cores is not so easy for our somewhat creepy alien friends to accomplish. Most maps see the aliens having to wind their way through your strategically placed towers not once but twice, so they have to face your fire power more than once. If they still manage to steal the power cores, shame on you because you have obviously not placed your towers optimally! You only need one power core remaining to survive the level, but the more you have at the end of the enemy waves the higher your score.
You start each level with a certain amount of resources, build wisely because once these are depleted you will only earn more resources as you kill enemies. You can choose between 10 different towers, some better at taking down certain types of enemies than others. While some slow moving enemies can be dealt with effectively with a general gun tower, flying units will evade your defenses unless you have a few well placed missile towers up and running by the time they swoop down on you. Also keep an eye out for the air units’ future flight pattern which flashes briefly on screen before the level starts (you can also view this at a later stage by pressing Y). Also be prepared to face fast moving enemies as well as enemies that group closely together in an attempt to avoid your not so friendly fire.
While it may take you a few attempts to see which towers are most effective against certain units, you certainly won’t lack fire power if you use any of the available towers, especially if you save your pennies to upgrade. Upgrading towers is essential, especially later on in the game when the spaces between the waves of enemies become less. You can upgrade a tower twice, the first time it will turn yellow and the second time red, making it easy to see which stage of upgrade the towers are at. While it may seem expensive to upgrade certain towers to red, and you may be tempted to just build a couple of base towers quickly instead, it certainly is worth your while to save for the upgrades, especially because the enemies become more challenging as you progress in the game and one upgraded tower will certainly do more damage than two base towers.
The control system is relatively easy to master – the game features a top-down view of the map, with players able to zoom in and out using the right analogue stick. Pressing A will bring up your building menu and you can scroll down the options using the left analogue stick or the D-pad. You can select any of the towers from the list, as long as you have sufficient resources to build that tower of course. As you collect resources from dispensing enemies, more and more towers will become available, with the non-available ones being greyed out. If you select a tower you have already built you can view how much it will cost to upgrade it to the next level in the same manner. You can also recycle a tower to earn a few extra resources, but it will only be a fraction of what you paid for it so place them wisely from the start.
Using either shoulder button you can fast forward the waves and speed up the action. As a last resort you can fire the orbital laser that destroys enemies within a small radius. This is a great weapon to keep in reserve for those crunch times when a few enemies manage to sneak past your last defense line. Should you fail a map, you can elect to restart from the set checkpoints. These are all handy tools that go a long way to making the game enjoyable by simply avoiding the tedious aspects that creep in when having to repeat levels in Tower Defense games.
Sounds relatively easy so far right? The real challenge (apart from managing your resources correctly, choosing the correct towers and deciding when to upgrade them as well as surviving increasingly tough waves of enemies) comes once the enemies have stolen the power cores. As they make off with the cores, new enemies will start winding their way on to the screen. So, even if you manage to kill the first wave of enemies that managed to make off with the power cores, the power cores are dropped exactly where they die. At this stage they start slowly drifting back towards the power core node, but should another enemy reach the power core his journey will be a lot shorter and he will simply collect it and immediately turn to start making his escape. Of course this means he has to face fewer of your towers and stands a much better chance of successfully navigating to the exit with your power cores.
The maps are craftily designed in that the enemies have multiple ways of reaching the power cores. You will need to place your towers strategically to alter their path and maximize the damage inflicted. Apart from their breathtaking visuals, the maps feature different paths that wind under and around each other to create a visually appealing effect. With 20 maps in the Awakening campaign and four bonus Borderlands maps, there’s certainly enough bang for your buck.
As you complete each map a number of different options become available to replay the map but with different objectives. For example, you could elect to have a set number of resources at the start of the level with no income being earned during the level, or to attempt to have only one power core stolen for the level. This definitely adds to the replayability factor of the game and also makes it more challenging once you have mastered the original game.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is a well-crafted, enjoyable Tower Defense game. It certainly brings something different enough to the table to appeal to Tower Defense fans, but at the same time is simple enough that even newcomers will enjoy the strategic element. The game is available for 800 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live Arcade, it’s a worthy investment that promises to keep you entertained for a good couple of hours and is definitely a welcome addition to Xbox Live. Multiplayer capabilities would, however, have been a welcome addition.