Upon its release six years ago, (I bet that makes some of you feel old) Defense Grid received praise from gamers and critics alike, revering the graphics and design. While games released within the same year as Defense Grid, such as Super Smash Bros Brawl and Frontline have begun to show their age, Defense Grid has stood the test of time. This isn’t because the engine it was built on was massively ahead of its time. It’s simply the attention to detail in the massive variety of towers, levels and enemies Defense Grid has. The rich, vibrant worlds help suck you in allowing you to gloss over what six years later can be referred to as ‘rough edges’. This variety also stops your experience from becoming stagnant and monotonous. A problem that faces even the best tower defense titles.
Taking place some 2000 years into the future, Defense Grid: The Awakening finds the player on a planet with a dormant ‘defense grid’. The game kicks off just before an alien invasion, causing you to reactivate the grid with the assistance of Fletcher, a once-human AI, whom helps guide you through the game . With his subtle narrative jabs, a much wider story is hinted at, but rarely expanded on. Much like the narrative found in the original Portal, it leaves a great deal to the imagination, yet helps to create a sense of mystery and adventure that more titles in the genre sorely lack. The subtlety of these soliloquy-like mumblings however, makes it equally easy to ignore completely, if one isn’t interested in story. Through the plot comes the basic gameplay of Defense Grid. Enemies enter from point A, progress through their path (that you have hopefully filled with an onslaught of merciless death turrets), obtain a ‘core’ from the centre of the map, and then proceed to point B, which is the exit of the map. It is this layout, and the ‘cores’ that provide the subtle differences between Defense Grid and other tower defense titles.
Most TD games have you blasting at enemies who are just trying to get from one side of the map to the other. Defense Grid levels however, come in much broader shapes and sizes, focusing on the traversing from point A to the cores themselves. These cores represent health points, rather than having a ‘damage bar’ or a number of enemies that can make it through before defeat. By using the cores as health, Defense Grid can work the dialogue and narrative around them. Fletcher seems to genuinely get upset at the loss of a core, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy number of them to continue. This makes the game ten times more immersive than simply having a life bar pinned to the HUD.
However, one of the downsides to the map layouts of Defense Grid is that the difficulty curve is wonkier than a three legged donkey. Half the maps will have the entrance and exit at the same point, meaning the enemies take twice as much damage from the same amount of turrets. The other half have a separate entrance and exit, and an additional set for airborne enemies. This means the same amount of resources have to be exhausted on a much greater area of the map. By upgrading and building turrets sporadically, without there being a central ‘choke point’, individual turrets become much less effective.
Defense Grid gets over this fantastically however, by offering ‘Challenge Modes’ on all their maps. Rather than a definitive ‘easy, medium and hard’ setting, the game gives you the choice of having a set amount of resources, only being able to use a certain type of turrets, or making cores poisonous to give you an edge. The options available really are too numerous to list and it sends the games replay value through the roof. Hours can be spent on the same map with a different experience to be had each time. Furthermore, Defense Grid also features an auto-checkpoint system, meaning if you find your strategy lacking, you can jump back a few steps and try something new. Despite this, I found myself restarting the levels from the beginning, more often than I found myself employing this feature. This was down to me wanting to try out new tactics each time I failed, allowing me to get the best score.
Defense Grid: Containment
If all that juicy playtime wasn’t enough, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign funded by professionals and fans alike, Hidden Path Entertainment were able to release a new DLC for the game that’s being called one of the best Tower Defense titles out there.
Making a comeback is your roster of turrets, the sort of stuff you’d expect to find in this kind of game; machine gun, tesla coil, flame throwers, lasers. Also resurging are the proverbial smorgasbord of enemies that bombard the maps, trying to claim your cores. The fresh meat you can sink your teeth into comes in the form of 8 new maps, a whole new story with two new characters and 32 new challenge modes to keep you entertained for hours on end. Containment’s story expands upon Awakening’s original plot, yet still leaves from for further expansion. Although the nature of the plot means there is nothing technically to spoil, I feel delving into the plot is best left for players to do themselves, should they wish to purchase the game. The 8 new maps are as well designed as their predecessors, following on from the ancient ruins of military bases motif to provide yet another set of compelling aesthetics. And with the additional voices provided by Firefly’s Alan Tudyk and ER’s Ming-Na Wen, Containment leaves you will a well-rounded feeling of fulfillment rarely achieved by games these days. It looks good, it feels good, it sounds good, and it certainly plays that way, too.
All-in-all, If you already own Defense Grid: The Awakening and enjoyed it, the $4.99 asking price for Containment is more than worth your money. Although Awakening provided plenty of content with its exhaustive supply of challenge modes, the expansion of the mysterious plot and new locations will leave you feeling satisfied. Moreover, for those of you that don’t own Defense Grid, I implore you to look into the Containment Bundle on Steam, which provides you with the original games, and all pieces of DLC for a measly $19.99. This is a game surprised everyone when it was released years ago, and thanks to its well constructed DLCs, continues to entertain and surprise now.