Tower Defence games have become exceedingly popular in recent times, with numerous companies making titles in this new genre. Hidden Path is one such developer and they've brought their new game, Defense Grid: The Awakening, to the table as they hope to stand out from the crowd on Xbox Live Arcade.
There is a story present in the main campaign of Defense Grid, but it's fairly inconsequential. There is a slight preface towards the start of each mission which tries to give some kind of perspective about why the mission is being undertaken, but it's very shallow. Essentially, an alien race annihilated civilisation in the past, but now they're back and they're trying to steal power cores. The player's objective is to prevent them from doing this, so that the defense grid can be re-established. To assist the player, there is also a friendly AI which was created towards the end of the last invasion, and he serves as a source of information, while providing some interesting quips.
As with many tower defence games, the basic premise involves enemies moving from A to B. The player is then tasked with defeating them before they can achieve their objective, which in this case, is stealing power cores. Defense Grid offers a fairly standard array of towers which the player can use to defeat enemies and they range from machine gun towers, to cannons. Each of the towers can also be upgraded twice, but it can feel a bit restricting.
Where Defense Grid starts to distance itself from the crowd though, is with its level design. Each of the levels featured in the game is very unique and they aren't just a case of giving the player a blank canvas. Towers can only be placed in specific areas, which means there is a much deeper level of strategy because there is often more than one way the aliens can be sent. The amount of freedom does differ from level to level, but it's ultimately up to the player to achieve victory with the resources available.
Enemies are sent in waves, but there can be multiple types of enemy present in each wave. There is also no limit to the amount of enemies that can be sent and they will often merge into one another. It can make the gameplay quite hectic and it makes the game feel very rewarding upon achieving success. There is a good variety in the enemies that are present, with there being swarms, enemies that are exceedingly quick, others that are heavily armoured and those that come with shields. The game does enough to keep things fresh and the enemies don't get old despite some of them appearing all the way through the campaign.
To compliment the gameplay is an impressive art-style. It has a really industrial look, but the levels still manage have their own unique feel. This is partially because of the design, but they also use different colour palettes. The majority of the game will probably be played with the camera panned out, but it's possible to zoom right in on the action, and there is a good level of detail visible. While the narrator doesn't necessarily have the best lines all the time, he doesn't get tedious to listen to and his presence makes the game feel more engaging.
As well as the main single player campaign, which is called The Awakening, players can also enjoy a shorter, but harder, campaign called Borderlands. It's also possible to play all completed levels with innovative stipulations, such as Grinder, a mode which pits players against 99 waves of an enemy and 10k Resource Challenge, a mode which gives players a set number of resources, with no way to obtain any more. It means that there is plenty of content to keep players occupied, and given the nature of the game, it's quite feasible to assume that players will be content to try and better scores they've already set.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is a shining example of what a tower defence game should be. With creative level design, and impressive graphics, the only real downside is that there aren't more towers and upgrades to play with. There is a ton of replay value in the title, and it should definitely be picked up by fans of tower defence games.