Defense Grid: The Awakening Review

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a tower defence game set on a future world decimated by an overwhelming alien invasion force. All is not lost however as a long-dormant defence Artificial Intelligence (AI) that conducted a series of successful battles against the aliens is reawakened by the player and is now at their disposal. Replete with plummy English voice and witty quips that fall on the right side of imitation. Aided by this virtual ally, and using different classes of defence towers to thwart the Aliens plans, the player sets about defending what meagre resources are left in the form of power cores.

Set across a variety of locations, Defense Grid starts out nice and gentle, luring the player in with a well judged difficulty level, slowly drip-feeding them a new tower here, more variety of enemies there, until they`re confident at managing everything. Once familiar with these, each new subsequent area expands in scale, requiring deft management of resources. Every enemy killed will provide you with energy gather enough and you`ll be able to build a new tower. From the basic guns to temporal towers that create bubbles in time slowing down advancing enemies, everything can be upgraded to the power of three, increasing range, damage and power according to their class.

The variety of weaponry soon stacks up and the player will be grateful to each and every piece of ordinance they can get their hands on as things become hectic pretty fast. Each area poses its own conundrum; do I place a Meteor Tower here? Do I have too many laser towers? Constant re-appraisal is required, but while it might sound like micro-management hell, it never manages to feel like a chore since the experience is so compelling. Each core lost feels personal, and as more get stripped away from an area the margin between victory and defeat can come down to having just one core remaining. These fraught battles which swing back and forth require focus and sound tactical placement of certain towers to gain ultimate supremacy.

Hidden Path Entertainment have created an elegant control interface for Defense Grid, one that will surprise and delight those who might be expecting to have to fight with clumsy and frustrating inputs. The wonders of flicking the right analogue stick up to zoom in and down to zoom out is extremely well done, letting the player see the battlefield from whatever magnification they desire. And the detail is preserved once zoomed in, with minute detail evident on towers, aliens and surroundings. Selecting, building and upgrading your defences is also effortless.

There is even the ability to speed up the action with a press of either of the shoulder buttons, but the final master-stroke is being able to press the back button to reload the last saved checkpoint if things are going badly, proving just how much thought has gone into making Defense Grid a positive experience using the 360 pad and one that anyone can pick up and play.

Blessed with a confidence and assured feel to just about every aspect, Defense Grid is a giant step in making a usually unwelcoming genre accessible to anyone. You can tell the developers really took the time and effort to make sure it controlled beautifully, done with a deftness not often seen in the transition from PC to console. With downloadable content apparently in the works, this is a title that rightly deserves a wider audience.

Update 27th June 2010 by Keith Murray

It`s fair to say from reading the above that Console Arcade LOVES Defense Grid.

It took a genre that is impenetrable to many and introduced an easy to grasp interface with delightful controls layered over the top of an exquisite challenge. Over the course of June 2010, four bite-sized pieces of DLC under the title of “Resurgence” were released and if we havent already convinced you to pick up this gem of a game, we hope this mini-roundup will tip you over the edge.

Each Resurgence pack consists of two new missions. In pack one we find Service Interruption and Height of Confusion, pack two is Risk Exposure and Roundabout, three contains Urban Planning and Tactical Diversion and the fourth and final one consists of Killzone and Overflow.

The first pack is a gentle re-introduction to how the game plays, as you use different towers and their abilities to protect your precious cores from the hoards of Aliens intent on stealing them. It soon becomes apparent that Hidden Path is looking to challenge their fans as things ramp up quite quickly. Height of Confusion is probably as close to pure evil/pure bliss as you literally have a blank canvas to try and protect, immediately befuddling you before you see the genius involved and set about creating roadblocks and choke points to funnel the Aliens down. Earning gold medals will be a proper challenge even for veterans of Defense Grid. But that essential hook, that continual desire to go beyond what youve achieved, is still as strong as it ever was.

Whether playing for score (thankfully the leaderboards are alive and well in the DLC) or attempting some of the other game types (as before, the likes of twenty tower limit make a welcome reappearance) the downloadable content for Defense Grid will appeal to fans who thought theyd rinsed every last drop of gameplay from the original. When you factor in that each piece of content comes in at a paltry 80 Microsoft Points, which equates to around 80p/$1, it really is a no-brainer for those who might be thinking of picking up one or two of these packs.

Update 11th December 2011 by Keith Murray

Defense Grid: You Monster

Michael Corleone in The Godfather III uttered the immortal line “just when I thought I was out they pull me back in!” and many will feel the same way about Defense Grid, Hidden Path’s exemplary Tower Defence offering on Xbox Live Arcade. Players would’ve been forgiven for thinking they had it 100% completed and bask in the reflected glory of this achievement, but now another expansion has been announced entitled `You Monster` and it comes with an unexpected twist

A tie-in with the Portal Universe initially seems like a portmanteau, a blend of seemingly disparate elements. But the core (no pun intended) is still pure Defense Grid, replete with the chilling cruelty of GLaDOS thrown into the mix. It works surprisingly well and feels fresh, no mean feat considering the amount of DLC that has been lavished on this title. It’s testament to the strength of the game that it carries it off with ease.

Featuring a fully fledged separate campaign, You Monster is no mere add-on. Boasting eight new missions, the look and feel of Defense Grid fuses effortlessly with the Aperture Science Labs aesthetics, all pristine surfaces and the classic, iconic look that fans of Portal will instantly recognise.

What will take many long-term fans of the series by surprise is just how ferocious it feels from the very first mission. Even at its most brutal, the main game never felt this intimidating before. There is a real spite as the missions unfold, with GLaDOS mocking the player and mind games aplenty. But it doesn’t end merely with cruel taunts. Removing the ability to build certain placements, or making the player cycle through each unit before it resets itself are tricks that will purposely throw players off their stride. Coming right in the heat of battle this causes well worn strategies to be torn up and flying by the seat of their pants becomes the default position for the now wary player. It’s a neat trick that does a lot to revitalise the feel of the game. The puzzle nature of Portal seems to have been emulated in mission design as well, with some particularly ingenious layouts, including one of such a mind bending nature it would have Escher purring with delight.

Considering the breadth of content on offer here, the paltry price of entry at 400 Microsoft Points for this expansion almost feels like you are stealing from Hidden Path.

Prepare to become addicted all over again.