*Note* at the time of writing, Trenched is currently delayed in Europe due to copyright issues. The version reviewed was bought from the US Marketplace. Hopefully all issues will be resolved soon so everyone can play.
It seems as if Double Fine is perfectly suited to producing quick, accessible downloadable titles judging by their output of late. From the delightful, if slight, Costume Quest to the charming originality of Stacking, they seem to be possessed with a magic touch. Their latest Xbox Live Arcade release, Trenched, certainly looks to build upon this momentum.
The story of Trenched is set during an alternate World at War, where two servicemen become exposed to a signal which boosts their IQ beyond normal realms and unleashes a burst of creativity that sees them diverge on very different paths. One invents the Trench, a bi-pedal, mech-style mobile tank while the other, Vlad, invents the Monovisions, blue-tinged television style abominations that are designed purely to wreak a path of destruction through everything in front of them. Thus the stage is set for a classic case of good versus evil.
While the above paints a doom and gloom scenario, Trenched displays that sense of humour that runs deep through all of the Double Fine titles. The home base, which is a large aircraft carrier style boat called the USS McKinley, acts as the main hub where the player will customise not only their Trench but themselves, and also organise multiplayer sessions. The various uniforms and hats the player can deck-out their character with can produce some pretty hilarious salutes and it would be remiss of this reviewer to spoil it ahead of players experiencing it for themselves.
The game play is best described as a mixture of Real Time Strategy (RTS) with the ability to be directly involved in the action – much like Double Fine’s last retail release, the hugely promising, but ultimately disappointing Brutal Legend. But before people who have distaste for both run screaming to the hills, it’s worth bearing in mind just how refined Trenched is. Being involved at the heart of the battle is a great deal of fun, with the management and upgrade of emplacements, mixed with the literal smashing of opposition forces, becoming a fine balancing act.
Boasting a generous fifteen missions, Trenched has a deep campaign that gently eases the player into the action, and once successfully negotiated starts the slow drip-feed of new weaponry, emplacements and XP that is the cornerstone of the game. These three factors are the key to successful skirmishes; the configuration of the players’ Trench. Each boasts an extensive list of customisation that goes beyond the mere cosmetic. It’s vital to make sure that the right configuration is deployed on the battlefield, lest the battle be over before it’s really begun. Deciding which chassis to use, which in turn determines how many weapons you can carry along with how many emplacements you can deploy, is essential. But Double Fine’s approach is to make it as much fun as possible. While putting up to six machine guns on a Trench is the height of hilarity as the screen becomes peppered with obscene amounts of tracer fire, it’s worth tempering this by adding a Heavy weapon for crowd dispersal or a high-caliber Sniper rifle for a devastating one-shot kill.
The missions can be burned through quickly enough once the basics are grasped, but what will undoubtedly bring people back is the hook of attempting to turn all their ranks from Bronze and Silver into Gold. The seamless integration of online play, where each and every map that is included for offline play can be played with up to four other players, is most welcome and, dare it be said, essential for achieving those elusive higher ranks. It’s vital to point out just how much lone wolves will fail within a gang of four, since working together in a cohesive manner is imperative. With everyone working towards the greater good, and properly configured Trenches armed with the appropriate emplacements and support items, the sense of accomplishment of seeing off the Monos with next to no damage to the guarded areas is second to none, allowing everyone to bask in the reflected glow of a job well done.
The only aspect blighting the online play is the atrocious lag that is ever-present in all the time that this reviewer was playing. With the game currently not released in the European territories, the lag might be down to poor connections with those in other parts of the world. Also, the ability of fellow group members being able to change the mission once another player has selected one is annoying as it can lead to far too many to and fro moments when time would be better spent in the theater of war.
Trenched represents Double Fine at the peak of their powers, brimming with confidence and humour but above all imbued with a deep and highly playable mission set which makes it a must-have title.
You have to feel a twinge of sympathy for Double Fine when it comes to Trenched… er… Iron Brigade. Having to delay its release in Europe due to an obscure board game owning the copyright in that territory made forced a complete change which eventually came in the form of Iron Brigade. But it also took the impetus out of the momentum gathered from its American release. Now that nasty business is out of the way the developers can get back to what matters; the game itself and, more specifically, the first DLC entitled Rise of the Martian Bear.
Spread across five new areas, it takes no stretch of the imagination to work out that the evil Vladimir Farnsworth has decanted on the red planet and is hell-bent on colonising Mars, infecting it with his TV-like Monovision monstrosities. It’s up to Frank Woodruff and his mobile trenches (yes, they’ve retained the name in-game) to face off against this renewed threat.
It’ll take seasoned Iron Brigade players little to no time at all to work their way through the five new maps, with only the second to last encounter providing an interesting twist on the action, one that would be remiss of this reviewer to spoil. While the concept of Iron Brigade was always slightly out there, the Martian setting mixes perfectly to create a surreal and engaging location for the latest round of Monovision bashing.
In addition to the new single player missions the new Survival mode, which can be played not only on the new maps but on all of the existing ones from the original release, will provide the biggest focus of semi-retired trench warriors out there. Facing off against increasingly complex and damn tricky waves of Monovisions, these will test turret placement and weapon choices to the max. The all important loot is retained and the enticement of rewards specific to Survival mode ensures those with magpie tendencies will flock to it.
The one blight on all of this is the still horrific lag that is ever-present during online games. While it might be understandable playing against those who live in far away countries where broadband access is throttled, it makes no sense that when playing those who are in close proximity. The experience suffers from such diminished performance and it’s a real shame to have to put up with the extended, borderline slideshow that the game can become online because, with the right group, Iron Brigade is a fun, frantic shared experience.
So while the online is still an issue, the core experience remains just as engaging as it ever did, making this a worthwhile investment for anyone who had finished the main experience.