Back in the yesteryear of 2008 a little known development company known as Hidden Path Entertainment released Defense Grid: The Awakening, which would become a benchmark of Tower Defense gameplay for years to come, but does it’s sequel match up to the original?
If you’ve played any other game within the genre then you know what to expect, otherwise it’s a standard layout of defending your base against the onslaught of alien invaders with a system of towers which you position yourself, however, what Defense Grid 2 does (and masterfully so) is allows you to create your own gauntlets for the enemy by channeling them through a maze that you configure with auto turrets. Not only this but you get two chances to annihilate the attacking force; whilst they’re advancing and again when they’re fleeing. Tower placement is imperative to your survival so you have to keep both in mind otherwise the moment they grab the power cores your towers could end up being about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
The sweating, the tears, the expletives make your victory oh so more gratifying
The towers themselves are extremely varied and there are A LOT of them, ranging from crowd controlling flame-throwers and lazer towers, to more precise long range cannons, bombardment from the bombastic meteor and missile launchers or the chaining effect from the Tesla towers. The excess of choice makes Defense Grid 2 feel extremely tailored, enabling the player to really own the experience. Considering the amount of towers however, you do find that as you unlock the newer ones most previous iterations become completely redundant and soon outstay their welcome.
I actually found Defense Grid 2 considerably more challenging than the original, not due to being generally more difficult, but due to the fact that the difficulty curve is almost unforgiving on the harder settings. I’m really glad I can say that about the game because there would be little satisfaction in a cake walk tower defense game; the sweating, the tears, the expletives make your victory oh so more gratifying. There is also an extremely handy checkpoint system allowing you to rewind the match to previous times so you can reevaluate your poor decisions to become the most efficient general the corps has ever seen.
Never have there been so many different multipliers to alter a games experience as I have witnessed in Defense Grid 2. You can play with specific towers or all towers, unlimited resources or low resources, power outages, fixed placements.. I could go on and on, there are literally dozens of modes to improve replay value without feeling gimmicky or tacked on – each feels crafted with the best possible player experiences in mind after listening to suggestions and feedback from the community.
Defense Grid 2 is possibly the first game I have played in years that has got matchmaking down to a tee. As you are searching for a partner to play with the game encourages you to carry on with your single player campaign as it matches you up in the background, when it ultimately finds a suitable opponent your mission is saved from the point you leave for a seamless transfer. The only real detractor with the matchmaking at present is the lack of server browsing, as matchmaking did take a while to set up a game with strangers.
The first co-op game I played online resulted in me apologizing profusely to my teammate, with whom I had not realized that we shared resources for tower placement. Alas, besides this fumble on my part of going click-build happy we did manage to survive and complete the mission after a refocus of resources and thus, a beautiful friendship was born… a friendship that was quickly destroyed when we ended up locking horns shortly afterward in a fierce competitive mode. Each player is set up on different sides of the map with their own cores to defend, when an enemy is destroyed they are teleported to the opposing players side to ensure a completely frantic and anarchic warzone, it has been a long time since I have had to micro-manage at such precision and pace to the point where I am actually mentally exhausted.
Visually, Defense Grid 2 is very easy on the eyes, opting for a more colorful and vibrant color palette than the previous edition with a large focus on particle effects to occupy your entire peripheral vision, the textures however could be better with many objects still a little jagged around the edges. There has been a vast improvement though over the early build that we tested earlier in the year where slowdown occurred if too many aliens amassed on the playing field, this is no longer the case and the experience is a smooth one from start to finish.
The games plot is okay, nothing spectacular though and it doesn’t really need to be to begin with. It at least serves as a way to string the increasingly difficult challenges together and provides for some witty AI banter between returning regal commander Fletcher (Jim Ward), Firefly’s Alan Tudyk, TV Actress Ellen Dubin and veteran voice actor Jennifer Hale. While some moments in the story are supposed to hold some gravitas it does come across very B Movie-esque (possibly intentionally so), but the humor between the bickering AI is often very amusing and more than makes up for this.
Sadly I cannot say much about the music score, that isn’t saying that I didn’t like it.. I mean, it’s definitely there somewhere but it’s hard to tell what with it being drowned out by the constant drone of gunfire (where turrets are firing for minutes at a time).
Overall Defense Grid 2 is a finely crafted game, and one we may have experienced sooner had the Kickstarter backing made it’s original goal. It’s visually very appealing with some really snappy game mechanics, one of it’s only real flaws being the control system and although you get used to it soon enough it feels like it isn’t sure whether if it’s designed specifically with mouse or controller in mind. Where this game truly excels though is choice, whether it be creating your own paths for enemy units or the sheer number of playable variants per level. Defense Grid 2 is tailored to allow for almost infinite play styles and creating a platform where players can challenge themselves in unique ways for an ultimate level of replayability.