Defense Grid: The Awakening
I’m not quite sure where my love for the tower defence genre started. Perhaps it was back in the day with Command and Conquer: Red Alert and its skirmish mode, sitting back on the high ground trying to thwart enemy advancement towards my base with flame towers, snipers and mega-tanks. Maybe it’s down to being British, and living on an island that hasn’t been successfully occupied by foreign forces for well over a thousand years. Whatever the cause, Defense Grid: The Awakening certainly struck a chord in this gamers heart.
The premise is simple and yet oh-so hard to master; aliens are after a supply of power cores, and you must kill them before the entire inventory is stolen and run off with. This is achieved by erecting a series of towers in patterns to funnel the intruders down certain paths, exposing them to more towers that will dish out damage.
The gattling gun is a jack-of-all-trades and most levels can be completed just by using this cheap and cheerful tower, but since it only locks onto one enemy at a time, the sheer number of aliens running towards your base can present a problem. Therefore management of structure placement and deciding which type goes where is absolute paramount, and will be the difference between success and failure. What isn’t made immediately clear is that only certain defences can fire from behind others, such as cannons, and damage from lasers doesn’t stack and so erecting more than one in any given area is a waste of resources.
Defences are bought with funds; you’ll get a sizeable stack at the start of each level with more coming as the death count begins to rise. Throwing more strategy into the mix is an equity system, whereby leaving your resources to stack up will earn you more through interest. How long you leave it until eating into those savings as aliens begin to overrun your base can, again, be the difference between success and failure. The aliens themselves vary from simple walkers that have strength in numbers and stronger aliens, to bosses with numerous shields and groups that protect a central creature from harm until they’ve all been killed. It’s helpful to keep an eye on what’s coming onto the level through the radar at the top of the screen so towers can be planned accordingly.
You’re not alone in this barrage of wave upon wave of aliens. An artificial-intelligent advisor, at first a narrative tutor, soon becomes your partner in mass murder as he cries out when the aliens break through to the power cores and gives heads up to new species and any new threats. Of English descent, and being in the RAF, he has a posh accent but is as charming as he is annoying. Sometimes he’ll become nostalgic, twittering on as you battle to keep the mission in your grasp, and it’s quite hard to concentrate on what he is saying or at least grasp if there’s anything of use in his rambling whilst planning out defensive strategies. His previous partner, Ziek, obviously failed at the bitter end as the old man is constantly mistaken when referring to you. As something that was put in the game as equally a help and hindrance, his stories do sometimes pull on the heart strings.
There’s a good amount of levels to complete, all steadily ramping up the difficulty, and several of those have other options to select, such as a limit to the number of towers you can build and grinder mode, in which you defend against 99 waves of alien walkers. The problem is there simply isn’t enough content beyond this to keep playing, and once you’ve nailed a strategy it’s hard to deviate – if it aint broke, don’t fix it. Flying aliens are also fairly useless; cannons, turrets and anti-air dispatch them quickly enough and as such they don’t pose much of a threat and don’t vary in species at all.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is a charming little tower defence title with a decent story and challenging gameplay. There’s enough content to keep coming back after the story mode has been completed, but after completing that, well, there’s little to fall back on. It would have been great to see a random level generator of some sort or perhaps aliens that strike back and destroy towers if they get too close, just to mix up the formula a little bit, but otherwise you’ve a solid game right here.