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Defense Grid: You Monster

Sometimes a crossover feels right. That’s how it is with Defense Grid: You Monster. Taking up a second narrator in Portal 2’s GLaDOS while also converting Valve’s clean, minimalist aesthetic into the form of tower defense, it’s all well handled in the tradition of pure, unadulterated fan service. It’s that rare kind of crossover project – one that’s sure to please fans of either property in equal measure.

GLaDOS keeps with the usual deadpan delivery, stricken with that ever familiar robotic cadence. She’ll drop the typical scathing commentary in the right context – just when you think you’ve gotten away with a simple tower upgrade, she pipes in: “That tower was structurally fine. Now it has a sun room and a den, though, so that’s nice”.

The writing isn’t as dead-on as in Portal 2, sure, but a lot of this has to do with the genre itself. The typical Valve approach of context-driven dialogue and narrative doesn’t transition as well into tower defense, as the interaction with the game world is almost predetermined. There are some slots on the floor and they’re custom-fit turret embankments, but really that’s all there is to interact with, so the GLaDOS commentary gets old sooner than it should, if not only because there’s nothing else to add. But there are those moments where she bears into a rough critique of tower placement and why doesn’t the player diversify their placement somewhat.

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One of those great moments is in the second act, when the salty Defense Grid narrator and GLaDOS carry on some kind of back-and-forth dialogue and then take up pitting you in the center. It makes her inclusion feel readily natural, next to her grizzled male counterpart, and it’s just an amusing thing in concept, as they roughly carry similar tones and a detached delivery style.

You Monster is a single-player expansion, set in the starkly accessible Portal universe. Everything’s clean to the point of feeling insidious and there’s a kind of aesthetic that’s carried over well enough. It’s filled out with eight maps of story content and thirty-five stipulation challenges for the more dedicated fans. This is still Defense Grid in every sense, unsurprisingly utilizing the strength of its tower defense formula as a backbone. The new areas are more than sufficient, providing everything from test chambers to Portal 2’s newfound outdoor segments. It’s a great universe by any definition and suits the bill as a uniquely adaptable one. There’s something iconic and modern to it, satisfying to any sense of design.

The scenarios fall on a couple familiar notes. In one scenario, GLaDOS peels away the player’s go-to abilities, stressing that the player experiments with all the different tower types. And other segments are more limited. In another, GLaDOS controls all the turrets and then it’s up to the player to define enemy paths by laying down command posts. There’s something of value in Portal’s willingness to eschew violence in favor of thoughtful design and in some instances, it seems like developer Hidden Path Entertainment were able to embrace some of the qualities that make Valve such a creative force in the industry.

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There are roughly fifteen hours of content in all and after the first four or five spent pushing through the makeshift narrative, it’s clear that the developer – whom Valve’s taken under its wing to work on the Counter-Strike franchise – has a lot left to offer. And they’re in good company.

Defense Grid: You Monster doesn’t make any sweeping changes in any one place. The focus remains true to the straightforward and undeniably compelling mechanics. Once you’ve gotten back on with all the tower types, it all comes flowing back. Defense Grid remains one of the most enjoyable tower defense games on any platform, trading off finesse where so many other developers incorporated cheap gimmicks.

Following on a year filled with grim first-person shooters, Valve stood out as the only developer doing it for the science. They’ve got something special going and it’s great to see these kinds of collaborations between a big name studio and an up-and-comer. This is the kind of project that benefits everyone involved and helps bring attention to one of the higher quality strategy ports on consoles. Defense Grid is that rare brand of tower defense good enough that it can afford to forgo gimmicks entirely but now it’s got a fresh kind of novelty on top of all that refinement.

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There’s plenty of content and a certain charming novelty about You Monster that necessitates a download both for fans of Portal and Defense Grid. At an attractive 240 Microsoft Points, there’s really no good reason to skip this conjoined celebration of top of the line fan service and quality PC gaming culture.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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