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Getting Defensive

Getting Defensive
Defense Grid 2 Review by David Baxley aka xRogue 5x

There is no denying that the gaming landscape is dominated by sequels and safe bets. I don’t know whether it’s developer burnout or what but more often than not each iteration shines a little less than the original. Going into sequels of games that I really enjoyed always leaves me a bit worried. Another thing that is of growing concern is the industries willingness to push broken products onto the shelves and if we’re lucky, fix them via patches and updates. An example of this that comes to mind is what some of my friends affectionately refer to as “Brokenfield 4”. The transition from one console to another is always a rough time. It usually takes some time to see the console’s library fill up with quality titles and many genre slots are left vacant for a while. Having spent more than sixty hours on the original Defense Grid and being a big fan of the tower defense genre these were the worries I had approaching this game.

Let me put those fears to bed. Defense Grid 2 is a fully-functional, well-crafted, enjoyable experience that builds on the success of the first game. It was refreshing to see a sequel handled correctly. The game encompasses twenty levels over five campaign worlds. While on the surface this may not seem like a great deal of content but the game achieves a high level of replay ability through variations on each level. Each level has the main story option as well as packing in several variations. These alternate modes task the player with specific and unique challenges, for example, there is a power shortage mode. In this mode your towers will only fire if your cursor is in close proximity. Having these variations forces the player to approach the level in a new way in order to overcome the challenge. This prevents predictability and fatigue. There isn’t a one size fits all approach to Defense Grid 2.
This variability is also one of Defense Grid’s strongest draws to me as an aficionado of tower defense. In so many other defense style games there is a certain degree linearness to them. The enemies come down set trenches and the only variation you have is what turrets to place. Defense Grid smashes this like a fully upgraded turret. Not only are the modes varied and refreshing but so too are the level design and the pathing. Each particular level is unique and forces the player to approach it differently if they are to succeed. Many of the levels contain large empty sections of grids. The player can place any turret they want on any square. It is up to you to determine the gauntlet that the aliens will have to traverse. In many cases the route that you create is just as important if not more important than the turrets that you select. Watching hundreds of aliens get smashed by my clever design was a very rewarding experience.

Finding the right combination of turrets and layout was just a given. Often times, it was only after failing numerous times did I trial and error my way to a solution. The game takes this into account. In most games when you fail there is a lengthy fail screen followed by loading and I shudder to even think about it…unskippable cutscenes. Defense Grid 2 mercifully addresses this issue with the inclusion of a skip back feature. With a quick button press it goes back to the last check point. You can even keep pressing the button to go back to the beginning of a wave or even all the way back to the beginning of the level. With just a few button presses you are right back in the action and reworking your strategy. This is something that I hope more developers take note of.

It is a good thing that this feature exists because Defense Grid 2 can be a punishing experience and I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic spikes in difficulty. I started on normal difficulty but by the third world I was unprepared for the intergalactic ass-whooping the game dropped on me. Part of this was due to getting used to the game but it was also due to the aggressive lack of hand-holding the game does. There is a token tutorial level but all it really did was show the very basics of the controls. Defense Grid has quite a bit of subtle complexity. As you progress you gain access to new commanders and upgrade variations to the turrets. I’m still not sure how the upgrades function. I couldn’t tell if they are permanent or consumable and if I checked them on in the pre-battle screen if they are automatically enabled. Another function that was hidden was the options available through your command tower. It wasn’t until I had completed the story and was working on the achievements that I realized you could change the map by purchasing additions or changes through the command tower. A little more clarity or a lengthier tutorial would have gone a long way, especially, considering how demanding the game can become on the higher difficulties.

What was clear from the very beginning was the quality that went into this game. It ran smooth and not once at any point with the many hours I have put into it did it glitch or crash on me. I realize that all games “should” function this way and shouldn’t be praised or mentioned unless there is a problem but I have to tip my hat to these guys for getting this right. I am having a hard time thinking back to other recent games that have accomplished this feat. Defense Grid runs smooth and truly feels like it belongs on a next generation console. The level design, art, and animation was a visual treat. The specific tower animations were visually pleasing to watch as they rained high-definition destruction down upon those core-hungry aliens.

I was also pleased to see the addition of competitive as well as cooperative multiplayer. This was an additional feature that I did not expect but was refreshing to see. This could have easily been held back and then given to the player in the form of DLC. It’s nice to play a game that isn’t instantly trying to give me cash grabbing courtesy reach around. You can even queue up for a match and then go play the single player and the game will then alert you to when a match has been found. The multiplayer was the icing on a well crafted tower defense cake. Admittedly, the price to entry can seem a bit daunting. However, Hidden Path Entertainment and 505 Games have shipped a high quality product bursting with content. As a certain undersea clown vending machine would say…”Welcome to the circus of values!”

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