Mech Combat and Tower Defense Make For a Thrilling Time
Trenched is the latest downloadable game from Double Fine Productions and differs greatly from their previous titles in one major way. While Double Fine’s previous forays into downloadable games have relied largely on their unique artistic direction and charm, Trenched manages to provide fun, frantic gameplay in addition to these elements. Providing players with a good length campaign that can be played through cooperatively, and a deep level of customization, Trenched is easily the best downloadable game from the company thus far.
Taking place post World War I, the story of Trenched focuses on two friends, both injured in the war, who, while working as radio operators, are struck by a mysterious broadcast. While this broadcast kills everyone else in the room, it gives the duo incredible levels of intelligence. While one, Frank Woodrof, uses his new found intelligence to create mechanical legs for the handicapped, his friend, Vladamir Farnsworth, creates television, known in the game as Monovision. Vlad goes insane, starts making evil killer robots known as Tubes, and tries to conquer the world. Frank transforms his mechanical legs into war machines, known as Trenches, and a war erupts. It’s your job to climb aboard your own trench and stop Vlad from accomplishing his nefarious goals.
It’s a clever premise and is good for a few chuckles, but the story here is merely a framing device. You get a few cutscenes throughout the 15 mission campaign to advance the plot, but it’s only there to get you from one location to the next. While the story won’t hook you for the eight or so hours it takes to complete the campaign, the act of actually playing the game just might.
The gameplay of Trenched is a hybrid of two basic elements; tower defense and third-person combat. While the majority of missions task you with defending one or more specific objectives and placing turrets to halt your enemies progress, you have free reign to run around and blast away the opposition with whatever armaments you are carrying. It works extremely well, allowing you to both strategize effective traps, and take part in the carnage first hand.
Since you spend the entire game in one of these mechanical Trenches, it’s good that the level of customization is deep. While on the deck of your battleship, which acts as the games hub, you can change every aspect of your walking tank. While you start off with very few parts to add, you’ll quickly earn more from ranking up, finding drop boxes in the field, and completing the in-game challenges. You’ll also earn money, which you can used to purchase new weapons, emplacements, and chassis among other things. Before long, you’ll have a ton of new equipment to add to your Trench, each with their own pros and cons, and some with special abilities.
That doesn’t mean you can deck out a tiny chassis with the biggest, most powerful weapons however. Everything is balanced. Smaller chassis have less armor and are restricted to very few weapon slots, but they move faster and have more slots for turrets drops. Larger chassis are able to equip the big guns, but move much slower and have very few options for turret drops while in battle. You can mix and match all the different equipment you find, provided your Trench has the room. It’s up to you whether you want six machines guns or two massive missile launchers. The game will recommend certain equipment before you enter a mission, and while these suggestions are very helpful, they can be ignored if you want to experiment.
As you turn your enemies into piles of scrap, that scarp can be collected and used as currency to purchase emplacements or upgrades for ones already on the battlefield. Each of the turrets are broken down into three categories; light, support, and heavy. Light turrets are weak, but are typically cheap to build and have fast rates of fire. Support turrets do things like slow enemies down or pick up nearby scrap for you. Heavy turrets do the most damage, but are usually the most expensive and have slow rates of fire. Certain turrets are more effective against certain types of enemies, which adds to the strategy. Placing your defenses is easy as it’s done with the push on a button. The only restriction when building is that one emplacement cannot be placed within close proximity to another. Other than that, you’re free to build as many as you wish, provided you have the available scrap.
The action is frantic and will have you scrambling to upgrade and rebuild emplacements all while trying to pick off enemies running toward your objective. Trenched will consistently keep you on your toes and is satisfying the entire way though. And if you ever feel like you need fellow soldiers to help you win the day, then you can head online and play through every campaign mission cooperatively with up to three others.
Trenched is even more fun when played online. Even just one other person can be a major help, taking some of the pressure off you to monitor all the different paths enemies can come from. The difficulty scales to compensate for the number of players, throwing more enemies at you and making them take more damage, so the challenge is consistent. All of your unlocks carry over into multiplayer, so it’s easy to show off your favorite combination of parts to others online. Unfortunately, at launch, multiplayer has frequent issues. More often than not, the game will show the names of players connecting but never actually allow the players into the lobby. Games sometimes drop for unknown reasons and, based on the connection of the players, lag can make the game almost unplayable. Hopefully, a patch will fix these issues as they detract from the online experience.
In terms of presentation, Trenched looks fine. Textures aren’t particularly detailed, but the cartoonish art style of the world helps one look past a lot of the issues. The Trenches themselves looks great and explosions are bright and colorful. The frame rate can drop when there’s a lot going on, and gets particularly bad later in the game when weather effects are added, but it rarely gets in the way. Weapon sound effects are loud and satisfying and voice acting is solid, even if your character repeats himself way too often.
Trenched is a great value and a satisfying adventure. Levels are fun to revisit with beefed up weaponry, there are medals to strive for, and the online co-op, minus the few annoying issues, adds hours of entertainment to an already good-sized package. Fans of both tower defense games and Mech combat will want to give this game a try. It’s an absolute thrill.