Defending the Grid Feels Oddly Familiar
The red-headed step-child of the Real Time Strategy genre, Tower Defense games have been minorly popular for the last 10 years. The basic idea behind the genre is that there are dudes going from point A to point B. Kill them before they reach point B. Hidden Path Entertainment's Defense Grid: The Awakening applies some minor twists to the formula, though not a lot, but it does offer a solid experience that is oftentimes enjoyable.
Controls are extremely simple and point to the game's future XBLA release. Basically you use three buttons, one to select, one to speed up time, and one to fire the laser (Note: should be screamed ala Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers). Moving the mouse moves the cursor, which is fixed in the middle of the screen. There are also three levels of zoom that provide various angles on the battlefield and are only useful in the complex later stages of the game.
There is no multiplayer outside of stat comparison on Steam, but there are leaderboards and a 57 achievements to be gobbled up as well. Statistics such as damage and number of towers built are kept track of on steam for those who need to brag to their friends.
The player's journey through the 20 maps is accompanied by the AI narrator who warns the player of the impending doom while adding in little bits of story. Most maps have multiple challenge modes, as well as award gold, silver, or bronze based upon player performance. But really, you are not playing the game for the story, you're here to kill stuff.
The premise of combat is that the aliens, along their journey from point A to point B, have decided that they want to steal your AI buddy's power cores. If non-hostile aliens steal all of your powercores, then they win. The player tries to keep them from winning by building towers of various types in order to blow them to smithereens.
Overall the presentation is adequate. The aliens have an interesting half-technology half-organic look and come in 16 varieties, each type requiring a different strategy to defeat. The towers sound decent, and their thuds are backed by a dynamic music track that provides an extra layer of depth. Environments are crisp and varied, providing an interesting backdrop to the action. The only disapointment with the presentation is that there is not more variety to the damage effects on the aliens. All that they are capable of doing is either smoking or glowing red. There is no neato disentegration effect when they are killed by a laser or bits of armor flying off when they're hit by gun turrets.
The greatest struggle of Defense Grid is its pacing. The necessity of a speed-up-time button rams home the lack of proper pacing. At the beginning of missions, the player will often have to wait for 30 seconds or more before the first enemy shows up. Understandably this is to allow the player ample time to set up their towers, but becomes annoyingly flow-breaking when attempting to get a good start in the later levels.
Defense Grid is not a must play title of the year; you won't find any great innovation or advancement of the Tower Defense sub-genre. For $20 it provides a fun 10 hours worth of gameplay. If you have not touched the sub-genre in a while, or need something that you can play in 15 minute chunks, then Defense Grid: The Awakening will happily fill that niche. If you are looking for something deeper, then for $20 you should look elsewhere.