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It seems that every game tries to be revolutionary. Game developers constantly talk about how their game will floor players with new and exciting gameplay mechanics never tried by any other game in existence. These overly optimistic claims are then used by publishers to create hype machines which plow towards the game's release date like drunken Godzillas. Then, the game is released, and - well - it usually isn't quite the revolution it claimed to be.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is not one of those games - unless a complete lack of previously unseen features is a revolutionary concept as well. This is at once a breath of fresh air and a huge risk. The developers, Hidden Path, should be applauded for choosing to focus so totally on a well-worn concept which they obviously love, but did they also make a good game?
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Defense Grid is a pure-bred tower defense game. Waves of aliens are coming and they want to steal the precious power cores. They arrive in waves which consist of various different alien types and once one wave is dead the player has a chance to relax and build or upgrade a few more towers. The towers themselves represent what one would expect from a tower defense game. There are long-range towers, towers that slow enemies, towers for area of effect, etc. In other words, this isn't anything that hasn't been done before. The same goes for enemy types. Some fly, some have shields, but they're no more unique than a shotgun in a first-person shooter.
If this sounds boring, well - it can be. Defense Grid falls victim of pacing, one of the prime enemies of every tower defense game. Sitting around waiting for enemies to arrive is not much fun, but best get used to it, because Defense Grid has frequent lulls in the action. There is a fast-forward feature, but a game shouldn't have to rely on fast-forwarding to make it interesting. A checkpoint save feature doesn't help negate the ease with which the player can build themselves into an impossible situation with a few stupid moves, requiring the entire level to be played over again.
There is something to be said for polish, however, and Defense Grid does indeed shine. It may include the same basic mechanics of nearly every other game in the genre, but it executes them with extreme precision. The towers feel well balanced and provide a variety of options. The levels quickly become huge and sometimes involve interesting level design twists which ward off the feeling that this has all been done before. In fact, Defense Grid's execution of the tower defense game is so good that it is easily more enjoyable than nearly every other game in the genre. At the same time, those who didn't enjoy the genre before won't find this to be their gateway drug.
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Story and Writing
Story? What story? There are aliens coming. They want your cores. They gotta be blown up.
I'm partially joking, because there is a little bit of story here. The player is accompanied by an AI assistant who gives tips about how to win and constantly alludes to events that occurred during a similar alien invasion thousands of years before. I quickly quit caring, however, because its very clear that the story of Defense Grid is entirely tacked on. Unlike in Immortal Defense, there is no attempt to try and explain exactly why the idiotic aliens feel the need to move along set paths. They do it cause that's what they do, okay?
This said, the writing isn't horrible. While many players remember indie games like World Of Goo and Braid, most games from small studios have insipid writing. Defense Grid is well polished, however. In fact, the AI which accompanies the player gradually becomes like-able, which is no small feat considering his immaterial nature.
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Graphics and Sound
The graphics in Defense Grid won't be winning any awards, but they are quite stunning by the standards of the genre. Everything is 3D, with three levels of zoom, and when aliens die they actually have decent death animations. The towers look good and are well animated. The Temporal and Cannon towers impressed me greatly. Fully upgraded, the Cannon tower looks like a battleship turret. Watching it unload on an approaching aliens is very satisfying.
The audio is inoffensive. The cannons and lasers have no bass to them, but at the same time they refrain from anything outside the normal range of tolerance. The game has a soundtrack, but I only discovered this after seeing on the game's website that the soundtrack is now available for download. I cannot remember even the tiniest sliver of music from the game. Thankfully, the AI assisting the player is more memorable. He sounds like a robotic butler and makes himself scarce enough that he never becoming annoying.
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Value And Verdict
Defense Grid goes for $19.99 these days. That isn't a lot, but I can't recommend taking a chance on buying this game. Anyone thinking about making the purchase should already known if they might be interested. If tower defense games have been enjoyable in the past, then buy this one. If tower defense games haven't been enjoyable, don't. Its that simple.