Towers of Powers
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So I am not much for puzzle games normally. Perhaps my attention span isn't long enough. Going through games like Riven or Myst (other than the original) usually puts me to sleep. And if I concentrate too long on the puzzles there, my brain hurts. Playing hardcore puzzle games is too much like taking a test. I just don't enjoy it.
So when Defense Grid: The Awakening was given to me to try out, I was a little hesitant. Originally classified as an action/arcade game, the nature of the title caused us to reclassify it as a puzzle title. And it was up to me to write the review.
Well, first off, Defense Grid: The Awakening is like no puzzle game you have ever played. It's action packed and requires a good deal of quick thinking, but the elements of a puzzle type game are there for sure. I don't doubt that this is a puzzle game. But I do think that it will appeal to a slightly different crowd than most games of the category.
The basic gameplay is very simple even though the board changes a bit. Still, on every map you have a home base that is filled with power cores. And there is a long path that leads up to your power core storehouse. A bunch of alien monsters will start running down those paths with the goal of getting into your base so they can steal your cores. If they reach the cores, they will pick them up and each alien can normally carry between one and three cores each. Then they will run back down the path and try to exit the board. Some maps have different exit and entry points and some flying aliens can simply zoom off after they have grabbed a core. But for the most part, the enemy runs in and then back out. If you lose all your cores, you lose the game. If you defeat all of the waves of aliens, you win that level.
To beat back the aliens, you are given power spots, which are little squares aligned on or beside the path that the aliens have to run on. You spend resource points to build towers there, and try to setup a withering gauntlet of fire that no alien can hope to survive. You get more resource points for every alien that you kill. So the more you kill, the more complex of a labyrinth of defensive structures you can construct. But the aliens are going to try to overwhelm your defenses, so it's often very difficult to build enough towers quick enough. Towers can also help to shape the path of aliens on some levels. If you can block off a short path, it will force the aliens to take a much longer route to get to your core (aliens always take the shortest open path, even if you make that path into a huge, winding route). The catch is that if you completely block their path, they are allowed to move through your towers. So the trick is to leave a path open for them, just a long one that lets lots of towers fire at them.
Towers have three levels of power, from green to yellow to red. Upgrading a tower costs resources, sometimes quite a lot, but gives you increased range and damage. Sometimes it's better to construct two new green towers instead of upgrading a single one to yellow or red, if you have enough space to do so. The tower also shuts down for a few seconds during the upgrade, so you have to time your improvements so as not to take that part of your network down when it's most needed.
And there are ten different types of towers you can build, so there is a lot of strategy involved. A cannon tower can shoot very powerful shots at single opponents for example, but is not good against hoards of smaller bad guys. It might squish one, but nine others will get through. The flamer tower is the opposite, dealing a bit of damage to everyone who passes, which burns up little hoards, but does only a minuscule amount of harm to powerful boss type aliens.
The ten towers compliment each other and can be woven into an effective defense grid. They are invincible, so you don't have to worry about them getting taken down by the aliens. The problem is that there are never enough resources to build what you want, so picking the right tower for the right spot becomes a strategy that you will need to perfect.
The Gun tower is your basic defensive structure. It's cheap and can fire at both fliers and ground troops. You will probably build more Gun towers than anything else. Upgraded they are quite powerful, but the starting green model is short ranged and very weak.
The Cannon tower has a very long range and can hit both fliers (often killing them in one hit) and ground troops. It can't hit aliens right beside it due to a minimum range, and fires very slowly. Fast runners can get out of even its big range before it can hit them sometimes.
The Inferno tower sprays fire at ground troops. It does only a little damage, but can burn an entire group. Keep these around to stomp on any tiny hoard aliens that jump onto the grid. It's range is limited, so it needs to be placed right beside the path, or at a choke point to be effective.
The Laser tower is a solid weapon that fires a beam of searing light and stays on one target applying damage until it runs out of range or dies. It's good against slow boss creatures and keeps burning enemies after they have left the area. You will need several lasers in higher levels. They are expensive to upgrade, but worth it.
The Tesla tower is my favorite. It's basically a point defense weapon that shocks anyone that gets near it. The lightning can also chain to other nearby opponents. It works great on bosses as well. The range is limited, so putting it at choke points or as a last line of defense near your power cores is a good strategy, where it can finish off anyone who makes it that far into your grid because they will hopefully be pretty beat up at that point. I've also put them at the entrance to a map, to give everyone a little shock as they enter. They build up a charge over time however, so putting them where they can take a break is often a better plan.
The Missile Tower can take down fliers with ease. There are some levels where you will need it, if your cannons and guns could be overwhelmed by too many fliers.
The Concussion tower takes out groups of enemies. It's kind of like the Tesla tower, but more affects groups over bosses.
The Meteor tower fires artillery at very long ranges. You should have at least one in any defensive system because it can hit almost anything on the board. The splash damage it causes hurts everyone around, though quick runners can avoid the blasts sometimes.
The two special towers are the Command and Temporal towers. The Command one highlights stealthy opponents that other towers won't see until they get very close. And it gives you more money for any kills within its range. The Temporal towers are the key to victory on a lot of levels because they slow every enemy that passes near them. This exposes the enemy to a lot more fire, something that is a very good thing. They are expensive, and really fast troops can get almost through the field before it discharges, though putting two somewhat together will really stop them cold over a large area. They do no damage on their own, so be sure to setup a killing field to take advantage of the money you spent on the Temporals.
The one complaint I have is that the game ramps up in difficulty very quickly. It goes from being so easy that you can't really lose unless you fail to build a few towers, to skin of your teeth tough where you might survive with only one of your 24 cores intact. A core is not actually lost until an alien runs off with it, so if you can kill them on the way out, they will drop it and it slowly floats back to your base. But another alien can grab it, so sometimes hoards will hand off the core and slowly send it back to the exit zone, even if you are killing them at the time. On short boards, this is really tough. Also, on boards where you can shape the alien's path, it's much easier because you can loop them back toward killing zones more than once. On maps where the path is set, you have to take it as it comes. Expect to settle in and feel like a master of the game early, only to get the beat down very soon after.
In terms of value, the one thing against this game is that there are a lot of free tower defense games online. They are not of the quality of Defense Grid: The Awakening, but still, that has to play against you spending money on a title. On the plus side, the game is only $20 if you download it from Steam for the PC, or the equivalent price on Xbox Live. For that, you get a lot of gameplay and even some replay value as new modes open up that are kind of like "sandbox" fights so you can test out your strategies. All in all, the game is a great value.
Like with most good games, Defense Grid: The Awakening takes only a few minutes to learn, but much longer to master. The seemingly simple concept of defending ground against a hoard of aliens is brilliantly created here, and it's more than worth the low $20 price whether you need an afternoon distraction or a title that you can take time to really master.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : email@example.com.