One of the Best Tower Defense Games is now one of the Best XBLA Games

One of the Best Tower Defense Games is now one of the Best XBLA Games

Even though tower defense games seem to be perfect for digital distribution platforms, Xbox Live Arcade only has one: the lazily-ported Crystal Defenders. Well, Hidden Path has more than made up for the genre’s poor showing on XBLA and delivered one of the very best strategy games around in Defense Grid: The Awakening. Available on PC since last December, this is a highly polished effort that stands out in an overcrowded genre. Plus, at $10 it’s half of what the PC version costs and includes bonus maps. No strategy fan should overlook this one.

Tower defense games task players with building sentry guns that will shoot down incoming hordes of enemies. Instead of having direct control of the action, you’ll need to think strategically and plan ahead so your towers can do the dirty work for you. The story is minimal, but it’s more than we usually get in these sorts of games. In the distant future, aliens have all but wiped out the human race. In order to send the crustaceans packing you’ll need to activate the titular Defense Grid and save the planet. To help you out with strategic advice, alien data, and friendly encouragement is an affable computer AI with an adorable British accent. He used to be human, and lost the battle against the aliens 1000 years ago. Over the course of the campaign he’ll flesh out the story and lend some personality to the game.
Aliens will enter each map from one or more locations and take the shortest path towards your power cores. Once they’ve got their greedy little claws on the cores they’ll make for the exit. You only need to hold onto one core to win a round, but you’ll receive higher marks for keeping more. If an alien is gunned down while carrying a core, the power source will slowly float back to its base. Another alien can pick it up, though, which creates some interesting problems.

As I said, the interlopers will always take the shortest path to your cores.Some levels will let you influence their path and lengthen the journey for them. If you block their route entirely, though, they’ll charge head first through the force field that protects your towers – meaning the aliens will be invulnerable for a time. Effective tower placement is a big part of Defense Grid.

Weapon choice is another important problem to consider. There are ten tower types, each with different ranges, attack powers, and abilities. Building towers requires resources, which are generated by blasting enemies. Do you build a lot of cheap guns or save up for the powerful, long-range meteor? That’s the question you’re constantly faced with. The aliens also have a menagerie of armors and tricks up their sleeves.

The primary campaign, The Awakening, consists of 20 levels, but there are variations of each battle with challenge levels and survival modes. Then there are four bonus maps called Borderlands, which again come in challenge mode variations. There is no multiplayer in the game, but plenty to do as a single-player experience.

Towers: aliens can’t stand ’em.This is an addictive game that will claim many hours of your life before it’s done with you. The difficulty is tuned just right so that it will take several tries to survive later levels but you won’t feel frustrated. A handy checkpoint system saves your progress during a battle. Should you lose the fight you can restart from the last checkpoint – or, just hit the “back” button to jump backwards in time at any moment. Defense Grid provides plenty action movie-like thrills where you are overrun by the enemy and yet somehow, against all odds, you pull through.

It’s also a beautiful game. The wasteland environments that will be your battleground are cold, futuristic structures made of many levels and swirling paths for the aliens to march upon. Long shadows are cast across the landscape, as though it is eternally dusk here. The towers themselves are impressive pieces of machinery that rise from underground and have flashy moving parts. There are plenty of great tower defense games out there, but Defense Grid is probably the prettiest.

Closing Comments

Defense Grid is a great value on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s a fantastic tower defense game, costs half what it does on PC, and throws in bonus levels for us. Strategy games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you count yourself a devotee of the genre you won’t want to miss this one. Even if you aren’t a tower defense fan, Defense Grid may convert you.

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