Defense Grid 2 shows just how to stand out in a crowded skyline.
The most difficult challenge facing any new Tower Defense game is differentiating itself from the crowd. Since their inception titles in this genre have been rigidly faithful to the core tenants of building towers and defending a base from waves of oncoming enemies. That said. it is important that these games are presented in an immaculate way, and the tried and tested mechanics are precise. This is something Defense Grid 2 achieves comfortably.
A lot of what makes this sort of game interesting are their style and choice of aesthetic. Some attach themselves to popular brands such as South Park, but Defense Grid opts to create its own world and fiction, and this makes for some interesting locations. For the most part, the levels take place in factory complexes, which are not as creative as the planets they reside in. From the lush and vibrant to the cold and inhospitable, these worlds do much to alleviate the repetitiveness of the typical grid-based factory layouts. The same cannot be said for the story, which is anything but. The fully voiced crew do an admirable job of setting a lighthearted Sci-Fi tone, but beyond that the story is wholly inconsequential.
On these grids is where the all important towers are built. These range from simple guns and flame towers to the more experimental tesla and meteor towers, which are more in keeping with the futuristic Science Fiction setting. They all look distinct and stand up well to scrutiny. The camera allows for a level of zoom, which is only useful for seeing the towers up close, and it shows their high level of detail. In a game where an overview of what is happening is vital, it provides a degree of confidence in the game's graphical fidelity.
It is unfortunate that the same level of detail was not afforded to the unremarkable alien enemies. This makes it hard to distinguish between the different varieties. Things look truly impressive towards the end of each level, when the map fills up with laser-spewing towers and scores of aliens. However, there are some noticeable frame rate dips when things get hectic and the camera pans. Thankfully, the static nature of the game proves this is a minor issue.
It's important to mention towers and grids because they're something players will see a lot of. Learning about which type of tower is powerful against a given enemy is key to success, as well as where these towers are placed. Maps are a mixture of single and multi-lane affairs with some later levels being more freeform (and difficult as a consequence). Towers can be placed anywhere on the grid, just as long as the aliens are not completely blocked off. Placing towers in such a way as to make the enemies route as long as possible is just as important as building the right tower to exploit their weaknesses. Luckily enough, the game does help a little by telling you which breed will come next, but otherwise it takes experience to learn how to most efficiently deal with whichever creature is trying to steal your precious power cells.
When your strategy works it is a wonder to behold, wave after wave destroyed by strategic prowess. The first few of the game's twenty missions are pretty straightforward, steadily introducing new towers and strategies as you progress. However, soon the difficulty level ramps up significantly and achieving complete annihilation of the opposing forces requires a great deal of precision. Much like a game of chess, every move is vital to success. Of course, in this case it's placement.
Don't be fooled into thinking a twenty-mission campaign sounds short. Each of these stages can be attempted with a myriad of different parameters. The "focal point" parameter, for example, means towers will only actively shoot when the cursor is placed on them whilst other modes start you off either with a fixed amount of resources or only allow the use of certain towers. These extra mission goals add welcomed replay value to the game, with some additional challenges for Defense Grid veterans.
The multiplayer features also serve to flesh out the game's longevity. Three modes are available: DG Fighter, Co-Op Doubles and DG coordinated defence. DG Fighter is the game's competitive mode and sees any enemies destroyed on the player's map appear in their opponent's. This frantic race to overwhelm each other is thrilling and a novel way of introducing a competitive element in a typically single player experience. The other two modes are a more cooperative affair. Both see players building together on the same map with the only difference being in DG coordinated defence. Only certain parts of the map are available to each player, making this mode all about the blame game when one half of your defensive line crumbles.
Defense Grid 2 doesn't reinvent the wheel, but why should it? The thrill of seeing throngs of enemies destroyed in a hail of tower-launched death is as satisfying as ever. It's a genre set in its ways, and that's fine because it's fun, and while we still have developers perfecting the core experience like in Defense Grid 2, it will continue to be so.
This game was reviewed Xbox One
Images courtesy of 505 Games and Hidden Path Entertainment.