‘How much? $25.00 for a downloadable indie game?’ This was my incredulous response when the editor told me I’d be reviewing a downloadable game that carried a price tag equal to the GDP of some backward third world countries. Ok, it’s not that steep. But really? $25.00? At this point the editor held up a judicious palm, coughed and smiled at the same time (you had to be there to see that) and continued: ‘I haven’t finished. It’s $25.00 and it’s Defense Grid 2.’
That’s when the proverbial penny dropped. I slapped my forehead and nodded with understanding. ‘Well, why the blazes didn’t you say so?’
For anyone who’s been in suspended animation for the past five years, Defense Grid: The Awakening was probably the closest there had ever been to the perfect tower defence game. Released in 2009, the game quickly established itself as the king of the genre, winning critical appraise from gamers all over the world. I for one have racked up over 50 hours on the original game and the mere thought of playing Defense Grid 2 had me rubbing my hands and grinning like a randy uncle at a family wedding.
On paper Defense Grid 2, I think we’re good enough terms to call the game DG2, is a standard tower defence game. And if you’re already familiar with Defense Grid, you’ll feel right at home with this latest offering. The mechanics are pretty much identical to the original game. That is to say, it follows the pattern of every tower defence game before and after Defense Grid: build towers, defend resources, kill enemies. That’s it. Boiled down to its bare essence, its rock, paper scissors on a big shiny screen. If your enemies are fast, you slow them down, if they’re in the air, build areal defence batteries, if they’re heavy, use your big guns. Yes, its simple, yes its predictable and yes, it’s as addictive as anything you can buy on a shady street corner at 2.00 in the morning. ‘Ahem..’ – Ed.
What helped 2009’s Defense Grid: The Awakening stand out from the crowd however, was the way it combined all of these staple elements and balanced them with the accuracy of a laser weapon. Also developers at Hidden Path Entertainment added something that other tower defence game’s had ignored to that point: a decent storyline. Ok, we’re not talking ‘Gone With The Wind’ here, but the tale of three disembodied AI’s and a human commander travelling the galaxy to combat invading aliens is as engrossing as it needs to be. And, as in DG2, most of the story is told during the end of missions, it does little to interfere with the meat and potatoes of the game itself.
If you have played DG before, you’ll remember that, even if you had to repeat the same level a dozen times before you beat it, you always knew that it could be beaten if you could only figure out how. You never felt the game was cheating. If you lost, it was because you made mistakes. With their eyes firmly fixed on the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ Hidden Path Entertainment have remained faithful to this winning formulae. Defense Grid 2 can be tough, especially played on the hard or ultrasetting. But, even when it’s tougher than a bear armed with a flick knife, it’s fair.
DG2 is spread over 20 different campaigns. Each with their own unique goals and a variety of side missions. And, because of the nature of the game itself, there is always more than one way to complete a level. DG2 encourages you to experiment with the 10 different types of towers at your disposal rather than sticking to the those with the most fire power. We estimate that it will take the average gamer around 60 hours to complete every mission DG2 has on offer. Not bad for just $25.00.
In terms of graphics, Defense Grid 2 is prettier than a prom queen on her first date. Seriously, the first time we booted this game up, I had to hold myself back from licking the screen. This game is gorgeous. Every location, from jungle complexes to sweeping cityscapes and cold space stations, make full use of the monster processing power of the Xbox One. Although the zoom capability is limited to three settings, it still looks amazing.
The addition of multiplayer is also a welcome bonus. Now you can play cooperatively with a mate or against them to rack up the highest scores. Genius.
But, as with all things sublime, Defense Grid 2 is not without its faults. We felt that more could have been done in the audio department. Specifically, when your game is in full flow, you’ll find it almost impossible to distinguish the sounds of the different weapons you’re using. Instead, the gun reports becomes an unpleasant cacophony that can quickly grate on your nerves. After a few levels, we solved this problem by turning down the effects sounds and boosting up the music.
Defense Grid 2 also has a few glitches that should have been ironed out before release. On more than one occasion we found that, despite the aliens wondering in and stealing all of our cores, the number of cores we had left wouldn’t go down. And, if, as sometime happens, you barely manage to scrap through a level with just a handful of cores remaining, it would have been nice to have some sort of visual indicator that reminds you that you’ve played that level. We also had a raised eyebrow at the voice overs. Don’t get us wrong, the voice acting in Defense Grid 2 is excellent. But at times we had the sneaking suspicion that the same actor was being used to play two different characters. Budgetary constraints perhaps?
However, these are minor gripes that do little to detract from what is probably one of the best Xbox One games released so far. If you’ve ever played a tower defence game then you will love Defense Grid 2. If you’re already a convert then, for you, for us and millions like us, Christmas may have just come early. Enjoy.
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