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PC Game Review: Defense Grid: The Awakening

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The tower defense genre barely existed two years ago, but now it is a hugely popular casual game format, in large part due to Desktop Tower Defense. Defense Grid: The Awakening provides the production value and professional touch most tower defense games are lacking, though its game play follows the same basic format. Defense Grid uses the popular game play on a wide variety of interesting layouts that all work differently and keep the player interested in what will happen in the next level.

There isn't an awful lot different about Defense Grid's game play from any other tower defense game. The different types of towers you can choose (normal gun, flamethrower, flame cannon, etc.) are all easily recognizable from tower defense Web games, and the enemies follow the same guidlines as well (swarms, shielded, flying, fast). What really makes Defense Grid's gameplay stand out are the layouts of each level. The opening levels force enemies into a strict path that you can't determine, with your tower spots limited, in more of a Pixeljunk Monsters style. Later levels give you much more ability for creativity with tower positions, as you create a maze for your enemies a la Desktop Tower Defense. These layout changes keep the game fresh for all of its "story" levels, which puts it a notch above other tower defense games.

The presentation is another way Defense Grid differentiates itself from its competitors. The graphics are plenty good enough, though your camera angle is basically limited to an isometric view of the action. The sound effects are unobtrusive, which is always a plus. Unfortunately, the tower and enemy types aren't always distinguishable from one another, which means I often have to right-click on everything to see just what it is, which wastes a bit of time.

In the story mode, you are accompanied by a sort of Robo-proper voice who acts as your assistant. The voice acting for this is fine, very similar to the voices of the robot butlers in Fallout 3. The assistant doesn't really have a lot of lines, which means you hear several things over and over, but it never really reaches the point of being irritating, probably because he doesn't talk all that much during the levels.

After beating each story level, you can then try other versions of that level, some designed to offer a challenge, and some designed to give a more relaxed, Desktop Tower Defense-style experience. The challenges include things like "only swarmers" and "only 10 towers at a time", while the relaxed mode allows you to keep playing without fear of losing. These modes give a little bit more replay value to the game, but there are plenty enough levels to keep you busy in the normal story mode anyway.

It should be noted that while the game does have a "story mode", it does not, in truth, offer a story. Your assistant mentions a few background details at times, and there is theoretically a background about how humanity has previously lost to the aliens you're fighting, but it never really gets beyond the quality of trading card flavor text. Not that story is what you're looking for in a tower defense game, but this distinction should be made when I talk about the game employing a story mode.

Defense Grid had a job to do with making a viable product out of the predominately free tower defense genre, and it does that job well. At a price of $20 on Steam, this is enough game for your dollar. The gaming on offer here is casual, but with enough challenge in it to please anyone.

Defense Grid: The Awakening is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence and Mild Language.

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