The New Face of Tower Defense

2 Apr


Defense Grid: The Awakening is a game which by any other name would have a better name.  That’s pretty close to what I typed into Twitter not too long ago.  Unexpectedly Jeff Pobst, CEO of Hidden Path Entertainment, twittered back asking why I thought the name was dumb.  My blood pressure spiked a bit — a game developer wants to hear criticism after the launch of their game?  After a bit of back and forth I discovered the reason for the name — they needed to proclaim they were a tower defense game with ‘The Grid’ but at the same time wanted to ensure, by the use of ‘The Awakening’, that it was obvious it wasn’t a cheap flash game.  As it turns out there exists a quaint and well-thought out sci-fi premise that sheds light on the at first glance generic name.  But I never called the people who named the game dumb, I called the name itself dumb.  Whoever put the name together had their reasons, but the fact remains that the name turned me off.

Jeff offered me a Steam key, which I politely turned down despite my, uh, broke-ness.  I didn’t suspect any foul play, of course, but having just played the demo I was at the point where I was more than happy to add one more tally to the game’s sales figure.

Behind a name that only ceases to be generic once you play the game is, well, perhaps the most charming if not most intense (that is to say, it is not too hard, but it is very fun) tower defense game I’ve played since it developed into its own Flash-borne sub-genre.

At the root of it, ironically for me, is the name.  It is very apt.  A number of squares surround a large and winding track.  You can build a number of different towers on any of the blocks.  Then you kill waves upon waves of alien robots.  As far as the story is concerned you’re waking up an ancient (and British) AI to assist in fending off the second coming of the alien invaders.  So, you’re awakening the defense grid.  It all fits together quite nicely, which is surprising for a genre that usually treats story as a non-entity.

Each tower has its advantages and disadvantages against different enemy types and some towers work together better than others.  It becomes a fight between making more new towers or fully upgrading a few of the right ones in the right places — mindful of which upcoming waves will reveal you built in the wrong order, which actually works quite well in inviting repeat playthroughs to figure out the winning strategy.  And then there are all of the ‘nice things to have’, the icing on the cake that tops it all off: a handy speed up function, and actual checkpoints so you don’t have to retry whole levels (which can be around 20+ waves).

If I’m laying it on a bit thick it’s because this is one of those games you have to recommend.  This is a AAA tower defense game; it could have worked fine even in Flash, and been just as good.  The fact that it’s 3D is nice, but I’m happy to say it’s the design and production values that move it up a tier.

Grab the demo here.


5 Responses to “The New Face of Tower Defense”

  1. McElroy Flavelle April 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    Looks interesting. I will be giving it a shot for sure.

    I spent last night on a game made by Big Park here in town. Took a couple shots at the first boss to beat him but overall really good difficulty scaling. Hard, but not tooooooo hard.

  2. Miko Wilson April 2, 2009 at 6:15 pm #

    I’m a big fan of Wizard Defense, and not just because Dan had his mits in the design guts of the game. It’s free to play (which, at this point, I think all tower defense games should/have to be), incorporates story into the design, makes the boss battles “events.” I could go on.
    When it comes down to it, Wizard Defense is a very high caliber game for it’s price point, and rivals the un-free variants on X-Box Live and Playstation Online. With a fresh visual design and mechanic fueled re-playability, I see it lasting a long time.

    Defense Grid: The Awakening, is a terrible name. It sounds like a game that skipped the shelves and immediately found its way into the dollar bin at the local superstore. Mixed in with the other faded computer titles of yesteryear, that title won’t inspire me to give the game a chance.
    Besides the title that seemingly was plucked out of a 1980s science fiction buzz-word grab bag, I’m not about to play an engine based TD game. I have tried a few non-flash Tower D games, and they always fall short for me. At the end of the day, if someone cannot design a TD game that is compelling in a 2D plane, they probably cannot design a TD game that is compelling with the third dimension tacked on.
    Besides doing it for the sake of DOING it, what did the 3rd dimension actually ADD to the gameplay experience?
    Don’t say “it looks prettier” please. I will cry.

  3. nickhalme April 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    I had no idea Dan’s game was out! Playing it now…

    Come on Miko. Defense Grid is 3D for the same reason Warcraft III was 3D, for no goddamn reason at all. The same reason Age of Mythology was 3D, and the same reason Mario became 3D. Just because. It doesn’t detract from the game, and I’m not sure where you’re getting the track record for engine-based TD games; this is the first I’ve played, and it’s good.

    In fact, if you play Wizard TD and then play Defense Grid and look at the options and the levels, I don’t think it’s a stretch that the game isn’t free. It really does come off as a AAA TD game, but it does seem the opposite before you play it.

  4. Twig April 8, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    Actually, Defense Grid has many reasons for being 3D:

    – Line of sight actually matters.
    – The meteor tower actually has a ballistic trajectory and can still hit stuff when other towers might not be able.
    – A number of the more interesting and fun levels are laid out vertically with overlapping path ways.

  5. Carl April 24, 2009 at 1:54 am #

    This game wins!

    I’ve been in the middle of trying to get my gold star on all the levels and get all the achievements since it hit the shelves.

    I especially like the challenge of trying to build a path for only level 1 towers or trying to clear advanced maps with one tower type only.

    Gun and cannon were pretty easy, flamer only is pretty tough. Oh and I mean beat them for the gold star. No lost cores and the point bonus.

    This has tonnes of replayability. Mike, I’m sorry to hear you so negative on this.

    Really it is the best tower defense game ever made. I am a TD junky. I’ve played ever game on Tower, and Defense Grid 3d or not, is a much fuller game than any free flash or low budget 3d game could hope to be.

    Ok, I know my post is pretty pointless and totally subjective…but hey.

    my 2 cents.

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