In the world of computer games, things often need defending – be it a Princess, a kingdom, or even small animals. In Defense Grid 2 you’re defending cores, a power source, from oncoming alien hordes hell-bent on stealing every last one of them. Rather than jumping on their heads or loading up a pulse rifle as is often traditional, you’re given a range of towers with which you can pummel this despicable menace. You also get to use a grid. One can only imagine when naming the game that the developers thought ‘Tower Defense Grid’ would have been a bit too literal and settled on something slightly snappier.
Defense Grid 2 is the follow up to Hidden Path’s original tower defense game, Defense Grid: The Awakening, which, alongside a PC and Mac outing, was a key release for Microsoft’s then-burgeoning Xbox Live Arcade service in 2009. The title’s unique take on the genre, featuring a characterful AI companion through the main campaign, as well as its overall level of polish, won the game critical and commercial success. However, it has taken over five years for the sequel to arrive, having taken in a failed attempt at Kickstarter funding, before being saved by investors and a partnership with 505 Games. The question is, has all that time been well spent?
As an entry in the tower defence genre the game’s underlying mechanics are the same as any number of entries which festoon the app stores of every touchscreen enabled device. You strategically place a selection of towers in an effort to prevent your enemy from making it across the map. Defense Grid 2, much as the original, looks to elevate itself above such titles with high production values, as well as introducing a few new mechanics to the series.
In addition to the orbital weapon special power from the first game, you can now swap out different command team abilities before beginning each level, for example forgoing the destructive capability of the laser for a much needed boost to your resources. You can also select different tower abilities or ammo types, swapping range for more damage or an added effect such as slowing enemies, all of which unlock and expand as you progress through the story. The other new addition is the boost tower, which besides being a cheaper way of funnelling the aliens down different routes also allows you to build towers on top of them. Alongside improved range the boost tower can bestow higher damage output or bonus area effects including the essential disruptor effect which eliminates alien shields.
It’s a shame that the front-end menus are a little unwieldy, though the issue lessens the more time you spend with the game. Part of the problem is the sheer quantity of options available for every level, which alongside the commander abilities and tower options extend to eight game modes and challenges beyond the main campaign, as well as a standard difficulty option and a competitive mode that limits your use of commander abilities and prevents you selling towers. You can tinker with this dizzying array of options before each level, and every mode has its own online leaderboard as well, allowing you to step up against people using that particular set-up. It certainly adds some serious longevity to the game beyond the campaign itself.
From the moment the music starts, you’re taken back to the world created by the first game. The original’s overall design aesthetic, both visual and aural, was exceptionally strong and the sequel reiterates on that rather than revolutionises. The jump to more powerful hardware has meant that the graphics are crisper, with more detailed and varied locations, and the experience is far more consistent, avoiding the slowdown the original experienced when the action became hectic.
The game’s PC heritage is clear, with text that is a touch too small and sports a squint-inducing HUD. Despite this, I still found the game to be very playable over remote play, and in fact suited the PS Vita very well. It’s a shame that the remote play option didn’t extend to using the touchscreen mind you.
The story now sees you travel to distant worlds rather than remaining on a single planet, with the twenty-one levels taking in dusty deserts and lush jungles, as well as volcanic landscapes and abandoned space-stations. In the scheme of things, they’re ultimately all window dressing, as the game revolves around the route into and out of the level, and the differing placement of the grids where your towers sit. It’s nice to have the variety though, and a number of the levels are visually quite striking. The story itself isn’t as engaging as the original’s, though fans of the first title will be pleased by the return of your charismatic AI companion General Fletcher. Sadly the expanded list of characters aren’t anywhere near as memorable, in either their voice acting or their motivations.
The game introduces a multiplayer option to the series, with three different modes within it. Fighter is your PvP option, and sees aliens that you destroy on your side of the map appear on your opponent’s side and vice versa. Alongside this are two co-operative modes which allow you to tackle maps with a partner. The key issues with the multiplayer modes are the removal of the step back and speed-up options, and given that Defense Grid can often amble along at a particularly lackadaisical pace it can feel torturous waiting for waves to pass through or for your resources to build up so you can buy your next upgrade. A nice touch though is the ability to continue playing the campaign mode whilst waiting for a multiplayer opponent a la Street Fighter 4, particularly as it seems as though there are only a limited number of people playing the multiplayer portion of the game.
Defense Grid 2 is an enjoyable return to Hidden Path’s dystopian future, though whilst the sequel features a number of improvements some key features of the original, in particular the engaging story, have been lost along the way. For fans of the genre it’s still an essential entry on PC and console, with hours of content and plenty of replayability, all wrapped up in a high quality package.
Version Tested: Playstation 4