Monday, September 29, 2014

Review - Defense Grid 2

Tower defense games are pretty straightforward when it comes to gameplay. Where things get a little crazy is in the actual using towers for defense. Stopping waves and waves of invaders with an array of towers is the fun part and Hidden Path Entertainment brings that fun and more in Defense Grid 2. The publisher was kind enough to provide Omnicomic with an Xbox One review code to dive into.

Those familiar with the first Defense Grid will feel right at home with the overall concept of the sequel. Place your first tower and then aliens arrive, seeking out your cores and fighting their way through your defenses in order to steal them for their use. There are five planets with four missions each (the fifth planet has five missions) and a somewhat staggering thirteen different mission types. These types range from Story mode to more specific modes such as Fixed Resources and Out of Bullets that offer certain disadvantages the player must overcome in addition to the invading aliens. On top of that, there are three different game types (Open, Competitive - Can't sell towers and Competitive Unlimited Sell - Can sell towers, no special items) and four difficulty levels (Easy, Normal, Hard, Elite). This means that even though you do one mission on one planet in Story/Open/Normal, you've still got to do the same mission in all the other modes, types and difficulty levels. In fact, Defense Grid 2 even handily checks each one off as you complete it.

To prevent the theft of your cores, you're given the choice of placing one of ten towers with various abilities. These include gun towers for general fighting, inferno towers that have a large areas of effect, laser towers that add more damage after passing, cannon towers and missile towers, which are primarily aimed at stopping bigger aliens. Building these towers will dramatically affect the outcome of the stage, primarily through the damage they deal, but also because their locations will directly affect the route the aliens will take. One of the biggest differences between Defense Grid 2 and its predecessor is now the aliens will take the shortest path to the cores and that path may not remain constant. While that path will seem obvious at times, the crux of the processing behind Defense Grid 2 is the complex calculations going on behind the scenes. When you place a tower, it forces the recalculation on the fly of the alien's path. Fortunately for the player, you'll clearly be able to see the path they're taking, giving you ample opportunity to position your towers accordingly. Because there are numerous paths that the aliens can take to steal your valuable resources, it encourages the gamer to get a little creative when it comes to fighting them off. The missions get really, really difficult the further in the game you get, so be ready to suffer at the hands of some pretty ruthless aliens.

In addition to the new guns, path situations and difficulty permutations, players will have one more bit of competition in the form of their previous runs. Hidden Path has added a real-time scoring aspect to the game and all the player has to do is glance up at the top-right of the screen to see their current score. The score remains positive and will award medals for various milestones associated with points levels. Replays of levels will show you your previous score and rate of scoring, giving you something else to contend with in playing the stage. What's more is the possibility of showing friend scores and leaderboards as well, ensuring that you and your friends can continue to brag about who beat the stage fastest. It's a pretty interesting addition to the gameplay and you'll likely find yourself glancing up every now and then to see if you're flatlining.

There are some other features in the game that fans will surely appreciate. For starters, you can now rotate your view of the battlefield with the right stick, which provides different perspectives when strategizing. There are certain parts of certain stages that will move based on time or action triggers, adding or removing more possible landing spots for your arsenal. There will be health bars on the enemies, showing you how many more missiles the juggernaut crashing through towards your cores can take. And (in what might be a welcome change from the first game), there are no flying enemies in Defense Grid 2, which means no more shaking your fists at the sky as an airborne alien makes off with cores. These little additions are certainly not going to make or break the game, but they are pretty welcome nonetheless.

If there's one minor gripe, it lies in the banter that occurs amongst your AI cohorts. While many of their lines are rather amusing, those lines persist with each successive attempt at a level. And with Defense Grid 2, it's very likely that you'll be doing some of the latter stages again and again, which means you get to hear the same bad joke about an AI being 149% peach frosting again and again. The voice acting is actually really solid and most of the time their conversation blends into the din of your towers firing on the aliens, but sometimes it manages to bubble up and become more audible for the tenth time in ten minutes. On the flipside, Defense Grid 2 has a Braid-like feature, in that you can rewind time slightly when things are getting perilous. This prevents you from having to do the entire stage again from scratch (and prevents some of the conversation from being replayed) and is a pretty interesting addition that makes the overall experience more enjoyable.

Defense Grid 2 is a tower defense game at its heart and in that regard, it's a very good one. Hidden Path has done an excellent job maintaining the spirt of the first one while also making subtle improvements that streamline the gameplay experience. And despite how quickly the battlefield can devolve into a frenetic mish-mash of explosions and ammunition, the game seemed more than up to the task of handling it graphically with nary a stutter. Having to adjust your strategy multiple times throughout the mission keeps you on your toes, as it's really not possible to just set up a path and upgrade to your heart's content to win. You have to stay alert and adjust to any adjustments the aliens make in the form of various attack patterns and strengths. Defense Grid 2 is a very entertaining game that certainly offers a ton in terms of content and there's quite some replayability in it as well that will keep you coming back for more.

Defense Grid 2 is now available on Xbox One, PS4 and Steam.


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