Video Game Review: Defense Grid 2 (PC)

In 2012, Hidden Path Entertainment started a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the sequel to their original tower defense game, Defense Grid: The Awakening.

dg2-bannerNow, one year since the game’s release, how well does it hold up to its predecessor? And more importantly, are there raspberries aplenty?

Tower defense, a staple of the strategy genre for well over a decade. The principle is dead simple. A horde of enemies is rampaging towards a single point and it’s up to you to make sure they don’t get there by building towers and creating a deadly maze that will whittle down their numbers with every passing moment.

0000005950.1920x1080That’s essentially what Defense Grid: The Awakening and its DLC “expansions” offered, a simple, streamlined game built around the core principles of tower defense. It was easy to get into, with a multitude of levels, each with numerous challenge modes designed to keep you playing long after the main campaign is done and dusted.

Something of a surprise to me was that the game also boasted an engaging storyline, with your guide, General Fletcher, an uploaded human consciousness (termed an AI) recounting to you (the Commander) the events of his former life, whilst also offering words of encouragement.

The game’s success saw the release of two expansions, the first of which being “You Monster”, a collaboration with Valve that included Portal themed levels and even had a cameo from GLaDOS herself. The second was “Containment”, a story driven expansion which introduced the characters of Commander Simon and a new AI, General Cai, played by Alan Tudyk and Ming-Na Wen respectively.

2015-10-05_00003This would set the stage for the story of Defense Grid 2, with all the characters forced to flee from a new alien invasion and finding themselves in need of a safe place to relocate their evacuated human colonists. While it was a bold attempt to offer more a story to the game, it seemed to set the bar pretty low in terms of voice acting, with neither of the new cast members (though both very accomplished) giving more than an awkward performance and subsequently coming across as wooden, or in the case of Tudyk mostly shouting their lines.

It’s unfortunate that this isn’t really improved in time for the sequel as much of the appeal of Fletcher’s narration was the solitary, melancholy feel it added to the game, much of which was subsequently drowned out by poorly written dialogue. There’s even a point where Fletcher’s love of raspberries is turned into a plot device, that while clever in some regards, seems to also take away something from an otherwise lovable character.

But enough about the story. Gameplay itself is reminiscent of the original, while also offering a few interesting twists. All the same towers are available as before and operate much the same too, with the exception of the missile tower which is now a long-range, single target damage dealer and is no longer used for shooting down flying aliens, which are no longer in the game. The tesla tower has also changed, becoming the premier tower for knocking out shields.

2015-09-28_00002There is one new tower called a “boost”, which as the name implies can be used to boost the effectiveness of other towers. Towers built on top of a boost tower have access to a number of upgrades such as increased damage output, a score multiplier for aliens killed close to it and the ability to disable stealthed and shielded aliens. As the cheapest of the towers, it can also be used to craft mazes, allowing you to save resources to build and upgrade other towers.

Another new feature is that normal towers can be enhanced before a mission is launched, giving the towers new qualities such as incendiary rounds for the gun turret that in addition to doing damage will set aliens alight, or increased damage against aliens with shields and the ability to reveal stealthed aliens with a hit. These seem like a really fun addition, but are apparently discovered at random. It is also entirely possible to discover the same enhancement twice and in some cases not all enhancements will necessarily offer something meaningful to your game.

Once again you have access to the orbital laser, but rather than simply raining down destruction from on high, it too can be enhanced by selecting a different AI for each mission. For example, one AI lets you use the laser to supercharge a turret for a short period of time, while another will grant you additional resources instead or slow down aliens where the laser impacts. All of these offer something different, but in practice, there seemed to be only a few that you’re likely to want to use.

Defense Grid 2 offers a nice variety of locations and challenges to play through, though the difficulty seems less balanced than the previous game. Not including the tutorial, there are 20 levels, each with a unique style. Some are intended for maze building, while others are more straightforward. There are also a few surprises along the way and the option to set a higher or lower difficulty offers casual play for newbies and a challenge for veterans.

2015-10-05_00001Aliens in the game are varied and mostly carried over from the previous game. One new type of alien is called a “suppressor” which, upon destruction, shuts down turrets in a small radius around it, forcing you to find ways to take them out from range or else risk losing the use of your turrets for a short period of time. As noted before, flying aliens have been removed from the game.

Perhaps the biggest new feature is multiplayer, which offers you the ability to team up with a friend in co-op mode (sharing resources between you), coordinated defense (further limiting players to only their designated building squares) and DG fighter (two players compete on separate versions of the same map and each alien killed is sent immediately to the other player).

Extending gameplay past existing levels is the option to add custom maps to your game by purchasing them from the in-game store, with prices for individual maps generally around the $0.99 mark.

Ultimately, Defense Grid 2 offers a quick and enjoyable experience, perfect for gamers looking to kill time. Hardcore fans of the original may find some aspects disappointing, particularly in comparison to its predecessor, a game I can heartily recommend. However, it is certainly not without its charm, with colourful visuals and enough options to customise your gameplay experience that it is clear this a game created with the community in mind.

2015-09-26_00001

It is a pity about those raspberries though…

Specifications:
Price: $14.99
Players: Single-player, Multiplayer (up to 2 players)
Platform: PC, Mac

Links:
Metacritic: http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/dg2-defense-grid-2
Official Website: http://www.hiddenpath.com/games/defense-grid-2/
Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defense_Grid_2

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