The Tower Defense genre is regarded by many gamers as a grotesque derivation of the Real-Time Strategy genre; a genre replete with common contributions unworthy of attention. They’re right, of course — there are a lot of bad Tower Defense games. Hidden Path Entertainment’s Defense Grid: The Awakening, however, represents the genre’s potential.
There’s an archetype that Tower Defense games adhere to, and Defense Grid is no exception. Waves of enemy units travel unimpeded along a path until players build towers to suppress them. Strategy is called for by the stipulation that, while towers can be built to redirect the enemy’s path (“mazing,” colloquially), towers can’t outright block the enemy’s path. Both units and towers have their respective strengths and weaknesses, so tower selection matters as much as tower placement.
But aside from fulfilling this archetype, Defense Grid distinguishes itself through its campaign and narrative; uncharacteristic of Tower Defense games, it has them. An amnesiac A.I. with a penchant for raspberries rediscovers its purpose and the world it’s forgotten as it accompanies us over a twenty level campaign. It also introduces us to each of Defense Grid’s ten towers, to the Orbital Laser, and to the invading alien enemy that is trying to steal its power cores. The A.I. is also a source of commentary, whether it be encouragement, remarks about the enemies, or just a humorous interjection.
Defese Grid pleases on all fronts: it looks great (I was surprised to learn that it’s built on the Gamebryo engine), it’s well balanced (which was no wonder once I learned its creator was the lead designer of Age of Empires II), and it has [artificial] personality. If you’re skeptical toward or curious about Tower Defense games, I recommend you play Defense Grid: The Awakening; it’s the genre’s greatest step toward legitimacy.
Defense Grid: The Awakening can be purchased from Steam for $9.99.