Stonewalling the competition with boosted canons and the odd laser strike.
While tower-defense may not prove the most engaging video game genre for console owners with a tendency for strategy in more active mechanics like those found in first-person shooters, there’s something to be said for the satisfying feeling one gets from a perfect defense against scores of challenging enemies. That’s held true for me, personally, since playing Plants Vs. Zombies on the Xbox 360, both in and out of cooperative play with a friend.
When properly organized towers and weapon types totally shut down an opposing force, there’s quite a lot of satisfaction to be reaped even if it feels like the actions required of the player decrease over time. For example, tower-defense gaming often stumbles when it doesn’t challenge the player throughout a level though Hidden Path Entertainment’s Defense Grid 2 largely avoids this by offering scores of different modes in 20 different encounters. Just don't expect it to make you a fan of the genre if you aren't already.
Following 2008’s Defense Grid: The Awakening, a game made popular on the Xbox platform due to its availability early in the Games With Gold program, Defense Grid 2 offers even more aliens to mow down with a variety of different weapons to choose from. Players can plant machine gun towers with decent range and power, laser towers that deal continual damage, cannon towers that cause explosions while suffering a slower firing speed, and unique new weapons like the Tesla tower that shocks an enemy. When faced with powerful baddies and increasing opposition, it’s wisest to upgrade and enhance your towers in order of importance.
Playing the game, I quickly realized that forming a first line of defense could potentially lead to disaster if an enemy managed to get past those placements. The ultimate goal is to protect a gathering of power cores at the center while enemies flood the map and steal individual cores. If they can carry them back off the map, level scores will drop and players may ultimately lose the match. Still, Defense Grid 2 ensures an easy learning curve by sending dropped cores back to base if towers can defeat an enemy carrying one away.
While I still view Plants Vs. Zombies as the most entertaining and culturally aware tower-defense game, particularly in the way it presents the mechanics and gameplay as friendly for both new gamers and hardcore consumers of the medium, Defense Grid 2 provides a slightly more edgy look at the genre and it does it in a way that doesn’t dumb anything down. For example, players can actually place towers in certain levels such that the string of alien creeps on their way to the base must redirect and weave between obstacles.
This both complicates and adds depth to gameplay. Further, Hidden Path Entertainment have quite a few different modes dedicated to either hindering the player’s abilities or adding unique layers to the game’s challenge. For one, a mode that removes gun and cannon towers from the player’s options for survival create a totally different curve in the mounting of forces against enemy waves. A mode that prevents power cores from returning to base also adds challenge in that I could barely hold on to all of mine even in early levels. Some later sequences also vary the opposition so greatly that players will almost assuredly have to play through a match multiple times in order to conquer it in a different mode altogether.
While Defense Grid 2 does offer quite a few different options and plenty of gameplay for the cost of admission, players might find themselves a little bored with the action after they excel beyond a certain point of the game. It’s easy to quickly establish a rhythm to stonewalling specific enemy types or to recognize that a tower with added damage and the means to disable enemy shields feels a little overpowered. Still, Defense Grid 2 represents the pinnacle of tower-defense design at this moment and for that it gets a firm recommendation from this reviewer.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PlayStation 4 version. Also available on PC.