games / Columns

Crossing the Steams 2.16.13: Defense Grid: The Awakening

February 16, 2013 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Well, after last week’s brief foray into the unchanging misery known as Cities XL, I’m back on schedule with talking about Defense Grid: The Awakening. I’m not hugely into tower defense games, as a whole, but a few are pretty decent. I don’t think this is the best one of them out there, but on the whole, it’s competent enough, which is something Defenders of Ardania couldn’t accomplish. I also have a few scant thoughts on the new DLC campaign “Containment” inside:

Defense Grid: The Awakening is one of the first really big games to make it in the Tower Defense genre. The basic gist is that in every level you have tower filled with about 20 power cores that you need to defend from waves on pillaging aliens. You do this by setting up different towers on special places on the map and waiting for the enemy to pass by them so your towers can blow them up. As with most other tower defense games, you can upgrade your towers, sell them, create combos with your towers and such. I’m sure in 2008 when the game came out it was all pretty new, but in 2013, it feels like old hat somewhat. Still, it feels good when your strategies work out and the enemies die way before they even make it to your base.


One nice thing in this game, that I don’t see done in too many other defense games, is how they implement the tower. In most games, like Dungeon Defenders, Ardania, or even Plants Vs. Zombies, the “tower” is stationary, and the enemies are coming to only attack it. As I said earlier though, in Defense Grid, your tower is full of the power cores. The cores are what the aliens are actually after and they are trying to steal them. So the typical alien behavior is to traverse the path, get to your tower, steal a few power cores and then trundle off back to where they came out from. This is actually how you lose the game, if all your cores get taken away. If an enemy is destroyed when he’s walking back with your cores, the cores drop, and begin moving back to where the tower is located. However another enemy can pick up the retreating core and begin moving toward the exit again. It creates a nice sense of tension as you see a power core or two being carried off by aliens and you hope your turrets can stop them before they leave.

This actually leads to kind of my biggest problem with the game; the turrets are all automatic, which is usually fine, but there are problems when trying to fire on bigger enemies. The game still does a decent job of firing on the right enemies, but not all the time. The easiest solution is just to have either a manual targeting system for each turret (which is insane), or let you set up what targets the turrets should go after, in descending order. Have the big enemies be the primary target, then you set the armored units as the secondary target, and so on. Most (if not all, I’ve seen) tower defense games don’t do this, so I’m not holding it against this game, but it would be nice if more modern defense games had this.


The usual varieties of weapons that appear in these games are in here as well. There include; your basic gun, area-of-effect field, a DoT weapon, a resource generator (of a type) a mortar, a cannon, and other weapons. There are also air units in the game and a few weapons are devoted to taking those out as well. It’s all kind of stock, but like I’ve said, this is an older game where other tower defense games came out years later, so that’s to be expected. The DLC campaign is where a particular issue comes into play, which I’ll detail below.


Graphically, the game is a bit on the old side, but still has some decent looks to it. The alien designs all work, the turrets all animate well, I encountered no slowdown at all while playing. I’d say the biggest failing is just that every map kind of has the same look. I mean the colors change, and some effects are different, but there is kind of a sterile look to the game.

Sound is also a bit sterile, but it (again) works well enough. The music is nondescript techno/instrumental score that plays during the missions and other parts. The sound effects all fit into the game’s universe pretty well and sound authentic. The standout is probably the voice work of Jim Dale who has some pretty funny dialog about everything going on in the game.

For it being a single player game, there is a metric ton of replayability in the game. The story mode is sparse, but is of decent length. The thing is, every mission has alternate types of mission parameters that you can choose to try and take on. These include; “Story Challenge” (the story mission but harder enemies), “Fully Loaded” (gives you all towers/upgrades selectable from the start), “Frozen Core” (cores don’t go back to the tower), “Adrenaline” (aliens are faster…a lot faster), “Shredder” (aliens spawn constantly), “Poison Core” (only one core, and it’s poisonous to Aliens, but no resources when they’re killed this way) and much more. There are probably over 20 “mutators” (for lack of a better word) that can alter the way you play the game, as well as leaderboards for each mutator to compare against your friends. There’s also a lot of DLC for the game to help prolong the length. There are also community-made levels you can check out.


The game installs and runs perfectly fine. Steam achievements are a huge plus in the game, with most of them seeming fairly doable. The game has controller support which works well enough. It doesn’t feel quite as precise as a mouse, but that’s just the nature of the beast. I was perfectly pleased with how this game played.

Overall, time might be Defense Grid: The Awakening’s biggest enemy. When it came out, it was innovative and cool. Now, it’s still a good game, but the genre itself has been overstuffed by countless clones and some half-baked takes on the formula. The game is a perfect encapsulation of the tower defense genre, but if that’s not your thing, I’d stay away. If you do enjoy those games though, Defense Grid is well worth looking into.


I tried out the new DLC Containment made for Defense Grid, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Good on them for that. I only have two thoughts about the DLC, both of which are related. The first is that it is *only* for people who have played the game previously. If you have no experience with the game, then this DLC isn’t for you. Play the original campaign first. The second thing is that it’s SUPER difficult. This ties into the first thing, since I hadn’t played the game prior. I played about 5 missions of the regular story and tried a DLC mission and got destroyed. The DLC was made for hardcore fans of the game, and I salute them for making it but unless you’re really into the game, you’ll be lost like I was.

Graphics — 7.0 They’re old, but they get the job done. Everything is a bit too Spartan for my tastes, but the aliens move well, and the turrets animate quite nicely.

Gameplay — 7.5 It’s kind of the prototypical tower defense game. I’m not a huge fan of them, but this one is actually kind of fun. There’s also a good selection of weaponry for good strategizing.

Audio — 7.0 The audio and sound effects are pretty non-descript, all things considered. The voice acting is pretty solid though, even if it is only one person.

Ease of Use/Installation — 10 Installed quickly, played perfectly, good Steam achievements and controller support.

Replayability — 9.0 Quite high for a single player game. There are a ton of different ways to play and some of them can be quite fun and enjoyable.

Overall — 8.1 (exact), which I’ll round down to 8.0

Other Steam News

There are three games list for release next week: A Valley Without Wind 2 is due on the 18th. It looks like a mash-up between a sidescrolling game and a strategy game. Also on the 18th is March of the Eagles, a strategy/history game made by Paradox Interactive. If you’re into something like Risk, this game looks a lot like it. Finally on the 22nd is The Bridge, a black & white, very cool looking puzzle game, done in the style of an Escher aesthetic. Next week I’ll actually be looking at the non-Steam game Adera as well as 3DMark.


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Marc Morrison
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