PAX 2008 hands-on: Defense Grid: The Awakening

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I have to confess this right off the bat: I don't have a high end PC gaming rig. Heck, I don't even have a PC, I use a Mac. Sure, I could load Boot Camp on this thing, but frankly my hard drive is far too crammed with music, photos, and scant room for anything gaming related. I even had to delete my free copy of the "Chess" app to make room for more.

However, that is going to have to change. Early this morning I spent some quality hands-on time with Defense Grid: The Awakening. It's a tower defense game that starts out fairly easy, and then quickly gets hard. In fact, I had my ass handed to me pretty squarely when I tried out the "hard" level, and I'm going to have to grab a PC to game on so I can beat the damn thing. They have an Xbox 360 version in the works, but it will come out some time after. Check out the gallery of screenshots below, including two new exclusives, and then hit the break to find out more about the game.

So, the story in Defense Grid is that a thousand years ago, an alien race who didn't have much in the way of brains, but had plenty of troops to send out to use as cannon fodder, tried to overrun to the human race. Sort of like the buggers in Ender's Game. So, the humans won, and the general offered to have himself uploaded as artificial intelligence should the aliens come back, what a guy. Whadda ya know, they came back.

So, you're the commander in charge of building all of the towers for defense, and you can pull up the general's A.I. whenever you need to. Unfortunately, I didn't do that, so it was a matter of click or miss, with the developers going "Uh, you might want to build a tower over here or this game will be over pretty quickly."

You can build ten different tower types to protect your power cores from the invading enemy, and we were shown five:

  • Gun: a typical machine gun tower that will riddle your enemies with lead.

  • Cannon: A long-range projectile weapon that you'll learn to love.

  • Inferno: This tower spits out fire and causes your enemy to burn and smoke when they sustain enough damage.

  • Laser: Zap. It's a laser. Plus it has a decent range. Learn it, live it, love it.

  • Tesla: This tower charges up and fries your enemies with a blast of electrical goodness.

Each tower has three different levels of upgrade, and as you earn hard-earned resources by killing enemies, you can either upgrade, build more towers, or horde your dough for the next level. The better the tower, the more expensive it is, and the more pricy their upgrades are. You can build as many as you can afford, and their placement can also affect which way the enemies crawl through your levels on the way to your base. They can't destroy the towers, luckily (remember, not much brainpower), but you can sure unload hell on them.

Visually, the game has some pretty impressive graphics, especially for a tile that's meant to be a download. It's a bit reminiscent of Starcraft II, and the newly announced PlayStation Network tower defense game, Savage Moon, but that doesn't mean it won't be fun. It's certainly not nearly as deep as Starcraft, but it's a fun diversion that offers "eight hours" of gameplay in the story mode. Unless you're an idiot like me who doesn't understand the importance of ground defense vs. air defense.

Defense Grid is being developed by Hidden Path Entertainment,and CEO / co-founder Jeff Pobst showed off the game along with co-founder and art director Dave McCoy, and design director Mark Terrano. It'll be out in November as a download, although they haven't set a price point yet. They "aren't discussing" online multiplayer, or the Xbox 360 version, but they did say that the second half of the title "The Awakening" means that there might be more to come.