Defense Grid: You Monster

12/10/2011 by John Apostol | Source: Gamelitist

Developer – Hidden Path Entertainment
Publisher – Hidden Path Entertainment
Platforms – PC, Xbox 360

Valve has a way of squeezing its games into other universes. We saw that with Poker Night at the Inventory, Dungeon Defenders, Renegade Ops, and the marriage of Half-Life and Portal. Now, we even have that with a tower defense game, Defense Grid: You Monster. It’s a thematic DLC pack that incorporates pieces of Portal into the Defense Grid world. Most notably, it has GLaDOS return to test gamers’ problem solving skills.

A quick overview of Defense Grid: The Awakening:

Defense Grid puts you in the shoes of a commander acting as a last line of defense against an alien invasion. You tag team through each level with your AI advisor in order to prevent the loss of your power cores and ultimately thwart the aliens’ grand plans. Each level is crafted in 3D space and features endless paths, choke points and designs at your disposal. You achieve victory through the strategic placement and management of resources. Basically, it’s a tower defense game, but a rather good one at that.

Immediately, the game charms you by offering little pieces of the Portal design. The levels act as testing rooms and features numbered wall posters and Portal-style doors for aliens to enter and exit your kill zone. Then GLaDOS (reprised by Ellen McLain) pipes in to sadistically greet you. She acts like a robotic demotivational poster, criticizing your decisions and doubting the effectiveness of your tactics.

GLaDOS mucks up what would have been a training routine. The first couple levels play out in normal Defense Grid fashion but you suddenly run into completely novel problems like the premise of short, blitz-style map designs that at first glance seem impossible. In later levels, she completely screws with the whole tower defense paradigm by randomly limiting your capabilities. Ha, no temporal towers for you!

The insanity ramps up throughout the story and culminates into a nice setpiece ending that I can’t help but smile at.

You Monster’s art style is still heavily infused with gray steampunky and grunge tech leanings. Now, though, it also incorporates the matte whites of Aperture Science.

For the most part, Defense Grid: You Monster plays like your run-of-the-mill tower defense game. It sticks with the classic formula without too much divergence. Here, though, the aliens do not seek to reach an endpoint in order to whittle away at your resources. The aliens opt to play a relay race of sorts, grabbing your power cores and taking them as far as they can before your guns terminate the thief. Aliens happen by and pick up where their lost brethren left off, grabbing the power cores in another attempt to make off with them, all while the power cores attempt to glide their way back to their housing.

The tower defense normalcy ends there as GLaDOS becomes active. She throws all sorts of problems in your path. As I mentioned before, she’ll dynamically limit certain tower choices in an attempt to break you free of any crutch you may be using. She’ll even prevent you from placing towers of the same type until you’ve placed every single type of tower, possibly introducing you to tactics that you’ve never had to use before.

You’re tested over and over as GLaDOS does everything she can to put you at a disadvantage. The maps are quite effectively balanced and do allow for complete victories but some of them are quite vicious. You Monster is a true Defense Grid expansion in that it hooks into the base game but the challenges are varied. In this way, the expansion doesn’t just add new maps, it completely turns the whole experience on its head with GLaDOS in the center of it all, cleverly teasing you.

Some of the maps have GLaDOS actually assume the commander position that you’re accustomed to playing. She builds the towers and you just sit there building a maze with Command towers, hoping that the few defenses she puts up can withstand the next big red boss alien. GLaDOS is easily bored though, and she’ll frequently sell towers or affect the movements of the aliens herself, sometimes having them come from what would be the exit paths. Worse still, she may even resort to resetting the entire map itself, causing you to frantically place towers before the inevitable horde arrives.

GLaDOS even affects the mechanics of towers themselves, at one time causing Temporal towers to speed up enemies rather than slow them down. That’s quite a problem when you’re faced with enemies who already move quite quickly.

Still, the expansion does have its faults. For one, the whole thing feels quite scripted. Sure, tower defense games are meticulously balanced to allow challenge without sacrificing the creativity of the player but all of the events I’ve mentioned so far happen in set orders. If you restart a map, you’ll soon see that GLaDOS will only screw with the mechanics at predetermined times. Careful planning can allow someone to sidestep her actions.

Sure she may ban the use of Gun towers after wave 3, effectively erasing the maze I’ve constructed, but what if I elect to play the map without Gun towers from the beginning? She makes the same remarks and cuts your choices down but at least you still have a maze (one constructed from Laser towers instead).

This serves to make the expansion a bit of a one trick pony.. at least in the regular story sense. Typical of the base Defense Grid game and its other expansions, You Monster includes multiple ways to play a level. My favorite is Grinder, a mode in which you have to defend against 100 waves of Walkers, the basic alien unit. It’s a test of patience as much as it is one of strategy.

Personally, I can recommend the expansion quite heartily if you are a Defense Grid fan who’s eaten up every other map pack and ran through every other map multiple times.

You Monster is worth it, because of the value it adds to the base Defense Grid game. It’s also worth it if you are a rabid GLaDOS fan, who perhaps has a Portal ringtone or the whole soundtrack on their iPod. If you love the Defense Grid formula then you’ll love this pack.

If none of those things appeal to you.. well.. this isn’t really made for you. It’s for the fans.