More Towers Of Power

03/14/2013 by John Breeden II | Source: Game Industry News
Developer Hidden Path Entertainment burst onto the scene in 2008 with the excellent tower defense game Defense Grid: The Awakening. That game went on to score a GiN Game of the Year for really bringing a level of complexity and depth to the tower defense genre.

Editor's Note: GiN considers most tower defense games to be puzzle titles, especially if they send the same number and type of enemies at players each game, like Defense Grid does. This means that the puzzle is figuring out which towers to purchase and how to place them along the grid to get the best results.

Hidden Path decided to make the DLC sequel alone, without a publisher. Defense Grid: Containment had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and this version of the game was downloaded from Valve's Steam Online Service.

Containment is technically a DLC, but with 8 very unique levels, it has a lot of content for $4.99. That translates into about five or six hours of gameplay if you go straight through and don't have to replay too many levels, which equals quite a value. Access to community-created levels extends the gameplay even further.

The same winning formula used in the original is present here. You have a number of power cores that the aliens are trying to steal. All ground-based enemy units, which is almost always over 80 percent of their assault force, need to run onto the map, make their way to your core storage area, pick up a core and then run to the exit point. The exit is mostly the same place an alien entered, meaning they have to run though your defenses twice. However, sometimes the entry and exit points are different, so you need to plan on what to do if an alien slips through your front line, unless you want them to be given a free core. If an alien grabs a core and is later killed before it reaches the exit, the core will slowly make its way back to the storage bin, but can be picked up by a free alien running along.

You win the level if you kill all the aliens and have at least one core left on the board. It does not need to be in storage. It can be floating back home. But you have to own it free and clear. Some people consider it a failure if you lose any cores at all, but I've not been able to complete most levels with a perfect score.

The alien menace comes in defined waves, spaced apart by about 30 seconds to a minute. That leaves enough time to clean up a current wave before the next one begins, but not always. You will find yourself losing cores if a retreating wave with one of your cores dies, and he is able to hand it off to a healthy alien, who then turns and runs immediately for the exit.

Flying enemies are dangerous but fragile, and also thankfully rare. They fly in, ignoring the path their land-based cousins need to take, though they do follow their own pattern, so you won't be surprised by one coming in from an odd angle. They can only be attacked by three types of towers, the basic gun tower, the cannon tower and a specialized missile tower that can only attack flying units. A missile tower is the best defense, but spending money, and a spot on the board, for a tower that can't hurt ground units is something you only want to do when really needed. Thankfully, the preview bar at the top will tell you when flying enemies are coming, but hold some money back just in case. Unlike land units, if a flyer picks up a core and is later killed, the core is gone forever, so you have to take them down BEFORE they reach the cores.

You are given limited resources to work with in terms of money. Generally you get enough at the beginning of a level to build a few towers, and then can earn more as you kill aliens. You also earn interest on money in the bank, but not a lot, and if you ask me, money in the bank is mostly a waste when it could be going into tower construction. At the beginning of Containment you are also limited to what kind of towers you can build. This is done as a story element, but also serves to be a kind of tutorial since the early aliens you face are also limited.

There are ten different types of towers, just like the core game. Each tower can be upgraded up to three times. The most basic tower is the gunner. It fires a chain-gun in an arc all around. When upgraded fully it sports three barrels and is pretty tough. In fact, in terms of cost versus performance, its one of your best bets. Then there is the cannon, which is slow firing but has high damage. Groups of little aliens will mostly be able to get by it without taking too many casualties, but it will put a hurting on slower, heavier enemies that might shake off the bullets. There are also area of effect towers like the flamer and the concussion which damages all enemies that come near it. They are best placed at corners and places where they can hurt for a long time as any enemy passes, though the biggest ones won't take much damage from them. And then you have the meteor tower which launches huge fireballs that damage anything close to where they land. They have a huge range and are a good part of most successful defenses, but are hugely expensive.

In terms of special defenses, I've already talked about the missile tower, which hits fliers only. There is also a command tower which gives you more money for every alien you kill within its radius. It's helpful, but finding a good spot for it without weakening a killing zone is tough. And then there is temporal tower, which I've found to be the most useful in the entire game. They send out a pulse and slow every ground unit to a crawl. So all those speedy aliens get to spend a lot of time getting shot at, which mostly kills them. And even the heavies have to withstand withering fire for much longer when a temporal field is in play. As an added bonus, it does not affect the speed of any cores that are slowly making their way back to your base. In fact, it makes it so the core is actually slightly faster than most slowed aliens, so they can't catch up to it as easily.

Placement of the towers is as important as the towers themselves, especially on the more open-world maps. On some maps, aliens have to follow a certain path and you build your towers around them. On others, the world is more open, with lots of interconnected platforms. A smart player will construct the towers in such a way as to force the aliens to take long treks from the entrance of a level to the core, and hopefully back out again. You might even build a cheap tower or three in an out of the way place for the sole purpose of blocking movement in that direction. The only rule is that the aliens need at least one open path to the cores, or else they are able to run straight through your towers until you clear one. Personally, I don't really like those levels where you have a lot of choice. Calculating the many paths and finding the right one makes my head hurt, but I can see where others would really love it. Thankfully, Containment offers different kinds of levels, so everyone will find something to enjoy.

Your faithful AI companion is back of course, and he's the same arrogant yet sweet guy he was before, making silly comments when a laser or a tesla tower fries an alien. He's joined by a new female AI and another character, voiced by Firefly's Alan Tudyk and E.R.'s Ming-Na Wen, who you meet as part of the Containment story. To the extent that disembodied voices have good characterization, it happens here.

I don't really have any complaints about the game, other than there aren't a whole lot of new elements. You still have the same basic tower structure, and the same types of enemies as before. Given that this is a DLC and not Defense Grid 2, this is forgivable. And its not like the core game is shaky or anything. The original Defense Grid really pushed tower defense to the max, and Containment is more of the same. It earns 4.5 GiN Gems, edging out its predecessor's score by just a bit.