Not every game needs to push the envelope of innovative design. Take "Defense Grid 2," for example. This sci-fi tower defense title simply charges players with building armed structures to repel an alien invasion, but its polished gameplay and intricate visuals make it hard to put down.
Developer Hidden Path Entertainment let Tom's Guide try "Defense Grid 2" for ourselves at PAX East 2014, and while the game will likely only please a niche audience, those who fall for it will fall hard. "Defense Grid 2" is a clean, accessible tower defense game with a lot of variety and a very reasonable difficulty curve.
We played through the sixth of the game's 21 missions. In this level, seven waves of aliens assaulted us, attempting to steal power cores from the innermost part of our base. We started off with access to six kinds of tower, and just enough funds to build a few. We elected to outfit our base with a standard gun emplacement, a tower that lit enemies on fire and a laser turret that caused constant damage.
One thing that we noticed right away about "Defense Grid 2" was the unprecedented freedom we had in placing towers. Many tower defense games give players a limited number of predetermined locations to set up defenses, but we could set up towers on any square of the map that wasn't directly in the aliens' path. Some locations, like elevated platforms, are better than others, but figuring out where to place towers is just as important as discovering which towers to use.
Another interesting feature of "Defense Grid 2" is the fact that enemies do not simply want to destroy your base; they want to steal things from it. This means that the aliens must both enter and leave the base via the same route, giving you two chances to riddle them with projectiles. As most of the enemies have a lot of health, this gives you a second chance to take them down, as well as to put up new towers or upgrade existing ones if your current setup isn't strong enough.
In the final version of the game, players will also be able to tackle levels cooperatively or compete against each other to see who can achieve the higher score. As the first "Defense Grid" lacked multiplayer, this is a welcome addition.
Hidden Path also highlighted the game's new graphics engine, which allows much finer detail when players zoom in, as well as improved lighting and shadow effects. Players can now rotate the map at will, too, offering easier turret placement in tight spots.
"Defense Grid 2" will not rewrite the book on tower defense games, but it looks like a polished title with a lot of welcome new features. The game will launch in fall 2014 for the PC and Xbox One.