It's been a few years since Defense Grid: The Awakening was released on the Xbox 360, garnering a wealth of positive reviews and offering an interesting and challenging strategy gaming experience. Five years on, Defense Grid 2 is available to download on Xbox One for $24.99/£19.99. That's a pretty steep price for a downloadable title, so it is reasonable to go in with high expectations. DF2 attempts to meet those expectations with varying degrees of success.
In Defense Grid 2, you're tasked with defending a series of locations across five different planets, against the incoming waves of alien invaders. Unsurprisingly, the defences consist of building a variety of tower types to keep the enemy away from the home base, preventing them from making off with the valuable cores housed within. An enemy that reaches the base will pick up a core and head home, if it is killed while in possession of this precious resource, the core will slowly make its way back to safety. This tug of war can be incredibly satisfying, especially as you wait with bated breath to see if your towers will get the last shot in before the thieves disappear forever with their spoils.
As well as a number of commanders, each with their own special skills, there are nine offensive towers to choose from, from a simple gun or inferno flamethrower, to an ultra powerful missile or meteor. Teslas will take out shields and remind you that you should go back and play Command and Conquer: Red Alert II again one day, while temporal towers will slow the enemy down to allow you to get in more hits with your laser or cannon. The towers can be upgraded deliver even more bang for their buck and each one has a very clear and specific role in a fight. There's also the non offensive boost tower. These little wonders offer an extra purchasable upgrade for any weapon built on top of them, but more importantly, they are a cheap way to quickly reroute an enemy path or block an exit to buy you more time. This comes in handy in one of the more interesting aspects of Defense Grid 2; as well as having clearly defined paths and tower stations, there are many maps which offer a clear playable grid, allowing you to build meandering paths for the aliens to wander down and load these with lasers, guns and all manner of other exciting weapons. Slowing the enemy will not only allow the towers to get in more hits, but will also buy time to build up extra resources to bulk up those defenses.
The plot is delivered from different points of view via loading screen text and the incessant chatter of the AI characters at the beginning and end of each level. The voice acting varies vastly in quality, from enjoyable to downright awful and annoying - at one point the script seemed to echo the actor's own sentiments perfectly as the AI seemed to pretty much stop caring about what it was saying and the actor delivered this with the inflection of someone who knew exactly how the character felt. Possibly then, the voice acting is actually fantastic and it is merely the script that is lacking. It's hard to tell, as there is such a lot of dialog at times that it becomes easier to tune them out as they ramble on and on to each other. The text sections delivered during the loading screens provide a much more interesting plot than the chatter in the main game and are well worth reading. Since all the levels are open to play in any mode from the first time the game is loaded, it appears that the developers were not overly-worried about protecting the story.
There are a wealth of different ways to play each level in both single and multiplayer. Beginners can attempt the basic story mode on a range of difficulties, while seasoned pros can modify the game types to add a challenge, from increasing the number of waves of enemies to requiring the player to hover the pointer over a tower to make it function. These nuances can transform the game from simple to downright frustrating at times. There are a couple of multiplayer modes as well, which can be played cooperatively or competitively. These are serviceable but not terribly innovative. In fact, it was during the multiplayer games that it became clear that Defense Grid 2 is actually very repetitive. Sure, there are a number of game modes which can be daunting for new players, but it quickly becomes a game of setting up towers for a few waves and hitting fast forward until you've won, which is uninteresting at best and downright boring at worst. Possibly, it's best to play DF2 in short bursts, to enjoy the story in bite sized chunks or kill some time with your friends in multiplayer, as this will keep the game fresh and avoid the fatigue of repetition.
There are some great ideas in Defense Grid 2. Building intricate paths and traps for aliens to wander into is very satisfying and it's fun to sit back and watch the rain of destruction be unleashed on the incoming forces. The player is eased in to the gameplay at just the right pace and the variety of alien boss types call for well thought out strategic defences. Unfortunately, although it initially feels as though there is a wealth of content here, it soon becomes clear that Defense Grid 2 doesn't have an awful lot to offer in the long run and, as one of the higher priced games in the Xbox marketplace, doesn't really deliver a gaming experience worthy of its price point. It's great fun in short bursts though and fans of the genre will enjoy the challenges offered by some of the more intense game modes.