From free Flash-based entries such as Desktop Tower Defense to premium variants like Plants Vs. Zombies, and PixelJunk Monsters, tower defense titles has grown to prolific proportions across the last half decade. Much of the genre’s success might be attributed to its wonderfully innate impetus- guarding a base against waves of malevolent marauders can illicit our primal protective instincts. Similarly, the tower-defense’s engaging puzzle-like qualities shouldn’t be discounted; deviations typically give players a diverse set of tools and large landscape to construct their raider-repelling networks.
One of the more remarkable standouts in this copious category was 2008’s Defense Grid: The Awakening. Beyond providing a narrator to intensify the game’s plotline and offer a bit of provocation, the title delivered a notable alternative to the archetypal ‘invaders storming the base’ theme. Instead, aggressors attempted to steal power cores. If the enemies were destroyed, the energy cells would slowly hover back to the plant. However, new floods of foes could seize the floating orbs, leading to a fretful situation that required immediate attention. Although a small modification, this change prohibited The Awakening from succumbing to a common TD weakness where the conclusion of a stage becomes too observational.
Enjoying both critical and commercial acclaim, Defense Grid spawned a quartet of map packs as well as an appearance by Portal’s GLaDOS in the You Monster expansion. Last July developer Hidden Path Entertainment’s ambitious grew further, and the Bellevue-based studio initiated a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to fund Defense Grid 2. Although the team didn’t make their ultimate goal of a securing a million dollars toward development, they did raise more than the $250,000 minimum- which was enough to spur the creation of Defense Grid’s latest DLC, named Containment.
Delving into the DLC’s selection of eight new maps, returning players may be initially disappointed by the extent of asset recycling. Awakening’s collection of ten tower types, selections of alien species and symphonic score receive no augmentation. Instead, the focus of the expansion is to continue storyline set forth by Defense Grid’s previous installments. Naturally, Jim Ward returns as Fletcher, the AI with a South English tinged accent and safeguarding nature, who recalls the inflections and mockery of Iron Man’s Jarvis. Joining the sentient bot are Alan Tudky (Wreck-It Ralph, Firefly) and Ming-Na Wen (Kingdom Hearts II, Mulan) who rekindle the type of banter which elevated You Monster. Fortunately, the pack does bring new landscapes which agreeably mesh with Defense Grid’s existing aesthetic.
Like most expansions, Containment’s draw is its elevated level of difficulty. Even the first map, Passage, with its twin networks of labyrinthine passageways offers an impressive challenge with crowded waves teamed with resilient enemies. The subsequent crusade to attack the aliens on their own turf offers little room for error; fortunately Defensive Grid’s frequent checkpoints soften the blow of miscalculation. The pack aptly-named Endurance offering a fitting punctuation to the proceeds, delivering one of longest, most snaking pathways seen in the genre. Mercifully, Containment allows players to jump into any stage- which might lessen the frustration of being stuck on a particular map. While Defense Grid doesn’t provide difficulty levels, the game does confer four, more challenging variations for each level. From energy cells which don’t return to the central plant to forbidding tower upgrades, these modifications bring a respectable amount of replay value to the expansion.
While Containment doesn’t radically rework Defense Grid’s rudiments, the expansion does offer a satisfying selection of eight new stages, a new storyline, and loads of minute gameplay variations. Coupled with a $4.99 USD price and access to community-crafted levels, the pack is admirable addition, tempering the wait until Hidden Path’s full sequel. For those who don’t already own the title, the Defense Grid: Containment bundle offers a robust collection of content for a reasonable $19.99 price.