Do you like tower defence games? If the answer is no, then I really don't know what the hell you're doing here. Go away. Shoo! This game is not for you.
If, however, you do like tower defence games, then you should really stick around, because Defense Grid is back, and it's probably the best tower defence game money can buy.
You will have to buy it, it's not an unbalanced free-to-play, lucky dip of a title, where you never know if everything's actually going to come together and work in a fashion that might prove fun. No, Defense Grid 2 will cost you. In fact, it'll cost you £18.49, and that's quite a lot for a tower defence game in my book.
The thing is, though, Defense Grid 2 is really rather good.
Like a good single malt, Defense Grid 2 is distilled excellence. It's not overly ambitious, it doesn't have lofty goals of flights of fancy, it simply wants to be the best tower defense game there is. And it does pretty damn well aiming for that goal.
I like that Defense Grid 2 attempts to work a story into proceedings, but doesn't bash you over the head with it. It's not exactly Nobel Prize-winning stuff -- there are aliens, they want our Power Cores, they'll keep coming until we lose or they win. It's simply stuff, conveyed via loading screens and snippets of banter between the game's various AI characters. Sometimes it even manages to be chuckle-worthy but, crucially, it never outstays its welcome. You get some context and a dusting of silly personality to elevate the game above its peers, and that's about it. That's fine -- Defense Grid 2 knows where its true strengths lie. We're here to set up intricate crucibles of death, not concern ourselves with backstory, but it's nice to have a bit of flavour in there for good measure.
Engineering gauntlets of destruction is really the whole point of tower defence games -- to create an intricate web of focussed violence that means when the enemy turns up you don't really have to do anything but sit back and enjoy the carnage. Defense Grid 2 doesn't flip the script in that regard, rather it seeks to refine the well-worn formula into something approaching the unimpeachable Platonic Form of the genre in question. So much of why I keep coming back to Defense Grid 2 has to do with its propensity for shoving stats and graphs in front of you at every opportunity. The game is difficult, and it feeds you data showing you how you fared, the moments at which you were strongest, tasking you with going back to the drawing board time and time again to improve.
And when you fail, and that will happen a fair amount, Defense Grid 2 lets you go back a wave at the press of a backspace button. It's seamless, it takes but a second, and you're back into the fray, encouraged to try again, but do things differently this time. Defense Grid 2 is a game that never wants you to stop playing, and it tries its very best to never give you a reason to leave. There's no frustration in failure, just a learning experience that you take back as far as you need in order to reappraise and retry.
It doesn't really do anything that we haven't seen before, and that might seem odd for a genre that's sort of burned itself out in many ways. But there's something to be said for perfecting what's been done before. I tired of tower defence games a while back now, but I can't put this down. I've been dipping into it on a daily basis, because it just feels so good to play. So much of that has to do with the audio-visual feedback that the game sends your way. It's a game that understands why it's important to make a distinction between the mild crossfire of a few towers, and the sound of a laser-fuelled frenzy of twenty beams trying to stop a great swathe of enemies as ten more rain bullets down upon the alien horde. At range it looks pretty great, and although that illusion is shattered when you zoom in closely, you'll only ever really want to have the camera zoomed out anyway.
I like how it deals with progression too. The difficulty curve is steep, certainly, but Defense Grid 2 is a game that spurs you on regardless. There's always a new tower or upgrade or planet to be had -- this is a game that dishes out its rewards in small doses, but rather frequently, though you have to work for them. There's no shortage of content here either, with ten different towers to line your defences, twenty-one campaign missions, and twenty different alien types to obliterate. And then, if you have the PC version (you really ought to have the PC version), there are the community maps to sample on top of that.
It sounds like faint praise perhaps to say that Defense Grid 2 is a game that doesn't seek to be anything it's not. It's a tower defence game, and it's only really concerned with being the best at that. But there's merit in perfecting a formula, and this is a game that barely puts a foot wrong at all. Thanks to the variable difficulty settings, it's easy to find your own personal sweet spot between frustrating and too easy. There's a wealth of content to be had here, especially on PC, and the systems at the heart of it all are polished and prepared to perfection. That's the beauty of it -- it's a tower defence game, no more and no less, but it's the only one I've played more than 15 hours of in the space of a week.
- Graphics impress at range
- Story adds flavour and context
- Plenty of varied content, and the editor on PC makes for endless replayability
- Almost instant rewinds if you screw up
- Leaderboards and score attacks and endless stats keep you coming back for more
- Price might put off some
The Short Version: Probably the best tower defence game there is. Nothing more, nothing less.
9 – EXCELLENT: Only the exceptional need apply here. There might be one or two slight blemishes, but overall games that score a 9 are genre-leaders: must-have titles with perhaps the odd imperfection. You won’t be wasting a single penny in buying a game that scores this high. A few games of this calibre will make it worth spending hundreds on a console or powerful enough PC. Killer apps, indeed.
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS4 | Xbox One
Developers: Hidden Path Entertainment
Publishers: 505 Games