It’s five years old but Defense Grid remains the best tower defense game on PC. A sequel could have been more of the same and I’d have been delighted. Instead, Hidden Path have improved every facet of the original game, added a multiplayer mode that will tear friendships apart, and built a modding store so we’ll never run short of Defense Grid levels again.
To top it off, you can make money from the game, too. Real money that you can spend on things like socks, butter, and books about tower construction.
It’s still Defense Grid at heart. You’ve a central hub stashed with cores, aliens approach in calculated waves to steal them, and your job is to build gun turrets and towers between them and their goal. As the waves get stronger you must build trenches of towers, diverting the aliens’ path, creating a scenic route where the sights are lead and lasers.
It worked in 2008 and it works now. The joy is found in perfecting a maze of turrets that blow the alien invaders to smithereens with the greatest efficiency and competing among your Steam friends for the highest score.
But this isn’t just a rehash of the original.
Hidden Path have built a deliciously difficult multiplayer mode that lets you antagonise your friends. You both play a version of the same level but whenever you defeat a wave of aliens it’s teleported to your opponent’s map and made stronger. The game gets steadily more difficult the longer you play until one of you is eventually overwhelmed by the other player’s waves.
Tension racks up the longer a game goes on but there will be the sweet satisfaction every time you defeat a wave, knowing that it’s gone to play merry hell on your friend’s towers. Also, the setup of identical levels and waves means there can be no denying the winner is the better player. It’s not down to chance it’s down to being the better tactician.
The longer a match goes on the more your maps can diverge. Hidden Path are deepening the level of choice each map offers you, both in singleplayer and multiplayer. During the run-through of the city level I was shown a whole new district rose out of the sea like S.H.I.E.L.D’s helicarrier. It locked into place and you could immediately begin building towers, extending your maze onto the new land. Often you’ll need to choose between two different extensions. Both with their pluses and negatives.
Diverging maps will stop players becoming complacent. The new chunks of land add spikes of panic to a level’s pacing. A new landmass locking into place signals a jump in alien difficulty. You’re given the new space to build because you’ll need it to wear down the incoming threat.
New hero abilities and tower upgrade drops give you choices you didn’t have before, too. The first game gave you an orbital cannon to use when the aliens became too much for you. That’s now one of a set of abilities you can choose from. Upgrade drops let you boost certain towers and develop a particularly deadly intersection in your maze. Small changes, yes, but ones that will make the 20 levels of Defense Grid 2 the best Defense Grid you’ve ever played.
20 levels, though. That’s not enough. Defense Grid’s biggest problem, the thing that was most annoying about the otherwise excellent game, was that it ended. I played a good 30 hours of Defense Grid and easily got my money’s worth but after it was done there were only a few DLC packs released over the following years. It was an absence as palpable as lack of a Peggle sequel.
The best thing about Defense Grid 2 is that it will launch with mod tools and a Steam Workshop. There will be more maps, more campaigns, possibly even more towers. Defense Grid 2 will be potentially endless.
It can also make you money. The Workshop will run like Team Fortress and Dota’s: you can sell your creations. The best maps will rise to the top and the best designers will be able to make a little back from their work.
Defense Grid 2 isn’t a Blockbuster release like Titanfall or The Witcher 3 but, of the games I saw at Gamescom, it’s the game I know will consume me most.