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Game Review: Defense Grid: The Awakening

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Hidden Path Entertainment's Defense Grid: The Awakening.

App NameDefense Grid: The AwakeningApp URL System SpecsClick to expand/shrinkThe minimum system requirements for the game are the following:
Supported OS: Windows XP, Vista
Processor: 1.8GHz CPU or higher
Memory: 512 MB RAM
Hard disk space: 1 GB available space
DirectX version:  DirectX 9.0c or higher, June 2008 version or later
Video Card:  DirectX 9 video card with shader 2 support such as the following:
  ATI Radeon 9600 or newer (9600-9800,X300-X1950, HD 2400-HD 4870)
  NVIDIA GeForce 6100 or newer (6100-6800,7100-7950,8300-8800,9600-9800, or GTX 216-280)

Recommended System Requirements:
Processor: dual core 2.0 GHz CPU or higher
Memory: 1 GB RAM XP, 1.5 GB RAM Vista
Hard disk space: 1 GB available space
DirectX version:  DirectX 9.0c or higher, June 2008 version or later
Video Card: DirectX 9 video card with shader 3 support and 256MB VRAM such as the following:
  ATI Radeon X700 or newer (X700-X1950, HD 2400-HD 4870)
  NVIDIA GeForce 7600 or newer (7600-7950, 8300-8800, 9600-9800, or GTX 216-280)

Optionally: Supports Game Controller for Windows
Supported OSesWindows XP/VistaPlayable DemoDownload a playable demo from this list of mirrors.Pricing Scheme$10 USDReviewer Donation LinkDonate to Deozaan, the ReviewerVideosThere are a few HD videos to download, or here are some YouTube videos.Full Disclosure I have no relationship with Hidden Path Entertainment and gain nothing from this review. I just love the game!

About the game:

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a high quality Tower Defense game created by Hidden Path Entertainment. My understanding of the story is that hundreds of years previously, a bunch of aliens attacked. After the aliens were (barely) defeated, the General who commanded the armies (or whatever) had his brain downloaded into a Defense Grid in case they ever attacked again. Well, now they are attacking again, and the Defense Grid awakens. That is, the Defense Grid is the AI that controls all aspects of the towers. Aiming, firing, building, upgrading, etc. You're just the guy who tells the Grid where to put stuff. The power cores provide electricity to the grid and that's why if they're all stolen, it's game over--because when they're gone, all the defenses power down.

The objective of the game, like all TD games, is to build defense towers along a path to prevent the aliens from reaching your base. Your "base" in this game is really the location of the power cores. It differs from most TD games I've played in that when the aliens actually reach the power cores and take them, they don't just disappear and the power core is not immediately lost forever*. Instead, the aliens have to make their escape with the power cores. This gives you a chance to recover them if you kill them before they escape. When an alien carrying a power core is killed, the power core slowly makes its way back to the base. But if any other aliens are nearby, they can pick it up wherever it is when they reach it and start running toward the exit.

* The exception is that if flying enemies reach the cores, the core(s) they take cannot be recovered even if you shoot them down.

Defense Grid has a 20 level story mode that supposedly provides about 8 hours of game play. I'm on level 14 and I'm pretty sure I've been playing for more than 8 hours. But that might be because I'm a perfectionist and always revert back to the autosave (discussed later) if a power core is permanently lost. On top of the regular challenge of the story mode, once you complete a level it unlocks additional challenges for that map. Some challenges just make the aliens stronger, some limit the maximum number of towers you can use at a time, some give you a certain amount of money right from the beginning but don't allow you to earn any from killing enemies, and some levels even have a practice mode that gives you lots of money from the beginning but once again you don't earn anything from killing aliens.

Deep Strategy:

I know that mouser really enjoys TD games that allow you to place towers directly in the way of the enemies, allowing you to shape their path toward the power grid. Well, Defense Grid's levels do this and more. They have a lot of variety! Some levels only allow you to build along the sides of the path, some levels allow you to shape the enemies' path, some levels have the same entry and exit point, and others have separate entry and exit points. Also, no matter what level, flying enemies take a different path than ground enemies. These things add a great depth of strategy to the game.

For instance, if the aliens enter and exit from the same place, you have the benefit of all aliens passing by your towers twice. However, if an enemy carrying a power core gets killed, he drops it. Any alien without a power core will pick it up and start running for the exit. So with the same entry and exit point, you run the risk of the escapees getting too close to the new ones coming in when they get killed.

If the entrance and exit are in different locations, then you have to spread out your towers to cover the entrance and the exit. The upside is that if you manage to kill an alien just before he escapes, you won't have any incoming aliens to pick up the core and turn around and exit.

I even played a map with two power grids and two separate entry and exit points. The layout of the level was very close to symmetric, but the aliens that came down the paths were not always the same on each side. Along with the different enemies coming down each side, the minor differences in the path layout meant that different tower layouts for each side were more effective than going for a symmetric design.

The variety of towers also increases the strategy of the game greatly. Each tower seems to have a very specific purpose and they all seem very well balanced. This means that you won't always build the same one or two towers on every map because they're the most powerful and do the most damage.


Another unique thing about the game is that it will occasionally create an autosave about every 3-5 waves. If things really start to go downhill, you can resume from your previous autosave instead of having to start all the way from the beginning. Additionally, if you quit the game you can resume right from where you left off when you come back. There are some good and some bad things about these save features, which I will address below in the Good and the Needs Improvement section.


The interface seems slightly odd at first, but once you get used to it, it is very simple and very efficient. Basically, the screen is always centered where your mouse is. If you left click on an empty grid, it brings up a window on the side. If you move your mouse up and down it will feel weird because you don't see your cursor so it appears to suddenly jump (snap) from one menu item to another. The better way to use the interface is to move the screen with the mouse, and use the scroll wheel to interact with the menu items. Left clicking selects something or confirms an action, right clicking on an enemy will show its health and stats or cancel an action.

Press T to toggle showing the entrance and exit points, the flyers path, and the range of your units. Press L to fire your Laser Beam of Death From Heaven. Press Backspace to go back to your previous autosave. Other than those three keyboard buttons, it's best just to use the mouse and scroll wheel for everything else.


One thing about defense towers in this game is that the towers have line of sight. This means some towers are better suited for the front row and some are better suited for the back row. For example, towers with slower firing rates are better in back because by the time they're ready to fire again the aliens might be back in the line of sight. Meanwhile, the towers with the fastest firing rate should be in front so they can unload everything they have at them the entire time they are in range.

All towers in the game can be upgraded a maximum of two times (to level 3). Here's a brief overview of all towers, approximately in the order they become available to you. Note that some of the details might be wrong, as I'm doing this by memory.

Gun (machine gun): Fast fire, low damage weapon. Medium/Low Range. Hits Ground & Air. Upgrading increases damage and range. Good against enemies with shields. Least expensive tower in the game.

Inferno (flamethrower): Constant jet of flame that deals low damages all enemies within the cone of fire. Fire continues to burn enemies for a little while after they leave the flame. Low Range. Hits ground units only. Ineffective against shields. Upgrading increases damage and width of fire cone.

Laser: Constant laser beam attacks a single enemy within range. Continues to burn enemy for a while after it leaves the flame. Medium Range. Ground only. Ineffective against shields. Upgrading increases damage.

Temporal: Sends out a periodic pulse that slows down all enemies within range. Affects ground units only. Upgrading increases the range. This tower has a constant upgrade cost, which means it costs the same amount to upgrade as it does to build, which sometimes leaves you wondering if you'd be better off building two of them with a small range or upgrading one to have a larger range.

Meteor: Extremely slow, very high damage attacks. Splash damage affects nearby aliens. Very large range but cannot hit aliens that are too close. Hits ground units only. Upgrading increases damage and slightly increases rate of fire. You'll want one or two of these to take out the slow boss units.

Cannon: Slow firing, high damage weapon that hits a single enemy within range. Large range but cannot hit aliens that are too close. Hits ground and air units. Upgrading increases damage and adds another barrel. (Level 1 fires 1 shot, level 2 fires 2 shots, level 3 fires 3 shots.) Good against shielded aliens.

Missile: Fires missiles at air units only. If you can afford to fully upgrade one of these, it should be all you need to defend against air units.

Tesla: Zaps an enemy when it comes into range. These things work better when they have time to charge up between firings, so they're best near the end of the path where only the strongest would get to. Upgrading them allows them increases their charge up rate, gives them an extra level of charge, and allows the electric jolt to chain to additional enemies.

Concussion: Constant damage to all ground units within range. Starts out with very low damage but with a fully upgraded Concussion tower (and a Temporal tower nearby) in the right place, all but the toughest or fastest enemies won't make it past without taking significant damage.

Command: Reveals stealth aliens and increases money earned from aliens killed within range. Upgrading increases the range and the amount earned from aliens killed. This tower has a constant upgrade price.

Laser Beam of Death from Heaven: About halfway through the game you gain the ability to fire a beam down from above that totally obliterates any alien inside its large radius. It's kind of a panic button. It takes a very long time to recharge. Also, to discourage you for using it when four boss aliens come out at the same time, you do not get any money for aliens destroyed by the blast. It's not really a tower, so you can't upgrade it, but it is a useful weapon when you have no other means of stopping them from getting away with your power cores.

Four big and slow bosses making their assault all at once.

The Good

* In a genre flooded with 2D Flash games, Defense Grid's highly detailed 3D graphics are beautiful and add a lot of polish to the game!
* Deep strategy due to different alien paths, variety of towers, variety of alien types, and level layout.
* Towers are balanced very well. All towers can be put to a specific use.
* Level layouts are interesting and fun.
* Easy enough to survive with some cores lost, but can be quite challenging to make it through with all your cores intact. I say this is a good thing because it allows players of all skill levels to enjoy the game.
* Additionally, if you find the story mode too easy, each level has at least one bonus challenge that makes the aliens stronger.
* Autosave feature is really nice to go back in time just a few waves to see if you can try something with better results.

The Needs Improvement Section

* Restoring an autosave can provide differing results. For instance, sometimes the game will autosave just a few seconds before one of my power cores is permanently lost. If I restore to the save, my towers might kill the alien before he gets away this time. That is, your towers won't always do the same thing even if you don't change anything.
* This one is related but needs a bullet point of its own. One particular time when I restored to an autosave and when the screen faded back in, all of my towers came out of the ground as if they had all just been built. In other words, all the aliens on the screen got about 10 seconds of freebie time running past my towers because they were coming up out of the ground and not able to shoot at anything. I tried restoring from the save again but it always did the same thing. It was very frustrating and eventually I had to start that level over.
That is pretty much the only real complaint I have about the game.


This is hands-down the best TD game I've ever played. I've never spent this much time nor had this much fun playing a single TD game before. It's the only one I've ever liked enough to pay for. It's the best looking, has the most variety, the best features, the deepest strategy, and is the most engaging TD game I've experienced. It has a couple of flaws with the autosave feature that, depending on when and how they rear their ugly heads, can be devastating to the gameplay, but overall I would heartily recommend this game to anyone who enjoys Tower Defense games. $20 is a small price to pay for this gem, but if you don't believe me, try the demo out for yourself and see if it convinces you otherwise. It sure convinced me!

[UPDATE] Now that I've actually completed all 20 levels, I figured I should update the original review with my "final" conclusion:

I give this game a 50 out of 10! It completely exceeded my expectations in every way!

Seriously. If you've spent more than 30 minutes playing a TD game before, you absolutely must buy this game! I've spent nearly 20 hours on it so far and I have hardly even touched any of the extra content. This is well worth the price of admission.

Links to other reviews of this game

Hidden Path Entertainment has collected it's own list of (and links to) game reviews by professional game review websites/magazines.

Other Screenshots
Game Review: Defense Grid: The Awakening
Game Review: Defense Grid: The Awakening

Great review.. definitely makes me want to play it.  :up:

Whoops! I played again tonight and realized that I totally forgot to mention the Tesla towers. I've added them into the appropriate section.

I agree, I tried the demo. It's GREAT. I loved the last level of the demo

Okay, it's just become very challenging. The last level I completed (#13 I think) I finally had to accept the fact that I wasn't going to finish it with all my cores left. The one I'm on now I haven't been able to beat. It's another one with two separate paths and two separate bases to protect.

Oh, and by the way, I found out that Hidden Path has Strategy Map Images for all levels available for download. These are just images of a blank level. They don't show you where to build anything, but allow you to analyze a map and determine your strategy without the pressure of eminent waves of aliens coming in.

Standing Orders is the first one that I didn't finish (after many many many restores to autosave) with all my power cores. Crossed Signals is the one I'm having trouble with right now.

EDIT: Added strategy map of tutorial level (not much strategy required on this one).
EDIT again: scaled the image to 50% because it was HUGE!


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