Every so often a game sees release that evolves of a specific genre by introducing new gameplay elements that propels the genre to uncharted territory and forever alters how one perceives the genre from there on out. One genre that offers plenty of variety in game setting but offers little in innovation as far as gameplay goes is the tower defense genre. Building powerful defenses and surviving waves of foes, the basic formula has stayed the same for years, but, finally, a new title takes the basics of the genre, throws in some third-person shooting, and forever changes the genre for the better.
Double Fine’s Trenched is an innovative take on the genre and carefully combines two genres to create the perfect recipe for greatness as third-person shooting fans will love the game’s engaging combat and surprisingly open feel, while tower defense fans will find the tower defense elements enjoyable and highly addicting.
Trenched takes place during a highly advanced 1940s-esque world where the battlefield is populated by giant mechs known as Trenches. As one may expect, the world is being threatened by a tyrannical dictator hell-bent on world domination. At his behest is an army of mechanical constructs that wreak havoc and the only way to counter this mechanical army of horror is by using the seemingly endless abilities of the Trenches. The story is plenty entertaining enough to keep you playing, but it's the gameplay that will hold you over for the long-haul.
Playing like a typical tower defense game, Trenched provides a number of challenges that will have you battling enemies on a number of different battlefields. At times you'll defend one position and be able to hold off the enemy wave with the Trenches' variety of weapons, whereas other times you'll guard multiple positions and this is where the tower defense gameplay mechanic will come into play. At your disposal are emplacements – gun turrets – that can be deployed anywhere on the battlefield which will give you an extra edge in power to counter the enemy. After successfully destroying a wave of enemies, you'll then collect 'scraps', which act as currency allowing you to purchase and upgrade the robust number of emplacements featured in the game.
The most attractive quality of Trenched is the openness of it. A number of different Trench models are available to select but each base model offers limitations in weapons, weapon placement, and emplacement types. Due the amount of customizing and base models available, each player can build a Trench to satisfy their own needs. Those who want to play Trenched like a Mech Assault game can pick an offensive model fully equipped with powerful weapons but limited in emplacement options and the play the game like a mech combat game. If you rather keep the experience true to the tower defense genre, there is a mech class for that, too. With limited weapon selection but plenty of emplacement options, the challenge is greater when using this type of mech and the action is far slower as you'll need to wait for the enemies to come to you. This sense of freedom brings a lot of replayability to the title as you can revisit each level and play it differently with a new mech type or with a new strategy.
While vast in customization options and replayability abound, the gameplay amazingly retains a fresh feel throughout the campaign. Though each mission is basically a ‘Survive and defend X location’, the way enemies attack and the different type of enemies featured in the game keep the experience exciting even if the gameplay is slightly repetitive. The constant change of enemy types and attack patterns keeps things from growing dull and forces you to stay vigilant. Upgrading your emplacements is vital for survival. One odd design choice is the inability to remove or destroy an emplacement. It’s a minor inconvenience that shouldn’t prove too costly, though the option would have been nice especially when running low on scraps and you need to upgrade or build a different emplacement.
Once you get lazy or over confident is when the game suddenly throws a powerful mid-level boss your way to disrupt your arrogance as it waltzes through your emplacements with ease and causes chaos on the battlefield. Equipping oneself with the proper emplacements will prove beneficial as they can take a hefty burden off your shoulders, however if you choose incorrectly the battle will be that much more difficult though still winnable if you are strategic and make use of your emplacement choices and your Trenches’ weapons. As with most tower defense titles, some levels are trial-and-error, so experiment with different weapons/emplacements and find the best combination to be successful.
Online multiplayer is a great feature and leads to lots of fun times when battling with a couple friends. Though the game’s difficulty takes a hit when playing with others, it remains addictive. Multiplayer is the prime time to explore different Trench options and tinker with emplacements as you have backup to offset any foolish customization.
Trenched is a short game and can be completed in a handful hours but, as with any tower defense title, the replayability to go back to a level and try again with a different Trench or strategy remains and there is plenty of loot to collect to further customize your Trench. In actuality, Trenched is virtually never ending for the committed player and hardcore tower defense or Mech Assault/Warrior. Gameplay can be a little slow-paced at times but the core experience is a joy.
Trenched works so well because of its sense of freedom and customizability. Sure, it’s a tower defense game, but if you don’t want it to be one then it doesn’t need to be. I went through the game 50% as a tower defense title and the other 50% as a Mech Assault-esque title. Allowing me that choice really gave the game a greater appeal and made it that much more welcoming and addicting. It combines the best elements of two distinct genres and for that reason Trenched ranks amongst the best XBLA titles available.
(Editor’s Note: A review code for Trenched was provided by the publisher for review.)