Jul 7, 2011

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Review: Trenched

Review: Trenched

Tim Schafer has helped to create some very memorable games in the past few years.  Retail releases like Psychonauts and Brutal Legend were praised by critics, receiving an overall 87 and 83 on Metacritic.  While their scores were pretty high, sales were poor, and Psychonauts was deemed a commercial failure.  Thankfully, it appears that Schafer and Double Fine have found new life with downloadable arcade titles.  Schafer’s Costume Quest received high scores and sold well, as did its follow up, Stacking. Their newest release is the third-person tower-defense shooter Trenched. Can Schafer and company make it three in a row?

Trenched takes place in an alternate reality following World War I.  A radio communication known only as “The Broadcast” has been broadcast worldwide; according to rumor, anyone who listens to it dies.  Veterans Frank Woodruff and Vladimir Farnsworth survive this attack and gain super intelligence for advanced technology.  Since Frank lost his legs in the war, he decides to use his power to create mechanical walkers known as “Trenches.”  Vladimir chooses to create the “Monovision,” which allows people to experience the world from the comfort of their homes.  Sadly, Vladimir becomes mad with his own genius and decides to conquer the world.  As a result, Vladimir begins creating Monovision-based monsters known as “Tubes.”  As the Monovision grow stronger, Frank Woodruff uses his Trenches to create opposing forces known as the “Mobile Trench Brigade.”  Players are thrust into this war and must use every tool available to the Trench Brigade in order to stop the hostile takeover.

Players assume the role of Woodruff’s son as he mans the battlefield.  You control a fully customizable trench and are given charge of a number of deployable turret emplacements.  The turrets are what one would expect in an arm- based game, covering shotguns, snipers, machine guns, etc.  Some appear to be less versatile then others, but each weapon and turret are crucial in their own ways to take out the different enemies encountered.  Your trench has customized weapon slots, with minor weapons taking one slot, as opposed to larger ones, which take up to the maximum of three.  Whether destroying enemies with your trench or the turret towers, they will drop scrap upon exploding.  This scrap is a form of mid-match currency used for deploying more turrets or upgrading the ones already out.  Be prepared to get accustomed to your weapons and turrets quickly, because the game jumps from ridiculously easy to nearly overwhelming in the span of a few levels.  Thankfully, players are rewarded for nearly every task completed and earn newer, more powerful weapons and turrets as they progress.

The game is divided into three different chapters with five different levels each.  New enemies are introduced at a steady rate and range from large, tank-like monstrosities to swarms of aerial beasts.  As your trench defenses grow, so do the enemies. Later tubes will become resistant to certain attacks and will throw assaults from many different angles.  Some enemies will go directly for your emplacements while others will come straight for your trench.  This constant change of attacks forces players to make tough decisions regarding their defenses.  Should you maximize the firepower and strength of your trench, but risk having weak emplacements?  Or should you beef up the emplacements but have lousy guns for your trench?  What may have worked for one level, doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work for the next, and that’s the beauty of this game.  Players will be forced to switch things up depending on what is incoming.

Each level has a set number of waves players must survive.  If your trench’s health depletes, it will momentarily become inoperable and must be reactivated, usually with some button jamming.  While your trench may be out, that doesn’t mean the mission is a bust.  Every mission besides the three boss fights has players protecting set bases from waves coming from every direction.  Surviving with 80% health or more left on bases earns a gold medal, while you’ll earn a silver and bronze for surviving with less.  Medals are for more then just aesthetics, though, because they provide cash to buy upgraded equipment as well as unlock better gear and level players up.  Higher levels allow players higher leveled gear.

The banter between Farnsworth and Woodruff is entertaining enough throughout the campaign, as is the still-shot cutscenes.  The visuals are also very well put together, providing explosions, bullets flying everywhere, and beautifully detailed maps.  Make no mistake, though, these won’t rival retail releases, but the quality all Double Fine titles bring should definitely be commended.  Each modification to your trenches is visible, as is whatever your have your Marine wear.  There’s no actual effect to changing your characters attire, but it’s great for making your specific Marine special.  Overall, this is one of the most well put-together titles released for the XBLA this year.

Sadly, the game feels kind of short.  I quickly leveled my player up to the max and attained all the gold medals for the 15 levels.  There’s definite replay value for completionists in collecting the best gear or the coolest attire, but successfully completing the game can take no longer then a few hours.  Also, after a few levels, I never really felt compelled to come back and continue playing.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself, just that I didn’t feel that sense of addiction I get with other games.  Thankfully, the entire campaign can be played cooperatively with up to four players total.  The game balances these added teammates by making scrap metal divide evenly when gathered and unleashing larger numbers of enemies.  I truly felt like the game became two separate experiences from solo to multiplayer.  Whereas I’d constantly be racing back and forth between enemy spawn points playing solo, I was able to relax and focus more on a couple points with my partners.  The game eventually becomes too easy after you and your teammates gain better equipment, but you’ll be having too much fun to even mind.

The game is still pretty fresh, so there are some minor technical issues in terms of playing via Xbox LIVE.  On more then a few occasions our screens would freeze and we would be forced to either dashboard or turn our XBoxes completely off.  Sometimes we would get disconnected, or the lag would be horribly bad when enemy forces were large.  Overall, though, the issues weren’t major enough to deter our experience; still, I felt they should at least be addressed.  I assume there’ll be a patch released in the coming weeks, but until then, be prepared for the occasional hiccup.

The campaign may be short, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Double Fine releases some DLC in the future like they did with Costume Quest and Stacking. The lack of a survival mode could be addressed with some DLC, but it’s still too early to determine what will be coming.  Many gamers immediately get turned off when they see the 1200 points stamp, but rest assured that you will be getting your money’s worth.  This game is a steal at $15, and I’ve had more fun with this title then a few major retail releases this year.  Gather some friends together and play one of the best XBLA games of 2011.

Platform: Xbox 360
Genre:Strategy, Tower Defense
Release Date: 06/22/11
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
MSRP: 1200MSP ($15)