Grizzly Gaming

Friday, July 8, 2011

Trenched review: A twist on an old favorite

I’ve always been a big fan of strategy games but in recent years haven’t really had the means to play them. Well, I have had the means, sure, but being a huge nerd with personal standards about video games, I basically refuse to play strategy games on the console.

Every gamer has that friend who insists that first-person shooters should only be played on PCs and that console shooters pale in comparison. Well, I’m like that with strategy games. I’m utterly convinced that you need a mouse and keyboard in order to properly keep track of all the goings-on in a strategy game – especially real-time strategy games (like Command and Conquer or Starcraft) and turn-based strategy games (like Civilization). I gave “Civilization: Revolution” a whirl and I’ve tried playing RTS games (like Halo Wars) with a console controller and have always been left feeling like I could’ve been more effective if only I had a mouse for more precise movement and a keyboard to keep better track of my resources/troops/towns/etc.

Despite my staunch “anti-console strategy game stance,” I was a pretty big of Double Fine’s “Brutal Legend.” Granted it had A LOT to do with the incredible soundtrack (seriously, Coroner, King Diamond, Slayer, Ministry – the list goes on and on), the game itself was really fun, the world was original and very interesting and the action/adventure/strategy mash-up worked quite well, despite the fact that hardly anyone played it.

Since Brutal Legend’s release, Double Fine has focused mainly on Arcade releases. Though I have yet to play their prior XBLA offerings (Stacked and Costume Quest) Trenched immediately caught my attention. Set right after WWI, the world is besieged by an alien signal known as The Broadcoast. Two military veterans who hear it, Vladimir Farnsworth and Frank Woodruff, gain super-intelligence though a majority of people who heard it perished. Using their new intellect, Woodruff creates mobile walking robots, known as trenches, to make up for the loss of his legs during the war and also to give disabled soldiers a second chance. Farnsworth, on the other hand, is driven mad and uses his knowledge to create a robotic menace known as Monovisions to spread word of The Broadcast. Soon, the former friends become bitter enemies and Woodruff’s Mobile Trench Brigade is all that can stop Vlad’s army of Monovisions.

The best part about the story of Trenched is that the game itself doesn’t do a lot to shove it down your throat. You aren’t expected to sit through long cutscenes detailing the backstory of characters and other extraneous details. You’re given a brief description of the conflict, its cause and after that, basically, the world Trenched takes place in speaks the rest for itself. Trenched’s beautiful visuals as well as its “less is more” approach to story telling should really catch the attention of many gamers.

Though I’d classify Trenched, technically, as a tower defense game, it’s so much more than that. While that genre conjures up images of web based flash games where you do little more than place turrets along predetermined paths of enemies, Trenched expands this by allowing the player to have a presence on the battlefield. While previous tower defense game Toy Soldiers allowed players to take control of battlefield units, Trenched features a constant main character. In this, players can customize their trench before heading into battle with a wide array of weapons and emplacements to help them stem the tide of Monovisions.

Trenched’s mash-up of RPG/tower defense/action/strategy makes for some incredibly fun and intense gameplay. A typical mission has you start aboard a massive trench-carrier (with legs so it can walk on land, of course) where you’re briefed on your next mission. After selecting a mission (you can go back and replay any mission for a higher ranking, which unlocks more items, XP and money), you then choose your Trench and are given suggestions on what equipment to take into the field. Since you can only change your loadout prior to starting a mission, picking strategically (like flak turrets for flying enemies and explosives for armored enemies) can mean the difference between victory and failure. But even picking a trench can be tricky. There are three different styles to choose from – assault, standard and engineering. Assault provides more weapon slots for bigger guns (like artillery and sniper cannons) but have fewer emplacement slots. Engineering is just the opposite – a lighter trench with fewer weapon slots but more emplacement slots. Standard trenches bridge the gap between the two and are great all-purpose machines.

Each map (unless it’s a boss battle) will have you protecting one or many specific buildings from the Tubes (a slang term for Monovisions). Enemies will spawn in specific locations, giving you an idea of where to place your turrets to be most effective. During these waves, you must also collect the scrap of fallen enemies to use as currency to buy new emplacements. To make destroying the Monos easier, Trenched also supports online co-op play for up to four players at a time.

Trenched would be addicting enough if it were just a game about giant robots destroying alien looking robots but coupled with Double Fine’s unmatched style and humor, it’s brought to a whole new level. Farnsworth and Woodruff’s exchanges are dripping with campy humor and in between campaigns, players are treated with their exploits memorialized on the covers of fictional “manly man’s men’s magazines” like “Real Man,” “Danger Monthly,” and “Gristle For Men.”

Honestly, I almost feel like I should’ve paid more than $15 (1200 MS points) for Trenched. With all the content in the incredible package that it delivers, it could’ve easily been a full priced game. Well – if it had a few more missions it could be. Which brings me to my only negative comment about Trenched, which is, that it is too short and I want (need) more. There are only (off the top of my head) around 15 missions in the game and though you can go back and replay them as many times as you want to get new gear and more XP those same few missions get old after a while. Not to mention that at a certain point, there’s no more equipment to unlock so earning new grades is pretty much the only reason to keep playing. Double Fine hasn’t announced any specific plans for DLC or a sequel but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and eyes open any info.

I’m positive nearly anyone could get into, and have fun with, Trenched. At such a low price and with the ability to play with friends, Trenched ought to be one of the next big hits on the XBLA. (It should also be noted Trenched is not available on the PSN.) Unfortunately, many of Tim Schaeffer’s gems (specifically Psycho Nauts and to a lesser extent Brutal Legend) are largely overlooked by the majority of gamers. Hopefully people heed Trenched’s extremely positive reviews, spend a little cash and pick up one of the most fun and addicting games available.


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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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