Tower Defense is often a very passive genre of video-games, you’ll lay a few towers here and there, then spectate the action rather then taking place in it. Double Fine’s new shooter / tower defense game “Trenched” looks to alleviate the idle phase of traditional TD games, by strapping you into a gargantuan Mech known as a “Trench” and having you stomp around the battlefield destroying any creatures that cross your path. Does Trenched successfully combine the two genres into something fresh and enjoyable, or is it too complex and overwhelming like Double Fine’s other attempts at mixing genres? *cough* Brutal Legend *cough*

Sick Tophats are optional

The game starts out with Frank Woodruff (who is essentially the game’s narrator) getting his legs crushed by a Tank. From there, he’s reassigned to a post listening into enemy radio waves with his partner Vladamir Farnsworth. An enemy transmission suddenly kills everyone listening except for Frank and Vladamir, who now, because of the broadcast, are incredibly intelligent people. Frank invents the “Trenches”, mobile war platforms that cater not only to legless individuals such as himself but perfectly capable soldiers as well. Vladamir, on the other hand, invents a crazy monstrous race named the “Tubes” who seek to spread the “Broadcast”, all from the comfort of his own bed. Though the story clearly isn’t the selling point, it’s got enough Double Fine charm to have you smiling now and then.

This guy needs more towers

You’ll soon be tasked with controlling the Trench to defend various locations from Tube attacks. In its most basic form, Trenched is a solid third-person shooter. Pull the left trigger and right trigger to fire your corresponding weapons, click the stick to zoom, and tap X to reload. Trenched would probably be a fine Mech combat game with the shooting mechanics alone; however, the game quickly introduces you to the “Tower” mechanic. Placing a tower is as simple as selecting one of the varied turrets with the d-pad, then placing it by pressing LB. You’ll have access to a wide variety of towers including shotguns, anti-air cannons, and mine-layers to name a few, and you’ll need them to fight the varied Tubes. Tubes can range from basic melee grunts, ranged attackers, or downright suicidal units that chase you across the map. After killing Tubes, they’ll drop scrap which essentially allows you to build more turrets, or upgrade existing ones. The cycle of death is never ending!

Sooner or later, you’ll come face to face with one of the Boss Tubes. These Tubes have an increased amount of HP and deal massive amounts of damage to the locations you’re guarding. It’ll take strategic tower placement and a ton of bullets to bring one of these bad boys down, but if successful, you’ll be rewarded with new loot. This is where Trenched really starts to shine — you can customize your Mech to really fit your style. There’s a variety of chassis that suit players who want to build turrets or to those who want to equip giant weapons, forgoing the tower based gameplay. Attach some legs that allow you to sprint, or perhaps attach a pair that can dig in to increase weapon accuracy. Trenched really allows the player to pick parts that cater to their exact play-style; there really is no right or wrong.

Another strong point for Trenched is its online play. Make no mistake:  if you’re going to get Trenched, make sure you have some buddies to tag along. While the single-player is serviceable, it can feel like a repetitive grind, and the constant waves can get a little overwhelming in spots. With other players at your side, the experience becomes second to none. A few players can specialize in towers, covering choke points and destroying Air based enemies, whilst others can pack massive cannons and sniper rifles to deal with ranged enemies. Trenched is a great social experience, with each player calling out locations that may need an extra pair of guns to fight off incoming targets, and with multiple trenches, setting up defenses is no longer a panic-filled rush trying to cover each area of the map.

So pretty... EXPLOSIONS!!!

Unfortunately, once the campaign is over, there’s really nowhere to test your inevitably super-powered Mech. Of course you can go back and earn gold medals for missions you may have played poorly, but even so, the game could have benefited from some kind of random mission generator or an endless wave-based mode.  Yet, after playing for hours on end, I found it hard to go back to regular Tower Defense games; the Mech-based combat really helps turn the genre into something beyond a trial-and-error-based experience. With 3 buddies, Trenched is an experience that really shouldn’t be missed:  it’s got something for the strategy nuts and enough shooting gameplay to cater to your friend who may only be into shooters. Though it might grow stale by the time missions are over, the loot mechanic and customization presented throughout the campaign makes Trenched a ride well worth taking into battle.

+ Turns the “Tower Defense” genre into something fun, frantic and downright enjoyable

+ Online multiplayer really allows players to cater to their own specific strengths

- Single-player can feel like a grind, and very stressful one at that

- Limited content once the campaign is over = limited reply value

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Trenched was developed by Double Fine and published by Microsoft.  It was released on June 22nd, 2011 on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft points.  Double Fine ran out of review codes so our buddies at Kotaku gave us one.  Aaron liked it because he’s super popular and has lots of friends to play it with.