Trenched review

It was the fifteenth and final wave. Our base was in shambles with only a few percentage points of integrity left, and Arty and Big Willie were laying siege upon it with their massive weaponry. Crippled from a recent run-in with a swarm of suicidal Blitzers, we piloted our mobile trench toward further danger with little hope of self-preservation. With the sightline clear and just seconds to spare, we slammed down both the left and right triggers, letting out a maniacal yell as all six of our machine guns poured hundreds of bullets into the attackers’ flanks. Finally, our enemies erupted in a beautiful, electrified explosion of blue and white, spewing sparks and scrap in every direction. The words “Wave Completed” flashed across the screen, and though our hearts were still racing and our faces still frozen in deranged desperation, we knew we had held off the last of the monovisions and saved the fuel depot. But what we really cared about was the tiki mask we just looted for our comically macho uber-soldier.

As you can see, Double Fine – the Tim Schafer-headed studio behind Stacking and Costume Quest – has produced a very intense, action-oriented title. It could be touted as a tower defense game, but that would be a disservice to the blend of RPG, RTS, and third-person shooter elements that are just as prevalent. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before from Double Fine, but if you’re worried that the emphasis on guns and explosions might replace the humor and charm the developer is famous for, you should know that your marine often celebrates victory by lighting his cigar with the muzzle flash from his sidearm. Enough said.

Above: A smattering of classic Double Fine humor

Trenched takes place just after World War I and follows two disabled war vets who’ve been made super smart by a random radio broadcast. Whereas the epically mustachioed Vladimir Farnsworth uses his intelligence to create an army of Tubes (monsters derived from his television technology) bent on taking over the world, Frank Woodruff has invented the amazing trenches – oxymoronically mobile mechs designed specifically to defend against the Tube invasion. You assume the role of a marine tasked with piloting these trenches in an attempt to defend various structures around the world. Though the premise sounds a bit random, no studio can make something so peculiar sounding work better than Double Fine can – and work it certainly does.

Let’s begin with the trench itself. These badass machines can equip anywhere from one to six weapons, depending on the type. Assault trenches are combat oriented with lots of weapon slots, whereas engineering trenches are designed to carry and plant various emplacements (we’ll get to what those are in a bit) on the battlefield. Considering all the different enemy types, each with specific resistances and weaknesses to particular weapons, it can be a monumental (yet intensely satisfying) task to configure a trench with the right balance of weaponry and emplacements for each of the varied missions.

Above: Whether it be guns, paint jobs, or ridiculous hats, customization is a big part of Trenched

Emplacements are part two of your frontline defense – static towers that can be deployed anywhere on the field to aid in your fight against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Each emplacement has its own particular strengths, weaknesses, and most importantly of all, cost. The biggest challenge of Trenched lies in utilizing your sparse resources (scrap collected from defeated foes) to purchase the correct emplacements and construct an effective defensive line. There’s a fine line between wasting your time trying to build and simply taking out the Tubes yourself as they spawn from multiple points – a line that you’ll likely discover through some painful trial and error. This is where a friend or three can really come in handy.

Trenched offers co-op play for up to four players over Xbox Live, and thankfully, the game’s design forces real strategic teamwork as opposed to four people shooting randomly at baddies. Because the difficulty appropriately ramps up as you add more players, devising a game plan before each mission is crucial. Will you play the part of the destroyer, using heavy weaponry to mow down the opposition? Or will you be the nimble engineer, scurrying across the battlefield picking up scrap and building emplacements? Half the fun is hashing this all out on the carrier with your friends (and inevitably, blaming them for everything when the mission goes awry).

Above: It takes a lot to bring down Big Willie

On top of the classic Double Fine charm we expected, we found Treched’s mechanics more than satisfying, and when you consider the game’s approachability and download-only pedigree, the depth is startling. Additionally, the pacing is nearly perfect, with new weapons and emplacements becoming available just as the enemies become more numerous and difficult. Trenched is not only one of the strongest games Double Fine has produced, it’s a serious contender for the best downloadable game of 2011.

Jun 22, 2011

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