When I first saw the announcement trailer for Double Fine’s Trenched, the concept that it was a tower defense style game never occurred to me. Its director, Tim Schafer, is famous for delivering wonderfully creative and quirky titles. As such, it probably shouldn’t have been particularly shocking that his team’s latest work is not exactly what I presumed it was at first glance. It is of course a third person mech (or “trench” by the in-game terminology) in which you can customize your rig’s size, weaponry, appearance and such. In spite of this, game play focuses on defending your towers from waves of enemies that resemble mechanical neon reptiles.
The game runs on the same engine as Double Fine’s under-appreciated Brutal Legend and it looks terrific. Trenched is an arcade release, but you’d never guess it just from looking at it. The visuals do an excellent job of transporting you to a stylized post World War I setting. Double Fine’s version of the era centers on an alternative take on history in which the USA and Russia have skipped the whole Cold War bit and jumped right into all out war.
It was difficult to hear the details while on the show floor (even with head phones on) but I did get to watch some of the humorous opening scene. American soldier Frank Woodrof had his legs run over by a tank during the first World War. Not one to let such a miniscule setback prevent him from fighting for his country, Woodrof went on to design walking trenches in order to compensate for his disability. In the game, players take control of a member of the Mobile Tank Brigade in single player or 2-4 player co-op. On the other side of the conflict is the mad genius Vladamir Farmsworth and his army of “tubes”. Farmsworth has created the television years before its time in Trenched and is hell bent on controlling all of the air waves with a singular broadcast.
The standard tube enemies are the aforementioned neon blue machinations that snake or fly their way across the map towards the towers that you are tasked with defending. In the demo, my commander radioed in to inform me that my location was the last air base in Europe and that we could not allow the tubes to destroy it. In addition to the standard blue baddies, the demo also threw some groups of more aggressive red enemies at me. These foes are more concerned with attacking players directly rather than towers, so they rapidly converged on my location to wreak havoc on my mobile trench.
Rickety and steam-powered though it may have been, my mech was well equipped with a machine gun and cannon. These were fired with LT and RT respectively. In addition, the A button gives your trench a brief speed burst that can cause melee damage if used to ram into the invading tubes. I was pleased to discover that it was a breeze to control the unit. Movement is quick and smooth on the smaller mechs, but the larger ones walk at a slower pace in an awkward bouncing fashion.
Players work together to wipe out the encroaching tubes during each wave but that changes in the brief intermissions between combat. When a baddie is destroyed, the television sets that it is constructed of blast apart all over the battlefield. These sets are Trenched‘s form of resources and must therefore be collected. Instead of being gathered by walking over them, gamers need to hold in the right bumper to activate a magnet that sucks them all up. Even though everyone is on the same team and has been tasked with defending the same objectives, the natural reaction is to frantically race around and suck up as many tubes for yourself as possible. These little bad boys can then be spent on four different stationary turrets that will assist in defending the towers.
Things started feeling somewhat repetitive towards the end of my play session, but a simple boss fight heated the action back up again. I had a great time playing Trenched even if it was a little on the easy side. If the rest of the game features some additional enemy types and more of a challenge it’ll prove to be a great multiplayer experience when it hits XBLA at some point later this year.