If there's been one immediate benefit to Double Fine's recent shift toward downloadable games, it's been the developer's newfound freedom to toy around with lots of different genres. Costume Quest showed what the studio could do with a turn-based role-playing game, while Stacking followed that up with something that offered more traditional adventure-game leanings. And now we have Double Fine's latest downloadable offering: Trenched. Revealed last week, Trenched is a hybrid between tower-defense strategy and third-person mech warfare. Having had the chance to check out Trenched last night, we came away impressed with just how well this game hit the sweet spot between blowing stuff up and cerebral tactics.
It's apparent from the outset that Trenched revels in the same offbeat humor for which Double Fine is now known. The game is set in a fever dream vision of the years following World War I, a time when dough boy-piloted mech suits do battle with robotic alien beasts powered by the brainwashing powers of television…if television were invented by an evil villain years before it's time. The game's presentation is thoroughly inspired by the tough-guy men's magazines of the early 20th century, giving everything an over-the-top look and feel awash in machismo. It's there in the way you see your commanding officer defiantly waving an American flag as his legs are crushed by a tank in the opening cutscene; it's also there in the way you see yourself light a cigar using a handgun when celebrating a victory. But in true Double Fine style, it's all done with a wink and a nod, never taking itself too seriously.
In terms of gameplay, Trenched project lead Brad Muir described the game as an homage to the great mech games of recent years, such as Chrome Hounds and Mech Assault, but with an added layer of tower-defense strategy driving it all. Essentially, you pilot a highly customizable mech suit around a battlefield, keeping an eye out for waves of enemies coming out from a small handful of spawn points spread across the outskirts of the map. Depending on how you have your mech set up, you can take these glowing robotic insectoid beasts by using your standard machine gun or with a higher-powered gun, such as a cannon. The mech we played was set up so that the left trigger fired the machine gun while right trigger fired the cannon, giving us the chance to really unload on enemy waves.
As you destroy enemies, you can hold the right bumper to magnetically draw in the scrap metal bits that these enemies leave on the ground after dying (which are actually little television sets). This is the currency you use to place auto turrets on the battlefield to aid you and your team of up to four cooperative players. There are a number of different turrets you can place, including the standard machine gun guy, the dampening generator that slows down any enemies within a certain radius, and the sniper turret that fires more slowly but works great against distant targets. You can also upgrade existing turrets using scrap, though no matter whether you choose a new one or an upgraded one, you'll always see new turrets land from the sky with a devastating thud as though they were just dropped from space. We really enjoyed the balance between frantically shooting enemies and running around to pick up scrap, like a chicken with its head cut off, mixed with the more tactical process behind deciding which turret would work best in a certain location on the map.
Your mech suit is also quite customizable. You can unlock new robo-legs that offer unique abilities, such as sprinting and going stationary to boost your defenses. You can unlock new types of guns to mount onto either side of your mech, using a slot-based system to decide whether you want one giant gun or several smaller ones. And, finally, you can outfit your tiny little solider with a bunch of different hats that affect the type of salute you give when running around base between missions. We didn't get a chance to see the customization options, but Double Fine assured us that the customization options are very extensive, and it seemed rather proud of the number of hats you can unlock. Oh, the hats!
What we played of Trenched was a fun romp through a silly world of hyperadvanced World War I technology and the robo smashing that goes with it. It seemed to hit a good balance between what makes blowing stuff up so much fun and the type of strategy that a quality tower-defense game can offer. The big question going forward is just how much depth the game can offer to keep players invested during the course of the campaign. Hopefully, we'll get a better idea as we check out the customization system and some of the later levels. Until then, you can expect to see Trenched arrive sometime later this year on Xbox Live Arcade.