Alternate history war games, amirite?
They’ve been lurking in the corners of our game retailers and video stores pretty much since the early days of interactive entertainment. Some involve legitimately possible branches in the timeline, such as different countries winning different wars. Others take a more fantastical approach and involve fighting off demon Nazis and the like. Then sometimes they go all sci-fi on you and throw waves of technologically advanced aliens your way. A good many of them aren’t all that great. Thankfully, we now have Trenched to look forward to, and Double Fine’s take on alternate history may very well be one the best in the bunch.
Two veteran soldiers, Frank Woodrof and Vladimir Farmsworth, are at the crux of it all. After finding themselves unfit for active duty, the pair end up monitoring radio communications before accidentally intercepting a possibly alien transmission, referred to as “The Broadcast.” It drives Vlad insane, causing him to invent television and eventually use the technology to create an army of robotic creatures in order to (what else?) take over the world. In other words, Vlad loses it and makes TV monsters. Frank, on the other hand, uses his knowledge to create “mobile trenches,” highly mobile armored weapons capable of standing up to the threat posed by the “Tubes.”
You play the part of a soldier in the Mobile Trench Brigade, defending your bases from the Tube threat, finding or purchasing the “phat lewts,” and using them to customize your walking death-mobile, along with the look of your soldier. It’s essentially a combination of a third-person shooter and tower defense game with mechs. Each mission is comprised of multiple waves of color-coded beasties (reds focus attacks on mobile trenches, blues on your base, and so on) that you’ll have to eliminate before they tear your base apart, and each final wave will have you going toe-to-toe with a rather large mini-boss of sorts.
Now before you freak out about the tower defense elements (like I did, because I friggin’ hate most tower defense games), know that they take a back seat to good old-fashioned shooting. In fact, I was told that in most cases it was possible to beat a mission without setting more than a few towers, although utilizing them will probably make the missions easier, of course. Plus, they’re easy to use, effective, and also function as another bit of swag you can show off to your friends as you can purchase better towers between missions or even find special ones in loot drops. With nine different types of turrets, multiple variations of each, and special variants from drops, finding four that suit your play style to bring on a mission should be a breeze.
The mechs can also be tailored to your preferences, with different legs, chassis, and guns. The legs come in three varieties: two, three, and four-legged configurations, with each type offering a different special ability. Two-leggers can sprint, getting out of harm’s way or closing the distance to a target much faster than the average mobile trench. Mechs with three legs can hunker down into a semi-permanent firing position, effectively sacrificing mobility for increased offensive capabilities. Quadrupeds forgo all that fancy crap and just smash stuff with a melee stomp. The chassis, on the other hand, will determine how many and what types of weapons you can attach to it. Based on the demo, the weapons themselves seem to be mostly standard WWI fare; various machine guns, mortars, and so on. It’s worth mentioning, however, that some torsos will let you equip multiple weapons to the left and/or right side, and that each weapon on a given side will fire at the same time when you attack. Also, the machine guns are just a pleasure to listen to.
It’s also important to note that Trenched is gorgeous. Not “for a downloadable title,” but for a game, period. It may not hold a technical candle to Nathan Drake’s third impending adventure, but the designs are all top-notch and there are a ton of small details to take in. The environments look war-torn without being cliche, managing to look drab and vibrant at the same time. It’s colorful, but still oppressive, which isn’t an easy combination to achieve. I’m also a huge fan of the way the mobile trenches seem to vibrate and sputter as they move, giving them the feeling of being held together with duct tape and spit. Not many mech games manage to make the tail-end of their mechs interesting to look at, so I think a big pat on the back is in order here.
The game itself plays out similarly to a team-based survival mode you can find in many multiplayer games these days. One major difference is, of course, the turrets. which can be placed and upgraded by you or your teammates using scrap you collect from fallen Tubes. If you think about all the different turret loadouts, the ability to upgrade your teammates turrets if need-be, and the multitude of ordinance combinations, the potential for an incredibly awesome cooperative multiplayer game is obvious. Of course, you don’t have to play with other people, but that’s kind of the whole point. How else can you show off your soldier’s sweet new hat or that insanely awesome rare turret?
If you like team-oriented multiplayer games, mech customization, or even tower defense games (blech), then start saving those virtual dollars. There’s no exact price yet, although I think it’s safe to assume it won’t be under $10, and there’s no specific release date on Xbox Live Arcade, aside from “this year,” so you’ve still got time. Just make sure your ready to join in once the battle begins.