Trenched – Review

Platform | Release Date
XBLA | June 22, 2011
Developed by Double Fine Productions
Published by Microsoft Game Studios

The Pitch:

Protect humanity from the evil Monovision menace in this Mech Shooter from Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions. Join The Mobile Trench Brigade! Use a combination of mobile firepower and stationary defenses to turn the tide of war in our favor.

 

I’ve long been of the belief that there’s no wrong way to play a game. If you want to play Mass Effect 2 as a one-off space adventure, have at it. If you want to treat Fable 2 as a dating sim, go nuts. Halfway through my venture across the single player mode of Trenched, however, it became readily apparent that I was playing it wrong, and I’m left to wonder who’s to blame.

This Trenched review has been open far longer than I’d intended. My original plan was to bound through the single player, give the multiplayer a solid go, and knock the whole thing out in a week. I had a big chunk of free time slotted away and I was excited to see what Double Fine had to offer. My expectations for a 6-8 hour single player experience were dashed though, when I hit that mark and realized I was only about halfway through the levels.

I won’t expound upon the basic details of Trenched, because there’s little doubt you know them by now. The formula is mech warfare + tower defense + silver-age war comics aesthetic. Double Fine has managed to do what they do best: build a vibrant and utterly unique world. That’s how they get me every time.

The problem here is that Trenched, as a single player experience, is just not fun. The promise of being able to build your mech the way you want to quickly vanishes as mission intros express requirements, such as heavy emplacements or long range weaponry. Tower defense games give you myriad different options to face oncoming waves, and as long as you maintain some cash reserves you have flexibility to handle these varying enemy types. With Trenched, you’re making weapon loadout decisions before ever setting foot on the battlefield, and choosing wrong may mean you’ve wasted a half hour or more fighting an impossible fight. It’s a fundamental flaw in Double Fine’s formula, and their solution is to give you those pre-mission hints to help you prepare appropriately. As a net result, I constantly felt restrained.

“But loot!” I hear you exclaim. “What about that sweet sweet loot!?!”

First of all, stop using so many damn punctuation marks in your exclamations. It’s uncivilized. Second, and you’d best sit down for this, the loot is handled terribly. I didn’t count, but I would be surprised if between all the machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, cannons, and broadcasters, there were more than 100 guns in the game. I am used to picking up a weapon, seeing the name in purple to denote it being special sauce, and reveling at the prospect of exploding faces with it. That delight is absent in Trenched, where you can regularly check your weapon cache and find you’ve collected 5 of the same “special” machine gun.

And it’s only weapons that have these “unique” named versions. It seems a vast oversight that similar treatment wasn’t paid to your emplacements. There are tiers of machine gun and flak turrets, but never do you see emplacements with special powers. This further casts the tower defense aspects of the game into the background. It’s no wonder I always tried to roll out on a mech with the full compliment of weapon slots, and as few emplacement slots as necessary.

Let me reiterate, I played this game the entirely wrong way. All my frustrations with emplacements may have been assuaged if I had 2 or 3 more mechs fighting alongside of me. The game keeps you moving, with waves coming from multiple entrance points, and some enemies attack your emplacements with devastating results. Fighting in these relatively expansive levels, all alone, and trying to keep your emplacements alive is an exercise in futility. Trenched eventually became a standard mech shooter for me; by the end I’d only use the repair crane and an occasional flak turret to handle flying enemies.

Perhaps the worst experience was moving on into multiplayer after finishing the game. The multiplayer experience contains the exact same missions as single player, and by this point my mech was so overpowered that none of the levels held any challenge to me. This problem was exaggerated, in fact, because I had 3 other wantonly overpowered mechs fighting beside me. At this point I could see the game’s appeal, something I’ll never experience firsthand, as we worked together to each handle our own segment of the map. There I was in my massive mech outfitted with a gigantic cannon called “Mr. Pancakes” and a satellite array that caused an effect called “deathsplosion.” By my side were some much smaller (and much faster) mechs loaded up with a variety of the game’s most powerful emplacements, sniper rifles, and machine guns. We had brought the full arsenal of Trenched to the battlefield, and our base took only a few hits from enemy artillery.

The FPS meter for this game accurately represents my experience, but bear in mind it retells the story of a game played wrong. If you have a stable group of 3 or 4 who can push through the game together as intended, you’re likely to have an immeasurably more enjoyable experience. However, if you do not know who those 2 or 3 other players are that will buy the game alongside you, then just move along. You’ll be playing the game wrong.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
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