Studio: Hidden Path Entertainment
Platform: Oculus Rift
Release Date: March 28th, 2016
In the original Star Wars there is a scene in which C-3PO is playing a holographic board game with Chewbacca. During this contest (which was later revealed to be called “Dejarik”) digital monsters move around a board and battle one another for supremacy. This brief scene captivated my 8 year old mind when I first saw the film and I was far from alone in my fascination.
The idea of virtually rendered troops and munitions that carry out a user’s will is an exciting concept. The digital world can create more immersive, engaging, and intuitive board game experiences than the physical and, for me at least, Dejarik was the pinnacle of what the genre could offer at some point in the future.
Well that future has arrived in the form of a tower defense game entitled Defense Grid 2: Enhanced VR Edition.
Replacing Dejarik’s holo-board with an Oculus Rift CV1, DG2 is a standard setter for the rapidly emerging “digital tabletop” genre of VR video game titles. Inside the Rift you’re given a command view of each and ever battlefield that you are tasked with defending throughout the game.
These diorama-like arenas feel very fully realized and half the fun of the early game in each level is simply taking the time to experiment with different angles by leaning, standing, and craning around the battlefield. You can also zoom in close to the action with a simple button press and watch your towers mow down foes up close and personal.
DG2 is one of the most robust and fully realized games in the Oculus Rift’s launch library.
The VR integrations in DG2 are so good that you almost forget this is a port of an existing tower defense game for PC. The battlegrounds are right at home in a VR setting and a sense of presence – that moment where your brain simply believes the false world with which it is being presented – is actually achieved more often than not. VR truly makes DG2 feel like the best tabletop gaming experience you’ve ever had without ever feeling shoehorned or gimmicky.
Your goal in DG2 is classic tower defense. A loose story (that is vastly improved by some exemplary voice acting) ties your motivations together. Essentially, your goal is to use a myriad of battle-ready towers to protect the “cores” floating in a central chamber on every map. Multiple waves of aggressive aliens will attempt to scurry down the level’s many pathways, avoid your towers, snag the cores, and make it back out of the map.
If an alien makes it to the core but is slain before it can escape then that core begins traveling back to the chamber but it can be picked up by another member of the swarm in a capture the flag style game of cat and mouse.
To prevent the loss of cores you’ll have to choose wisely which of the 10 tower types to spend your limited resource points on. Resource points rise every few seconds which creates some nail biting moments of tension as you wait for the appropriate resource level to be achieved in order to successfully purchase or upgrade that one strategic tower.
Towers range from the basic gatling gun to heavier artillery “meteor” cannons that rain pain down on your foes from across the map. There are also flamethrowers, electric spewing tesla coil and time slowing temporal portals just to name a few.
The entire game can be played with nothing more than the bundled Oculus Remote.
Each tower starts green and can be upgraded twice (first to yellow then to red) by spending resource points. But be careful, upgrading towers takes them out of play for a few seconds. Battles flow in real time – although the game gives you the option to speed up the pace for quicker playthroughs, or to rewind back and re-attempt those particularly tricky waves. You’ll need to think on your feet to determine exactly when it makes the most strategic sense to construct or upgrade your towers.
DG2 replaces mouse clicks or joystick inputs with your gaze. You chose where to build your towers or what tower to upgrade simply by looking at the build-square you’d like to use and pressing A on your controller. In fact, the entire game can be played with nothing more than the bundled Oculus Remote making DG2 one of the few truly one-handed experiences on the early-Rift.
Most battles in DG2 consist of around 25 enemy waves and each skirmish can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to complete. Multiply this by 25 battles – each with multiple difficulty levels and game modes to try out – and you get a game that is bursting at the seams with content.
DG2 is one of the most robust and fully realized games in the Oculus Rift’s launch library. The hours of content and laundry list of high-score busting challenges make it doubtful that any potential purchaser will feel cheated by the game’s $30 price point.
This isn’t to say that DG2 is a perfect game, however. There is no online multiplayer mode which would have been a wonderful addition for a game that would be a blast to play co-op with a friend. There are high-score leaderboards but those feel like an afterthought that simply serve to make me wish even more that Hidden Path had taken that extra step towards full online integration.
Defense Grid 2: Enhanced VR Edition should be considered a role model by any studio that is looking to port an existing franchise onto a virtual reality platform.
The visuals also leave something to be desired. The battlegrounds are a pleasure to explore and take in but their graphical fidelity is weak enough to highlight the somewhat limited resolution of current-gen VR headsets. This may be the tradeoff that was necessary to create such a content rich experience, but I found my eyes getting bored with the scenery as the battles waged on around me.
Sound is a mixed bag in DG2. The voice acting is top notch but the tower sounds, alien noises, and battle music are all on the generic side. There is only one real combat theme that plays every time the enemies begin to advance. It’s not a terrible song but fights would feel more intense if they could be accompanied by a diverse group of more fully realized scores.
Defense Grid 2: Enhanced VR Edition should be considered a role model by any studio that is looking to port an existing franchise onto a virtual reality platform. It’s an experience that truly lives up to the enhanced monicker in its title. This is a great game that gives early Rift adopters hours of VR relevant gameplay to devour the moment their headset arrives.