Strictly speaking, Trenched isn't a new idea. Bipedal robots, tower defense, and swarmy alienlikes have all been seen in some fashion all throughout the video game lexicon. And given Double Fine's quirky pedigree, the concept of base-defending robots doesn't exactly generate an aura of creativity. On the surface, Trenched is exactly what it seems like it is: three layers of tower defense, mech combat, and mech customization. The magic is found in the seams -- Trenched comes together with a significant amount of polish, playability, and signature humor.
Trenched is indeed a modern tall tale: after discovering some sort of weird electric prophecy, a gruff no-legged war vet invents bipedal robots (or trenches) for the good of mankind while his buddy invents what amounts to a metaphor for bad TV, the Monovision. Naturally, one of them turns all evil-scientist and takes up a crusade on behalf of Monovision's corrupting broadcast. The agents of this mysterious "broadcast" are the "Tubes", or rather, reptilian-inspired glowing robots of nefarious functionality. The absurdity doesn't stop there, but Trenched knows when to restrain its preposterous setting in favor of Double Fine's delightful dry wit and staple word-work. From the item descriptions to the in-game dialogue, Trenched is undoubtedly a Double Fine joint.
In each of the fifteen missions, Trenched generally puts you (and up to three co-op buddies) in a simple, easy-on-the-eyes environ themed after one of three continents. Each map is includes a base or three surrounded by multiple enemy spawn points. Conceptually, Trenched functions as an in-the-trenches (sorry) tower defense game. Instead of merely placing your emplacements and waiting for things to play out, players must navigate their trench to fend off multiple waves of enemy Tubes. The scrap dropped by the fallen Tubes serves as currency that can be spent on new emplacements or upgrades. Emplacements can be placed on the fly, whenever and wherever you want (terrain permitting). With the emplacement types varying from shotguns, anti-air turrets, mine dispensers and more, there are a lot of choices to make while in the frenetic fray.
With a reasonable amount of action taking place all at the same time, things occasionally seem out of hand, but never overwhelming. Tower defense is a tiring formula, but Trenched unbolts the training wheels fairly early on. There's no mini-map, so you're forced to remain situationally aware at all times. If you don’t watch your six, you will lose. Losing sucks, but it’s not as bad as you might think – Trenched is forgiving enough to allow losers to hang on to the loot they’ve collected and the experience points they’ve gained during a failed mission. Without an infinite amount of time to meticulously plan and think, you’ll remain in your figurative battle stance for extended periods. Trenched is committed to polishing your wits – you’ve often got less than twenty seconds between waves. A consistent level of tension is maintained through a rather sparkling, yet simple mission design. Combat in Trenched does an outstanding job at fostering frantically-paced situations where the player can feel genuinely accomplished when pulling off a decisive victory. In an age of cookie crumbs and hand-holding, Trenched finds an acceptable middle ground and strikes the perfect note in terms of overall challenge.
Trenched oozes with the sensation that it was designed with a well-defined understanding of what exactly makes a game fun and addictive. Trenched gets it just right, even if it’s just for a limited time. Each mission has a rhythm and reason to each wave of baddies. Some waves are clearly diversions – Trenched has absolutely no problem with distracting the player with staged rushes that divert attention away from stronger enemies. And with enemy types ranging from snipers, to shield generators, to kamikaze-types, to turret-griefers, to armor, to aerial bombers and more, there is a great deal to consider when outfitting your trench.
With three different core types – balanced, assault, and engineering – you’ll play like you want to play. Each core type offers a differing amount of weapon slots and emplacement types. Building toward a certain strength and fine-tuning your trench to cover its deficiencies is half the fun. For what would normally be considered a small downloadable game, Trenched offers variation upon variation of weapon, core, and leg combos with a completely reasonable amount of unique items and weapon modifiers. You can even select one of four living-stereotyped marines (the Polish guy eats Polish sausage for every meal), each who can be outfitted in various goofy outfits and hats for no apparent reason other than to be utterly hilarious.
After saving the world from the evils of mass broadcasting, there’s very few ways in which to utilize all of the goodies you’ve found. Each mission has three medals you can earn based on your base’s remaining stamina, and teaming up with other marines online to boost your scores is a literal riot. Multiplayer missions are exactly the same as the single player missions, save for the fact that the enemies are tougher and more durable. While the cooperative experience doesn’t fundamentally change the overall experience, it certainly spices it up.
Even with the prospect of multiplayer, the missions that you’ve already completed can become a bit predicable. Trenched certainly could have used a survival mode or a randomly-spawning-enemy mode to allow players who have swanked out their trench to test both their mettle and metal. That being said, there’s probably way more content than there should be in a downloadable title – with all of the aforementioned content, Trenched is an absolute bargain.
Trenched has a surprising level of polish, a steady dose of wit, and a consistent supply of mind-synchronizing mechicular combat. It doesn’t ask to be qualified with the modifier “for a downloadable game.” Trenched is simply a fully-polished, fully-voiced, and fully-realized mech combat game that genuinely cares about making people smile. The game was clearly designed by people who care, and it shows in every way possible.