This review is written for the Xbox 360 version of Trenched.
You know what are awesome? Mechs. You know what else can be pretty cool? Tower defense. Anything else? Add in a loot-based upgrade path. What this should add up to is an exciting and addicting game with an extremely long lifespan. Double Fine’s Trenched, however, doesn’t quite hit as hard as its component parts indicate it should.
|The story is told only through voiceover and static images|
The story of Trenched is a relatively minor part of the game, but is bizarre enough to semi-rationally set up the universe that it exists within. In a post-WWI time, a veteran and scientist intercept an alien message referred to only as “the Broadcast”, which gave them both super-human intellects. The veteran, crippled during the war, used his knowledge to create the mobile Trench, which is literally just a bunch of sandbags strapped to heavy weaponry and legs. The scientist of course used his power to create the evil Monovisions, TV monsters intent on spreading their message to the world in the most violent way possible. As a result, you are tasked with travelling around the globe to destroy the different Monovision headquarters and prevent Evil Scientist Man from messing up everyone’s day. As far as Double Fine games go, this one is much more subdued in the comedy, but there are still enough clever jokes hidden in there to give it some good personality.
|Certain waves can go real sour if you aren't careful|
The gameplay is, as far as arcade-style mech games go, fairly standard. You have two weapon banks, mapped to the triggers, each of which can contain up to three different weapons depending on the chassis of your Trench and the weapon’s size. These weapons range from machine guns and shotguns to huge artillery and flamethrower-like “broadcasters” that can take out dozens of enemies at short range. Additionally, you can customize your Trench’s legs which confers abilities such as sprinting or a lockdown mode that sacrifices movement for increased durability and lessened reload time. The final piece of the puzzle is the idea of emplacements, a fancy term for the defense towers. As you play through a mission you earn scrap from downed enemies that can be used to launch in a capsule that will automatically deploy into a tower, which range from more powerful versions of your mech weapons to emplacements that slow down enemies or repair your vehicle. These can be essential to survive wave after wave of different Monovision enemies that continually storm you assigned objective.
|Your weapon choice can drastically alter the gameplay|
The structure of the game puts you on a walking aircraft carrier between missions (because everything should have legs, right?) where you can pick your destination, interact with other players, or customize your Trench. The customization really is the core purpose of the game and can make it play completely differently depending on how you spec yourself out. The main factor is the type of chassis you have, with the Assault being a typical run and gun variant with lots of weapon slots, down to the Engineering Trench, which sacrifices weapons from a larger selection of discounted emplacements. The way you unlock new chassis, weapons, emplacements and more is both through in-game challenges such as “earn 100 kills with weapon ‘X’” or “complete 50 missions”, as well as through loot boxes dropped by boss enemies and particularly difficult waves. While the loot is technically randomized, I found that in multiplayer I tended to get the same or similar loot at the same time as other players, which ruins a bit of the fun of having a completely unique and beastly Trench. Even with that concession, the customization is still fun and the ability to completely swap out your parts makes the game fun to keep playing for a little after finishing it just to compare the effectiveness of different loadouts.
On the topic of multiplayer, if you intend to only play games by yourself, don’t get Trenched. I’m typically the guy that will play through games like this alone, then move into multi after I’m already spec’ed out. However, Trenched gets both real boring and real hard early on if playing alone, and having more people both makes it more fun socially and by giving you a bit more wiggle room to try out different weapons and strategies. The neat part of the multiplayer is that it is fully integrated into the game; all you need to do is walk over to a room on the top of the carrier and hit ‘A’ to search for and match up with other players. This puts them straight onto your ship with their Trench, allowing you to inspect exactly what they are going into battle with. On top of that, there is a ridiculous character customization aspect as well, where your in-game avatar can get new clothes and hats that alter his salute, an ability that is always active on the right trigger. It’s stupid and a diversion from the actual game, but it’s hilarious that it made it in at all.
My issue with Trenched is that once you have an awesome mech and have completed the 15 missions that make up the campaign, there isn’t much to do. Sure, you can go back to the later missions to try out new layouts and hope for better loot, but all-in-all it’s sort of a one-trick pony. I played through it in about six hours, and that’s including multiple replays of certain missions and a healthy bit of on-carrier action between. It just feels like a missed opportunity, because the game’s ideas are cool in a way that I haven’t seen in a while. On top of that I had a few issues with low framerates and serious lag, but these were spread thin enough that I’ll just chalk it up to chance encounters with someone running on a 56k modem or the like. Overall, if you like this sort of game, it’s worth the $15 on XBLA to check out, but it’s certainly not something you need to be falling head-over-heels for to get it right now.
Images courtesy of Giantbomb.com