Review | 6/20/2011 at 11:26 AM

Iron Brigade Co-Op Review

What do you get when you combine tower defense with mech warfare set in a World War 1-esque sci-fi setting? You get Iron Brigade (formerly Trenched), the latest creation from Double Fine Studios available on Xbox Live Arcade. While you might be quick to write off Trenched as just another tower defense game, once you dig down in you’ll find an addictive and replayable game that is designed for co-op gamers to enjoy together in more ways than one.

Trenched is the story of two army officers, Frank Woodrof and Vladamir Farmsworth, who listen to “the broadcast,” a strange transmission from an unknown source.  After doing so they both change, Vladamir becomes corrupted while Frank fights for the good in an iron lung. You side with captain iron lung. The broadcast causes all these strange glowing creatures called Monovisions into the world hell bent on spreading their message and commanded by the Vladamir. Your job is to defend certain high value targets from the waves of attacking enemies and in some cases, destroy a boss in the process.

The real genius of Trenched comes from really subtle things - depending on the glowing color of enemies you can determine what they will do. Dark blue attacks the high value targets, light blue attacks your turrets and red attacks you. Enemies come in numerous varieties from normal walkers that charge their target, to flying enemies that require special weapons to bring down, to long range shooters that you’ll need to make sure you dispose of quickly. Later levels even introduce support enemies that shield their squad as well as giant boss like creatures that can spawn other enemies.

The real core of Trenched is actually your trench, or mech. This customizable machine allows players to pick and choose options that effect how many weapons you can carry, how many turrets you can carry, how fast you can move, and any special moves you can do. This is all done through a slick little interface that also recommends what to bring on a mission. One mission you may be tasked with bringing more turrets with you, so the trade off is you can’t load up your trench with a lot weapons. Another machine might have you load up on distance weapons like artillery or sniper cannons, usually taking up multiple weapon slots each.

The weapons themselves almost feel like loot you collect from an Action/RPG. You’ll find it hidden in crates, unlock it for completing goals, and earn it for leveling up by earning XP from kills. The weapons even have awesome names with equally comedic descriptions of what they can deal out. Telling your friends that you are bringing “The Prince,” The Razor of the Gods” or “Mr. Pancakes” on a mission is equally as satisfying as it is effective against the enemy. Weapons and emplacements may be bought or sold via money earned on a mission and you can actually hold multiple copies of weapons and outfit your trench with them.

Gameplay is from a third person perspective behind your massive trenched giving you full control of the action - left and right trigger fire your left and right weapons while the left bumper calls in emplacements.  During the missions enemy kills earn you scrap, scrap is used to call in emplacements. Emplacements can be dropped just about anywhere and there’s a good variety and level of them to drop. Machine gun turrets are your all around defense, shotgun turrets are good against ground units. You’ll also get mine layers, repair bays, dampeners (slow), and a handful of others. Turrets not only have their own efficiency level, but they can be upgraded with more scrap mid-mission. As a bonus, co-op players can upgrade any emplacement currently dropped. All scrap when collecting is shared amongst the team, but each player has their own pool to spend on whatever defenses they’d like.

Co-Op in Trenched is almost essential, despite the game scaling the difficulty, several missions have you guarding multiple targets at once (some up to three or four) making it easy to see the strategy in having up to four players working together. The game’s co-op lobby and main launching point is the S.S. McKinley which allows you to find other recruits for your missions, outfit your trench, view other players trenches, and choose missions. During this stage you’ll want to figure out who is bringing what to the battle, as you’ll want to maximize the variety of defenses you have available as well as who has what weapons.

During the battles themselves, as you face off against 10-20 waves of enemies, communication is key to determining who gets what group of enemies. If one player is outfitted with flak machine guns, he’ll want to call out the flyers, while another loaded with shotguns might want to call out the burst transmitters who’s deadly grenade attacks rip apart your turrets.

Its obvious to see how hard Double Fine is driving home co-op gameplay in Trenched. Not only are several of the achievements geared towards co-op play, but there’s an entire co-op meta game called “The Regiment” which earns you further unlocks. For every player you play with, they’ll automatically be added to your regiment. Whether you play together from that point forward, on your own, or with another group, all the kills and stats get kicked back to the regiment for further unlocks. So perhaps there’s a regiment goal of killing 3500 enemies with machine guns, doing so across the number of players will unlock a new weapon.

It’s all the little things like this that make Trenched an incredibly replayable game. Missions themselves offer different rewards depending on how well you medal on them, and you can go back and play any mission at any time. The game oozes style in both writing, artwork and character design, and there’s numerous moments that are guaranteed to make you smile.  While the game can be a bit frustrating in single player, the co-op is an absolute blast. Downloadable titles continue to impress us with their quality, quantity, and freshness. Trenched falls into everyone of those categories and delivers the co-op goods to go along with it.