'Trenched' from Microsoft game Studios and Double Fine is a fun and surprisingly strategic game combining elements of a third person shooter, a mech simulator, and a tower defense game into a total package with more depth than one might expect. The game’s hybrid gameplay makes 'Trenched' one of the most unique and enjoyable games of the summer so far.

In 'Trenched' the player controls a large mechanized war machine called a “Trench” (basically a mech) in order to defend different military assets from the monovisions (black lizard-like creatures). Most of the 15 levels, except for boss battles, consist of the player needing to defend a building or several buildings from waves of incoming enemies. Each mission begins with a briefing that shows the level map and explains what types of enemies to expect. With the given information from the briefing the player then customizes his/her Trench to fit the needs of the mission. After customization the player enters the battle and begins shooting down waves of enemies before his/her Trench is destroyed and/or before the enemies can destroy the building(s) the player must protect. The player can call in an assortment of different turrets to aid in the fight but the turrets are not a replacement for the Trench as the player will do most of the killing. The Trench itself controls really nicely with tight responsive controls. 'Trenched' also has online co-op for up to four players and playing with friends is the best way to play this game.

The games story focuses on an alternate WWI where a mysterious radio broadcast, simple called “the broadcast,” changes two military men into brilliant scientists. One of these men, Commander Woodruff, created the Trenches while the other man, Vlad, created the monovisions with the purpose of spreading the broadcast. So the story is essentially about the player needing to stop a mad scientist who is trying to take over the world. The story is simple but offers some unnecessary, though appreciated, narrative cohesion to the destruction. As well, the game does not take itself seriously and there is some good use of self-referential humour and witty dialogue.

Every kill and mission success gives the player experience points and money which the player can use to buy and unlock new weapons and gear for one’s Trench. The level of customization in 'Trenched' is actually surprising. Everything about one’s Trench can be changed from guns, to legs, to emplacements (turrets), to the chassis. The chassis is probably the most important customization option as each chassis determines the types and amount of weapons and emplacements one can take to battle. If one takes a chassis that offers the most space for guns one will only have a few emplacement options or one can choose a chassis that does not offer much firepower but offers more emplacement options. 'Trenched' also offers a wide assortment of weapons to attach to one’s Trench such as machine guns, shotguns, anti-air flak cannons, grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and heavy artillery. Some weapons will have special effects like the ability to knock enemies back or to shoot through multiple targets. The different leg options can offer bonuses like a sprint ability or a rapid reload ability.

Thankfully victory is not as simple as picking the most powerful weapons and jumping into the fight. The strategy begins with customization and picking the wrong loadout can lead to a failed mission. For example, if the mission requires the protection of multiple buildings then a speedy Trench might be good and if there are air units the player must destroy than some kind of flak canon can help a lot. In other words, the customization is not simply a nice addition to the gameplay. Customization is the core of the gameplay and getting it wrong can mean a quick end to a mission.

Turret Placement
Even though “Trenched” borrows some elements from tower defense games one should not assume that “Trenched” is a tower defense game. The player cannot create mazes of turrets enemies need to travel through. Rather the turrets are there to help, not to do the work for the player. This means that turret placement becomes more strategic and can be more desperate and challenging. Also turrets are vulnerable to attack and a player can find him/herself defending the turrets on the map at the same time as defending the buildings the enemies are trying to destroy.

Selecting what types of turrets to bring into the fight is extremely important. Certain turrets offer anti-air support, others can damage multiple enemies at once, others can repair the player’s damaged Trench, and others can help collect scrap. Scrap is basically the currency used to deploy turrets during gameplay. Every downed enemy will drop scrap and the player must collect scrap in order to deploy more turrets. Each turret has a different scrap cost, the higher the amount of scrap needed to deploy a turret the more enemies the player has to kill before that turret can be deployed. Overall the turret gameplay is more strategic than action oriented and adds some nice depth to the actual shooting of enemies that makes up a lot of the gameplay.

The Enemy
'Trenched' offers a wide range of enemies that offer unique challenges in each map. For example, there are melee attack enemies, ranged attack enemies, flying enemies, enemies that will charge at the player and explode, enemies that will specifically attack or disable turrets, large mini-bosses, enemies that provide shielding for other enemies, enemies that block the players sight, large final bosses, and so on. 'Trenched' also does a good job of introducing new enemy types often so the gameplay always keeps the player on their toes. Also some enemies are only vulnerable to certain attacks, like needing to use explosive weapons to break through an enemy’s armour. The wide variety of enemy types offered makes for some tense, strategic, hectic moments as the player decides as quickly as possible the best way to deal with the coming onslaught.

The Look and Sound of Mechanized Warfare
'Trenched' is not the best looking game on the market but the animations are superb. The game can get visually repetitive with most of the enemies looking similar (black with blue glowing parts). There is nothing that really stands out about the sound but the Trench’s sound heavy and metallic and the Monovisions screech otherworldly sounds convincingly. The voice acting is well done and fun to listen too though the game’s characters are not necessarily memorable. Overall I think most players will be happy with how the game looks, especially since the gameplay is so much fun.

Defend with Friends
The online co-op in 'Trenched' is a lot of fun and offers a different set of strategic possibilities from the singleplayer. While playing singleplayer the player must account for every enemy type and cover every avenue of attack, which means that the player must be extra careful about what weapons he/she chooses to use. Whereas in multiplayer players can have specific roles. For example, in a four-player match one player can be a heavy gunner, another a machine-gunner, another focused on anti-air, and another focused on turret deployment. Players do not have to play by choosing specific roles at all but it shows how the strategy can change when more players are added. The game can become easier with more people but it is still fun to blast away monovisions with friends. The one issue I have with multiplayer is the lack of any multiplayer modes beyond co-op story gameplay. Some type of survival mode would go a long way to adding replay value to the game. The lack of any specific multiplayer modes means once the story is done the player has experienced all the game offers. The game does rate the player’s performance at the end of each completed mission with a bronze, silver, or gold star rating. So trying to get all gold star ratings does add a minimal amount of replay value but I don’t think it is enough to warrant continuous play.

For 1200 Microsoft points 'Trenched' is a fun and addictive game that deserves a play through. The controls are solid and the variety of enemy types can keep the action intense and the player engaged throughout the story. I was most impressed with how well 'Trenched' navigates and utilizes the different genres that make up the gameplay resulting in a surprisingly strategic and hectic game. If you are a gamer who likes a bit of strategy with their third-person shooting mayhem (and if you like blowing enemies away with ridiculous weapons) then I highly recommend you give 'Trenched' a try.

  • Unique hybrid gameplay
  • Lots of enemy variety
  • Tight and responsive controls
  • Nice balance between shooting and strategy
  • Lack of online modes
  • Game can become a bit too easy with multiple players
  • Repetitive visuals
Quote: "If you are a gamer who likes a bit of strategy with their third-person shooting mayhem (and if you like blowing enemies away with ridiculous weapons) then I highly recommend you give 'Trenched' a try. "
Reviewed by James Farrington | 07.05.11

Similar Games: Under Siege (7.1) | Toy Soldiers (8.0)




Double Fine Productions


US Release
June '11


Xbox Live Arcade

Players 1
Multiplayer 2-4
Online Co-Op 2-4
1200 MS Points