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Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Developer: Double Fine Productions Genre: Tower Defence/Shooter /Mech Shooter Mode(s): Single-player/ Local co-op/ Online co-op Price: 1200MSP Launch Date: (EU) 1st December 2011
Iron Brigade was originally titled Trenched, and released in Northern America back in June 2011. Due to copyright issues however, its European release was stopped in its tracks until a work around was found. This work around became the rebranding of the game, which shipped with an update to make all the old Trenched versions change to Iron Brigade. But was the wait for this game worth it? Or did the long wait ruin Iron Brigades moment in the spotlight? Find out in our in-depth review. Game-play - 8 Primarily, Iron Brigade joins the onslaught of tower defence games that have been out this year. The game begins with a short cut-scene, explaining that during the war, a strange broadcast happened which killed people, apart from Frank Woodruff and Vladimir Farnsworth, who became super intelligent instead. Having lost his legs in the war, Frank used his knowledge to build mechanical legs, which then went on to become the Mobile Trenches. Vladimir on the other hand, while being intelligent, also became insane, wanting to spread The Broadcast around the world to everyone. To do this he made machines that bring the world to people instead of the other way around, these were called the Monovisions. Wanting to prevent the Monovisions winning and ultimately destroying life, Frank leads the marines to war, to take out the threat once and for all. The cut-scene ends and it shows a character in a Trench, which crawls out of the ground. You're able to select from different characters to pilot the Trench. These are Frank Woodruff. Jr, Claude Stanley, Jozef Kowalski and Morris Hardy. The overall choice doesn't make much difference, other than odd bits of dialogue. For example they have different accents, and Frank Jr sometimes says father instead of Commander. You then are placed into a quick tutorial stage which teaches you how to use the camera and how to fire your weapons. Then it puts you against the first set of enemies, Resistors and Tommy's. These are the basic easy enemies, the former just running to attack what you defend, the latter being able to fire back at you. Once the tutorial mission is over, you are sent aboard the marines ship, here you can get mission briefings, customise your Trench and visit the radio room to play with friends or people around the world. Focusing upon the missions first however, each mission sees you defending something, be it a control tower or a hut, it will be your job to defend it the best you can.


Tommy's, the scorpions of the future
To help defend, you can use emplacements. These cost scrap, which can be found when you destroy an enemy. Some of the emplacements you get early on include a shotgun turret, a dampening field which slows enemies down and flak turrets, which are your anti-air turrets. As you progress you get more and more enemies introduced to you, and some of them provide a lot of humour, such as Big Willie and Knobs. Further humour is added when the Commander shouts things like watch out, a pack of Knobs is coming. Some enemies are armoured and as you progress you do get more and more enemies, which help out the others. It can become quite tough at times in later waves when masses of enemies come all aiming for the place you are defending. The game features 15 levels, not counting the tutorial, and one survival level. Ultimately the game does feel short because of this, however with friends it's a lot of fun. Doing the missions on solo could prove to be quite hard give the amount of defences you will need. The game features up to 4 player co-op, so it's definitely one a group of friends could enjoy. There is also a levelling up system, which finishes at rank 10, giving you access to better weapons and items. Back to a point which was mentioned earlier, the radio room is how you join and invite others, all with the click of a button. Sometimes during multiplayer game-play however you do experience some lag issues, but ultimately it can be a lot of fun if you are with friends. Also mentioned earlier was the customisation. This is a big part of Iron Brigade, as it's where you can turn your small Trench into a massive one. When you go onto the customisation menu, you have different options. These are modify core, modify weapons, modify emplacements, modify marine and shop. Modify core allows you to change your chassis, legs and paint job. The paint jobs merely add some colour to your Trench. The legs and chassis however require more strategy. Starting with the legs, you can get some which allow you to sprint, or some that can smash or help you reload faster. This means you have to decide what you think is going to be more beneficial to your style of playing. The chassis require even more thinking out however. If you want one that can hold support, heavy and light emplacements, you have to sacrifice weapon slots. Or you could go for having a support and light emplacement slot, but have all weapon slots open to you. Also each chassis have different armour ratings, so again, it is all down to what you think would benefit your style of playing. Modify weapons does what it says on the tin. You can select which weapons go in which slots, and equip what you feel is the best for each mission. For example, if you only have two weapon slots, you could have a shotgun and a machine gun, whereas those with the max slots could go with a shotgun, grenade launcher, sniper and machine gun, or have two artillery guns equipped to be a walking tank. Modify emplacements is also important, as this lets you select what back up you get to take to the field. Your choice is dependant on the emplacement slots that the chassis allows. Usually players can get away with only needing a repair station, shotgun and flak turret, but can't always carry them. So again, it's down to strategy and following the advice of the Commander. Modify marine allows you to personalise your marine a bit with hats and outfits. These don't make a difference to the overall game-play, just adding a bit of personality to your character. The hats however do give different salutes, which can be seen while you are on the boat by pressing RT. As for the shop, this allows you to buy any new and more powerful items to upgrade your Trench with, or sell unwanted items. Getting money is easy as you get rewarded at the end of each mission, and can sell anything you don't want. Even the credits provide some entertainment, as you get to see all the development staff doing different actions through the Monovisions, this was a nice touch. Overall, Iron Brigade is a fun game with friends, but with solo play it can drag a little bit or become too tough. That alongside the lag issue which occasionally happens holds it back a little bit, but it feels like a fresh game despite there being numerous tower defence games out now.


An explosion surrounding a Big Willie
Graphics - 9 Iron Brigade features highly detailed graphics for an arcade title. When you begin the game you are treated to war magazines which are being shown as they are placed on a desk. It then fades into the game-play element, by showing you a masked man in a trench. This is where you are able to select your character, which each has different faces. Again, for an XBLA title, the faces are highly detailed, easily showing the difference in each character model. You also at this point get your first look at the Mobile Trench, which will be your characters defence and attack. The Mobile Trench is basically a trench on the top of mechanical legs. Again, no details went missing, as you can see the sandbags on the top, as well as the details that have gone into the Trench unit to make it look the part of being a mech, right down to the engine on the back. Next we look at the weapons you have in the game. You will unlock or buy an array of weaponry during the game, most of these when equipped just look like long barrels, so there isn't too much difference between them. However there is a difference between the emplacements. For the most part, their designs are turrets, with different guns on top, but when you pay attention you can tell them apart by looking at the barrel. Also you get mortars and mines, which again, stand out from the crowd. All the weapons might be a mix of decent looking and looking the same, but it's the enemy variants which stand out. The Tubes are a mix of bright and dark blues primarily, and against the browns and dark colours of the battlefield, easy to spot. While each enemy in a class look the same, the different classes are different. As mentioned during the game-play section, some of the enemies that you are introduced to quickly are Resistors, Tommys, Berserkers and Big Willies. Resistors may be small but they are still highly detailed, the colours of light and dark blue compliment each other to make it look otherworldly and technical, and this is the same for most enemies. Tommys have tails which shoot out light blue bullets, matching the shade of their bodies. Big Willies look like a whale on legs, and follow the same colour pattern, but with the added bonus of metallic girders holding up its back. Berserkers on the other hand are a mix of dark reds and oranges and light oranges. Each of these designs stands out against others easily; leaving you with no doubt of which classes are on the battlefield. Now we focus on the battlefields themselves, and fans of detail are in for a treat. Each battlefield is different in structure. Be it a wartime airport or a building near train tracks, each one is visually different and stunning. Taking the airport as an example, it features the landing strip, the control tower which you protect, and even some small planes off to the side. The overall graphical feel that is prominent throughout the entire game is gritty war, so while the colours are dark browns and greens and make the world look like it is truly in the depths of war. With carnage surrounding the player, and constant attacks, it can be easy to overlook the amount of detail that has gone into making this game stand out amongst this years onslaught of the tower defence games. But it is definitely worth taking some time from killing enemies to take a quick look at the world around you.


The environments vary per mission, and can be good to look at
Sound - 9 Given that this is a game set in an alternate World War One, the sounds are required to be reminiscent of war itself. Thankfully, this is definitely the case, with that mechanical twist that comes with the game. But before we go into the sounds that come with the weapons, let's focus upon the voice acting. The main voices that you hear are those of Frank Woodruff and Vladimir Farnsworth. Frank gives mission briefings and information during the missions themselves. The voice sounds as it's meant to, official and stern. Despite the stern commanding voice however, the lines that go with it are often hilarious. One of the ones that springs to mind is when you encounter a new variant of enemy in Africa, which is Watch out, a pack of Knobs is incoming. Vladimir on the other hand sounds like the crazy scientist that he is, and often tries to insult Frank and the marines, whilst boasting about superior knowledge and power. He always introduces his new enemies, and states what they can do, such as with the sniper form which can see your soul, from very far away. The characters themselves also have some dialogue, mostly in the form of remarks during combat, such as die tube or taking damage. The main sounds however, is the background noise of drums during a war, and the guns firing and explosions going off. The explosions are really satisfying and the majority of the time it sounds as if you were watching a documentary on wars, with all the booms and gunfire going off. Ultimately it's a very enjoyable game sound wise, and hearing the Monovisions cry out when they are defeated is a good way to tell when to change your target. I do feel however that more could have been done with the characters voices, providing more dialogue. Achievements - 8 Iron Brigade comes with 20 achievements worth a total of 200G like all XBLA titles. With every achievement section of a review, we look at how easy or hard they are, and prefer seeing a mixture, so both skilled gamers and novices can at least earn something. Iron Brigade looks slightly like a mixed bag at first glance, however most achievements will be easy to obtain. You get four achievements for doing the story from start to finish and an extra three if you take out the games bosses with at least two players. There are also achievements which encourage co-operative play, such as completing ten missions in co-op, and playing a mission with four players. Some require a bit of skill, such as earning gold medals on every level, while some require luck and skill, such as completing a solo level without firing a bullet. While they at first sound hard, it's easy to return to earlier levels to get gold medals. Iron Brigade also comes with avatar awards, the first is a t-shirt which is awarded for completing the tutorial, and the second item is a Trench avatar pet awarded for defeating the first boss. Both of these awards are of a decent quality and it's always nice to get a little something extra. You can also unlock gamer pictures as well. Conclusion Iron Brigade runs almost without a hitch. With only a few cases of the game having slow down issues, this is definitely one of the better XBLA titles of the year. While the wait and the price tag might be off putting, it's really worth playing. This game proves to be more fun with friends, and the humour involved in the names of the enemies always provides a chuckle. Double Fine Studios have done an excellent job with Iron Brigade, and even though it's one of many recent tower defence styled games feels unique and fresh.


 

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