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Stop Them At Any Cost!
Tower defense games follow a simple and classic formula - kill everything that moves. Of course, the hook of these games is that everything tends to be moving towards some goal which you have sworn to protect, even if that goal is nothing more concrete then a nameless castle. This simple premise combines strategic building with hoards of opponents, bringing together careful thinkers and hyper-active twitch warriors. Just as important, however, is the ease of remembering what the game is about. Tower defense games tend to be great casual games primarily because they always involve the same goal. There is no reason to worry after putting one down for two weeks. The goals will be the same as you left them.
But for whatever reason a gamer might enjoy them, Tower Defense games have matured quickly as a genre. This list introduces five of the best tower defense games that are available today, and among them are some games that are good enough that anyone should be able to enjoy them.
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Plants Versus Zombies
PopCap games has long been a shining example of how simple, easy to learn gameplay can result in complex, interesting results. With titles like Peggle already under their belt, gamers paid attention when Plants Versus Zombies was announced. That attention was well warranted. Plants Versus Zombies mixes original PopCap thinking with the traditional formula, creating a game that some are hesitate to call a tower defense game in the traditional sense. Plants Versus Zombies is a huge game, and while all of it focuses on defense, some of its many modes of play are completely original.
Plants Versus Zombies is also reinforced by PopCap's famous charm. Although presented with simple two-dimensional graphics, the art is wonderfully done. The numerous types of zombies provide not only a challenge, but also tongue-in-cheek pop culture references. And anyone who takes the time to read the in-game almanac will surely be impressed by PopCap's attention to detail. Plants Versus Zombies may be the least serious tower defense game to date, but it is also one of the best.
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Is there anything that you'd give up everything to defend? This is the question asked by Immortal Defense. The game portrays the player as a Path Defender, a formally mortal being rendered immortal by his planet's government in a desperate attempt to defend the planet from invaders blitzing towards the planet through hyperspace. As a Path Defender, the player sees all of hyperspace as a series of linear paths connecting two points, rendering the numerically superior alien menace vulnerable. The mechanics of Immortal Defense are brilliant, and defys the tower defense genre's reputation as being slow-paced. The levels are short, the graphics flashy, and the action constant.
But Immortal Defense also introduces something even rarer to the genre. A great story. The player's position as an immortal Path Defender is not just used as an excuse for gameplay. It is explored in numerous ways as the levels progress. As the player becomes more involved in the duties of Path Defense, the concerns of the mortals left behind start to seem less and less relevant. Over the course of 100 levels the game takes numerous breath-taking turns, resulting in an ending which is devastating in its inevitability.
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Defense Grid: The Awakening
While the previous two games expand the genre in new directions, Defense Grid: The Awakening is as pure as any game in the genre. If you're looking for new twists on the formula, this is not the game for you. Aliens are, for reasons unknown, attacking. Fortunately, they have an unexplainable need to walk down elevated corridors in an attempt to hi-jack your power cores, which are apparently very important. Make sense? I didn't think so.
But that doesn't mean Defense Grid: The Awakening is a bad game. In fact, it is a very good game. It offers nothing new, but it polishes what exists to a gem-like shine for all the world to see. The enemies quickly become difficult to crack, the building and upgrading is well executed, and the game isn't half bad to look at. The typical strategies used in this genre work well in Defense Grid, but they work with more gusto. Enemies are slaughtered in great number, and the graphical flair given to flamethrowers and laser towers is appreciated. In many ways, the game could be considered the Demigod of the genre - a flawless execution of game mechanics that were originally developed in mods.
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Desktop Tower Defense
Desktop Tower Defense is the only game on this list which can be had for free. Based in Flash, it can be found in numerous versions all across the web, with the latest version being the 2009 release of DTD Pro. At first glance, the game doesn't impress. The graphics and sounds have the low quality you'd expect of a free game, and the first levels are too easy, making boredom too easy a path to follow.
Stick with it, however, and you'll find an impressive tower defense game. DTD's twist is that the player creates their own lanes through which enemies must progress, and those lanes are made of the towers themselves. This creates numerous inherent strategic questions. Is it better to make a longer channel with cheap towers, or a shorter channel with more expensive ones? Where should the better towers go when the lane is created? Does creating a new lane result in a better defense, or does it only delay defeat?
DTD is available for free on the PC, but those particularly enamored with the title can pick it up for the Nintendo DS, making it the only title listed here available on a console (although ports of Plants Versus Zombies are rumored).
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Warcraft 3 Mods
Let's not forget where the tower defense genre really got its start. In the early days, games based off the concept of defending a central point were developed simultaneously with flash and in Starcraft custom maps. Both were significant towards making the genre popular, but most of the flash games stand up poorly as anything more than time wasters. The Starcraft, and later Warcraft 3, mods were much more involved, and can provide many hours of enjoyment.
The number of Warcraft 3 mods available can be overwhelming, however, so I'll recommend a place to start. Element Tower Defense is a fairly straight-forward tower defense game which adds in elemental attack and armor types. Using the right attack against the right foe is the key to victory. While this is a mod, Warcraft 3 remains as least as good looking as any other game on this list. Compared to the other titles on this list, the mod feels more mature than you'd expect. If you already own Warcraft 3, give this one a shot.