PAX East 2011: Trenched Hands-On Demo

In: Articles by Nick "Alsop Live" Dinicola

13 Mar 2011

How do you make trench warfare fun?

With giant mechs of course.

At least that’s the thinking behind Trenched, the new XBLA game from Double Fine, which actually plays nothing like trench warfare and is all the better for it.

At first Trenched looks like a very different game for Double Fine. There’s no immediate gimmick like trick-or-treat gameplay or Russian stacking dolls — just big robots shooting other big robots.

It seems so serious, at least until you hear the wonderfully irreverent back story: A mysterious signal sent to a listening post during World War I kills everyone within earshot except two men, who then become super smart (laughing yet?).

Well, one invents the television a couple decades early and decides conquer the world with his new network of creepy blue TV monsters that look like they were pulled out of the Matrix. The other guy combines the two things he knows best — trench warfare and fake legs — to create an army of moving trenches the military uses to defend against the TV monsters.

So how does it play? Trenched is actually a combination of traditional third-person mech shooting and a traditional tower-defending, which make a very non-traditional game.

Like a normal tower-defense game, you’re placed into an arena and tasked with defending a specific structure. Trenched is one of those “open” tower-defense games, the kind that don’t send the enemy down a linear maze where you can wail on them, but enemies come in waves from multiple sides so you have to place your defenses accordingly. No spawn-camping the enemies. Each wave sends in stronger and stronger foes, and every baddie you kill drops televisions that you can use as currency (they’re made of televisions, remember that).

This TV money is used to buy or upgrade turrets that serve typical tower-defense functions: Some slow enemies down, some shoot missiles, and the like.

If you’ve played a tower-defense game you know what to do, the twist is in the introduction of mech combat.

Your mech is badass. There’s a little man up top controlling the thing, surrounded by sandbags for protection; he’s in a trench, and the trench just happens to be on top of huge robotic legs. It’s totally customizable, and loot will be a big part of the game with collectible guns, turrets, or clothes and hats for the man up top.

Since this is Double Fine, the combat is accessible and fun. You can choose a loadout for your mech, but you won’t have to deal with weight or overheating issues. Loadouts are determined by the class of mech: Heavy, medium or light. The bigger mechs have more gun slots for more powerful weapons, but they also have fewer turret for support — just a standard turret and magnet that sucks in the TV money. Smaller mechs are less powerful by themselves, but they get to drop better turrets.

Overall, this simple bit of management lets you change how Trenched plays so that it better fits your playstyle. If you’re a shooter fan, jump in a big mech and blast away; if you’re more into tactics, jump in a little mech and devise the perfect defensive perimeter; if you’re a little of both or can’t decide, jump in the middle mech for a bit of both worlds.

Trenched also has four player co-op, and while the hands-on demo at PAX East only had three stations set up for co-op play I imagine four will only be more fun. The game is very player friendly; this is the kind of co-op game you can play for an hour and still be best friends with your partner. There’s no friendly fire, and the TV money is shared between everyone. So even though I was in a big slow mech, the little guy who constantly zoomed past me to get the TVs wasn’t hurting me, he was actually helping me.

Even though the TVs are shared when collected, you spend them individually, so you can’t blame one player spending everyone’s TVs.

There’s a nice attention to detail in the game that’ll make you smile. When you call in a turret it arrives almost instantly, falling from the sky and crashing into the ground like a giant bullet. It always lands at an angle, then drills down to right itself. It’s a cool effect to watch that never gets old. When shooting things from a distance it can be hard to tell if you’re hitting, but thankfully a dot appears between your crosshairs to let you know a bullet landed. I’ve mostly only seen FPS games do this, and even then they always copy the Call of Duty “X”.

But best of all, the enemies really are television monsters. Their faces are covered in wires that form a kind of jaw, so when they open up to attack you can see the TVs inside them.

The game will be long, with 15 maps across three continents, and every minute looks to be enjoyable. It’s a shooter for those who just want to shoot, and a strategy game for those who want to think, and it can still be both for those who want both. And it won’t make you hate your friends, it’ll make you high-five them, over Xbox Live, later this year.

Truly, everything is made better with giant mechs. Even trench warfare.

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3 Responses to PAX East 2011: Trenched Hands-On Demo



March 13th, 2011 at 11:22 am

Thanks for the writeup, mechs + coop definitely has my attention.



March 13th, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Good thing I stocked up on spacebucks the last time they were on sale here, I think I’m going to need them with all the XBLA stuff coming out.


Leah "WhiteGodiva" Haydu

March 15th, 2011 at 6:01 am

@Scuigi: Definitely. I was surprised at how much awesome downloadable stuff I saw this weekend. Welcome to my backlog…

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