Double Fine's playful mech-tower defence mash-up Iron Brigade (née Trenched) arrived on PC just over a week back, far too many months after its console version. I've been meaning to write about it for some time, but became waylaid by a different kind of big stompy robot and by creating big trouble in little Hong Kong. Now I am ready. Ready for what? Why, to tell you exactly what I think, of course. Let slip the trenches of war!
I love it, basically. I have a nagging feeling that perhaps I shouldn't, because it doesn't run too far with its concept and it's causing me to grind, but it would take an awful lot of error to rob the joy of controlling a trench on robot legs while being shouted at by a mad Russian who lives inside a television.
The trio of quick, small, high-concept games from Double Fine in the wake of their foiled attempt to go big-budget have been a joy. Costume Quest hit its own ceiling far too soon but was swathed in the charm of a dozen Michael Palins, while Stacking was a simply glorious adventure game that I'm baffled went largely ignored by those same people who feverishly funded Double Fine's point and click Kickstarter as though it was the last and only hope of such things ever existing again. The sillies.
Iron Brigade, the artist formerly known as Trenched, has just joined its pint-sized brethren in moving to PC, and it's just as deftly joyful, and surprisingly able to turn a very silly idea into something that immediately and completely makes sense. Specifically, defeating a monster invasion by piloting a mobile trench.
You might well have seen it described as a tower defence game, which is both wildly inaccurate and has perhaps steered genre snobs away from it. It does have towers. It does involve defence. It does not require placing dozens of towers in convoluted rows to manage the movement of dumb legions of enemies. It requires going BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG while stomping around large, third-person-perspective maps in World War 1-themed mech, and depending on which type of Word War 1-themed mech you're using, there might be a handful of towers also going BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG to help you deal with the weight of numbers that are seeking to trash the base(s) you defend.
Even were you to pick the most tower-centric mech (as opposed to the most heavy weapon-centric ones), you will be directly in the fray and going BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG at all times. It's a third-person action game in a string of arenas, with the focus on finding and buying better weapons for your walking trench as the number and deadliness of enemies - alien-esque thingies constructed out of monitors and radio equipment - steadily increases.
There isn't much to it, as while there are dozens of weapons and turrets they're just stat-upped variations on around 10 types, but the pursuit of upgrades, the slow stream of new enemies and an unfailing air of cheerful b-movie weirdness, that scarcely matters.
Simply, it feels good to blow up those TV-beasts by stomping around and unleashing massive guns, and on Normal the challenge is not too cold, not too hot - just right. Never quite frustrating, and always that sense I could do better if applied my brain more rather than lazily went BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.
While simple and low-priced, it's reasonably long and also heads off the risk of over-familiarity at the stompy pass by deciding to up-sticks to Mars in the latter stages of the game (I believe these levels were DLC for consolekin, but are part of a seamless whole here). Plus, there are funny hats and outrageously horrid mech colour schemes to unlock. Like I say - I love it. It's characteristic Double FIne ludicrousness, applied to something that works, both as bare-chested entertainment and as a tactical action game.
The bad news is Games For Windows Live if you want to play co-op, though I would say it's the most buttoned-down, low-key use of MS's loathed multiplayer infrastructure I've yet seen, any issues involving installation and profile recognition your might encounter aside.
Between enjoying being thoroughly self-interested in my own odyssey of destruction and collection and a deep-seated, unprofessional distaste for GFWL, I've felt absolutely no pull towards the co-op, but like Orcs Must Die 2 (which is a very useful reference point in terms of that halfway point between action and strategy Iron Brigade squats in) it ups the carnage and the ability to manage to overwhelming odds. It doesn't meaningfully change what's a very simple, straightforward game, nor does it need to.
Like Stacking before it, it's been released too late and with too little fanfare, even by an audience who supposedly hang on Double Fine's every move. This is a shame, because it's great. I can't put it any more clearly than that. Oh, maybe I'll try: IRON BRIGADE IS GREAT YOU SHOULD BUY IT. Also, in the later levels the baddie remote-controls a giant bear by sticking a TV on its head and a mighty bear on its chin, so there's that.