Iron Brigade (Formerly Trenched) was developed by Double Fine Productions, published by Microsoft Games Studios and will be released on June 22nd, 2011 for 1200MSP. A copy of the game was provided to us for review purposes.

Double Fine has found great success so far with their downloadable titles. Costume Quest and Stacking were well received, critically and commercially. Each title has been unique in gameplay, setting and style. Trenched is no different, a mech-based tower defense game set in an alternate history with all the charm and character you’ve grown to expect.

A signal of unknown origin is broadcast across the world killing a large portion of the population. The signal has a different affect on WWI veterans Frank Woodrof and Vladamir Farmsworth who gain increased intelligence. Vladamir invents the TV but is soon driven mad and builds an army of TV based robots (called Monovisions or “Tubes”) with which to spread the mysterious signal. Woodrof, who lost his legs in the war, uses his new found intelligence to build mobile trenches (mechs essentially) to help other soldiers like him. These Trenches become the de facto weapon against the Monovisions. It’s certainly a unique premise and it sets up the world well. As a Marine serving under Woodrof you’ll use your Trench to hunt down Farmsworth and discover the mystery behind the strange signal.

Here’s what we liked:

Trenches, TVs and turrets. Oh my!Trenched isn’t the first game to combine third person shooting and tower defense, heck Monday Night Combat already did it pretty successfully on XBLA, but we’d dare say it’s the best. The action is fast, fluid and often very challenging. It’s incredibly satisfying too, laying down turrets (known in-game as emplacements) takes mere seconds allowing you to get straight back shooting Tubes. You’ll want to get stuck in too as those emplacements require scrap to build, which you’ll need to collect from dead Tubes.

Just rewardsTrenched rewards you for completing missions and it does so in abundance.You’ll get cash to spend in the shop, experience points to level up and new equipment to upgrade your Trench. You can also sell your loot if you don’t want or need it. It can be a tad overwhelming at first, as you often get six or seven new pieces of equipment for each successful mission. Once you get into the flow of things though it makes the post-mission screen almost as gratifying as the actual gameplay.

Top hats for everyone – Our character is currently rockin’ a Tuxedo with a pair of stylish sunglasses straight out of Top Gun. His Trench has a giant artillery gun which fires a rather hefty explosive on one side and a combination of machine guns and shotguns on the other. It’s also sporting a rather sleek black paintjob. The only drawback to our current setup is that we can only carry one emplacement. We could easily trade all that firepower for more emplacements or choose a chassis that’s somwhere in the middle. There is no right way to play Trenched, even when playing alone you can decide how action or strategy orientated you want things to be.

Sure sounds sweet – The sound design in Trenched, especially considering the game is a downloadable title, is absolutely amazing. The voice acting is solid, charming and funny. The Tubes make suitably otherworldly noises. The loud thunderous thumps of your Trenches weapons leave you with no doubt as to how powerful they are. It cannot be stressed enough how high the quality of Double Fine’s audio is in this game.

Large scale on a small scaleTrenched manages something that you rarely, if ever, see in an XBLA game — it feels epic. For a game with such a small playing area it manages to combine it’s various excellent visual and sound design elements to create an incredibly exciting atmosphere. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of exhilaration you experience facing off against a screeching behemoth boss character while the crashing and flashing of an electrical storm explode all around you.

Here’s what we didn’t like:

Could you repeat that? – While the sound is one of the highlights it can occasionally be one of the low points too. This is the first of Double Fine’s downloadable titles to feature proper voice acting. The voiceover work itself is great but there’s not enough of it and as such you’ll hear the same few voice clips more than you’d like. It’s a small annoyance in the scheme of things but when the rest of the game is so polished it’s the little things that stick out.

Please sir, can I have some more? – Once you’ve completed your first run through Trenched‘s 7-8 hour campaign you will have likely reached the level cap (currently 10). You’ll also have the majority of the best weapons and upgrades. All this means you don’t have much reason to replay levels other than to get gold medals. We would’ve liked to have a little more to unlock after you’ve finished the story. The ending does heavily hint that there will be more Trenched so presumably we will get some downloadable content somewhere down the line. It’s especially likely considering Costume Quest and Stacking both received DLC after release.

It should speak volumes that one of the few things we didn’t like about Trenched is that even with a 7-8 hour campaign there just isn’t enough of it. There’s plenty to keep you entertained here, especially if get three friends to join you. There is still plenty of fun to be had playing alone though, in fact it adds a lot more strategy to the proceedings. Solo play just means you’ll have to play several roles at once, which is often an exceedingly satisfying challenge. The addition of other players makes things a little easier to manage but also far more hectic; it’s a different but equally fun experience. If you like mechs, tower defense and if you like taking part in epic battles against robot televisions then there’s no question, you need to own Trenched.

Score: Buy it!

Second opinion by Damon Fillman:

Double Fine’s shift to the downloadable scene has been a total success, and the team shows no signs of slowing down with Trenched. It’s a great overall title, but one of the biggest draws is the customization; you can change everything from the color of your mech, shape and size of it, as well as weapon loadouts. You can place gun turrets and other offensive and defensive units around the playing field using the LB button. The combination of strategy, tower defense and straight action make this a title you won’t soon forget. You don’t have to fight alone either because the game offers online co-op using your same powered-up mech from single player. Simply put, not only is this one of the most enjoyable tower defense titles on XBLA, but it is arguably Double Fine’s finest downloadable title to date.

Score: Buy it!