Trenched is the third game in the line of smaller downloadable titles from the developers at Double Fine, and represents Double Fine's first attempt at designing a game for cooperative play. They have done well at this and Trenched successfully blurs the line between being designed for cooperative gameplay and for singleplayer gameplay with its unique blend of tower defense and third person shooting coupled together with four player online coop.
Trenched takes place in the World War I era and tells the story of two men struck by an unknown force which has made them super intelligent. One, Frank Woodrof, goes on to build the "trenches", a robotic trench on legs with guns attached, while the other, Vladamir Farnsworth, seeks to spread the word of the "broadcast" and wages war on civilization with his creations.
As is the case with most other Double Fine games, the game and story has lots of charm and humor, even in spite of its gritty setting. It's clear that there is a deeper point to the story though, as the enemies are all inspired by TVs, radios and other broadcast devices. Trenched may be Double Fine's way of commenting on how dependant on media consumption we are today, but the game never tries to stick it down your throat. It's just there in the background, and you're free to pay attention to it, or just see it for its entertainment value. Even if the intention wasn't to make a political comment, as a theme for the game, it still helps make the atmosphere more unique and adds more charm.
The voice acting only adds to the humor and atmosphere of the game too. While it isn't amazing, it does a good job of making the characters come alive, and fits the game nicely. The rest of the soundscape isn't particularly memorable though.
At first glance, Trenched may look like your typical gritty war game, which comes down to the style. Most of the environments have a healthy dose of grey and brown in them, which helps make the enemies stand out from the environment. It does feel overdone sometimes though, and a bit more color could have been nice. The graphics aren't particularly advanced, but they don't really need to be either. The characters and enemies have their own unique style, and you can outfit your trench with outrageous weapons and equipment, so despite the gritty setting, the game still has a bit of a quirky look. The framerate holds up well too, although it takes a small hit when you add more players to your game.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. You take on missions wherein you have one or more positions you must protect from waves of oncoming enemies, while keeping yourself alive. You can set down emplacements to help you keep them at bay, or focus on shooting them with the weapons on your trench.
Completing missions earns you money and equipment, which you can use to customize your trench and your marine, although marine customization is limited to clothing only. Wandering around in a big robot with a marine who wears a top hat and tuxedo is as awesome as it sounds though! You can do more meaningful customization as well, like choosing weapons and emplacements for your trench, and choosing special abilities and whether you want to specialize for emplacements or for weapons.
While the gameplay in missions isn't particularly deep, all the customization you can do with your trench make it a fun experience, whether you like shooting your enemies in their face or whether you want to go for a more strategic approach with emplacements. And if you can coordinate with your friends online, creating a balanced team where everyone takes on certain roles is definitely where the most fun can be had.
In-between missions, your base of operation is the USS McKinley, a warship. From here, you customize your trench, choose missions and invite players to join you. You can always go back and play previous missions, even with your new equipment, so when you hit level 10, you can blaze through many of the early levels with little trouble. While this can be fun, it's a shame that you don't have the option of turning the difficulty up, so you can get more enjoyment out of these levels, since they aren't very challenging when you come back to them. The game does become harder when you play with others though, as the game will throw more enemies at you in order to scale the difficulty.
While this is of course a good thing, it's unfortunately not enough to keep the missions from losing their value after a few playthroughs. While you can play through each mission with different friends, the game doesn't come with any variations on the missions, and the only thing that will ever change is the size of the enemy waves and the loot you might get.
The game rates your performance with a three medal rating. If you manage to win the mission, you are given either a bronze, silver or gold medal depending on your performance. This can make it a bit hard to compete with your friends on who does best, for example, unless you're playing together here and now, in which case you can compare stats for the mission once you're done. As most of the missions can be completed to a gold rating by playing alone without any huge trouble, some deeper leaderboards or some other mechanic to make the experience worth coming back would have been nice.
The game does encourage you to interact with others though, for example by showing regiment stats, which keeps track of the combined stats of the people you've played with, and unlocking items when certain milestones are reached. But it doesn't feel like a good enough reason for coming back to the game, unfortunately.
Trenched is a good game while it lasts, and running through all the missions for the first time will take you about six hours. It would have been nice to have had more incentives for replaying the missions, but that's the only big fault the game has. It's a fun and quirky little game that would have benefitted from some extra value.