World War I may be a rather unusual setting for a war game, since attention is most often given over to its bigger, more devastating brother, but Trenches takes this idea and uses it to introduce a combination of path-drawing and tower defense. In fact, the game provides a tower offense type of gameplay, with the towers being soldiers and the offense being the goal of reaching the other side.
The campaign mode of Trenches has you controlling British forces, fighting through long, scrolling fields that are mostly generic, but accurate in that they are full of trenches, barbed wire, and a multitude of enemies. The system for deploying troops is familiar to any real-time strategy player: money pays for troops, deployment causes spawn timers to reset, and strategy is required while waiting between purchases.
Duke it out on the battlefield like your great grandpa.
The four troop types are rifleman, sniper, machine gun, and mortar, and these are accompanied by poison attacks or air strikes. After deploying any unit, the cartoonish soldiers automatically march forward until they face an enemy, at which point they stop wherever they are and fight until death or victory, without being able to move forward another inch, even if they are at the edge of a trench that they could use. There is not much strategy involved in the actual combat between units. Most of the strategy simply lies in how many units you have, and how you move them forward.
Luckily, you can control these units by drawing them a path, allowing you to stagger units, make them hole up in trenches, or have them beat a hasty retreat in order to draw enemies out. Another way to draw enemies out of their trenches is to call in an air strike, which has an over-the-top result.
After deciding where to aim the strike, a small red dot appears on the map. Then several shells drop, and every soldier’s oversized head flies a comically far distance across the map. The way of war is not all one-sided, however, because it can also happen to you.
Would you like mustard with your gas?
Skirmish mode is basically the same as playing one battle in campaign mode, only with more customization. The most notable addition is the “Zombie Horde” mode, which pits your tea-sipping soldiers against an endless horde of zombies, which grows the longer the game lasts. The animation of these bloody baddies is hilarious, and it’s satisfying to watch your Brits stand up to line after line of them. Sadly, the zombies don’t ever let up, and even the strongest army will eventually fall.
Trenches combines cartoony animated soldiers with interesting strategic gameplay in a way that we enjoy, but the strategy is simply not dynamic enough in the end. Forcing units to stop and fight wherever they are makes strength-in-numbers one of the only surefire strategies, and it also teaches you how terribly high casualties were on both sides in WWI. Who ever said games aren’t educational?