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Tower of Guns
Psycho Sep 12, 2013 @ 2:41pm
Review of 0.42 "Monkey Wrench"
Having seen the pre-pre-pre-alpha (lol) gameplay, I had the feeling that this entry was something special and not just another generic FPS slapped together from an engine and some assets. I was pretty excited about it, so I bought into the alpha to try it out, here's my thoughts.

Setup is a little rough, no shortcuts are created and it took me some time to figure out I needed to run "Binaries\Win32\UDK.exe" to start the game. As you do.

Although the graphics look initially very simple, the modelling is fairly complicated, and the cell shading, grimy, gritty textures give it a real hard-edged, raw atmosphere in keeping with the sadomasochistic game design. The guns look well 'ard and mean, not like some of these sissified 'elite op' futuristic guns. They look they've been in constant use for 50 years, only to be thrown into action one last time. The game looks a lot like Borderlands, but plays a lot more like Quake/UT. There are no reloads, no conversations, no missions here, just old-school fragging and survival.

This is amazingly good for an alpha (other devs take note!), although there are several rough spots, and some game-breaking bugs, all in all, it just works smoothly, efficiently, and you're bugging out fragging everything in sight. Sweet, sweet shooting action that will have to screaming "Oh snap!" (or other four-letter words) as you take and then dish out huge amounts of firepower.

The enemies are generally pretty weak, and easy to kill, but fire ridiculous amounts in your direction, made even more difficult by the roguelike/hardcore design. You have one life to try and ascend the tower. The demo only includes two levels, so it is not possible to finish the game as yet, but you get the feel for how it will play. You start in a foyer, take on two sections of multiple rooms, then exit in the elevator to the next level.

To help you out, you have a nice assortment of firepower, each gun invokes a standard trope but does not feel generic, and you can pick up or buy various powerups or items to assist your quest. You can only hold one item or weapon mod at a time, so you often need to make a decision about whether you need more agility/jumping or more firepower. There's no point having the most powerful gun in the game if you're dead. :P You can also choose a perk, which alters the game significantly and allows you to specialise in your preferred play style. This works the same as Paranautical Activity, Fallout, etc.

However, when you start the game, you have but one perk and one gun. You're pretty screwed. This is where the unlock mechanics kick in. Each time you achieve an in-game accomplishment, you unlock something in the game. These can be trivial, difficult or esoteric. This gives the game more playability, and is far more fun than Steam achievements - you're actually getting something useful to you in the game, not just a digital badge. This keeps you gaming on to get that next unlock. Nice Skinner boxing.

Insta-play means short, sharp gameplay bursts, so you don't have to worry about saving and reloading - because you can't! You can break open a game and smash some stuff quickly if you feel like it for a 'quick' shoot em up game. This doesn't need to be brief either, it all comes down to your play style. Even though the levels are par 4 (minutes) , I normally spend about 15 minutes per level, cleaning everything up and searching for secrets (damn I want that gun!). Endless mode is there if you want a (literal) hardcore challenge and you can spend as much time as you like, the fragging never ends. Well, until you die anyway.

Random level design means no play through is ever the same, and keeps you on your toes. Even though the enemy spawns for the level are the same each time, you've normally got a different build, so you can't just play it the same way, you have to adapt to what you have and the level sequence the game presents. Even though the random level design is quite simple, it doesn't feel that way, and feels natural and like it was built that way. Boss levels are fun and let you showcase your firepower to maximum effectively; and you'd better because they will rip your head off if you show them a moment of mercy.

I really appreciate the kickass humour shown in the game through some of the ludicrous descriptions and in-game dialogue: "Blown the transaxle, grinding metal", hehe, and it was nice to see the game refer to both male and female gamers (yes they're out there, boys). This humour accentuates the dissonance between the overwhelming threat placed on you, the depressed atmosphere and the inevitability of your death with over-the-top light-hearted humour. This works effectively in the same way that Claptrap did in Borderlands.

It's not all rainbows and skittles though, so now I will go into some of the bad things about this game - specifically the demo as I feel they are all redeemable. Please take note of the former section more than the latter as I expect that Joe will be fixing these as he goes

Just as with Borderlands, I noticed an increasing tension around the eyes, and I had to stop my first game as I felt sick. Seeing as I've been playing FPS since Doom, this is very very unusual. As with Borderlands, pumping up FOV seemed to address it but some still remains, giving the game an unpleasant feel. I think this vertigo/nausea-inducing motion is possibly a combination of FOV, blur and depth of field. I think it can be removed with tweaking.

Weapon power-down is punishing and combined with permadeath, increases difficulty greatly. Generally speaking, if you're on a 'good' run your weapon is maxed out, or nearly, so has no real effect, but this totally sucks when you're getting hammered and your weapon turns into a pea shooter in the middle of a hectic firefight, especially a boss fight. This can get you killed really easily, which is disappointing.

Clipping walls and even floors is kind of random, making the camera judder badly as you run around, you can look through walls, and get stuck while clipping and shot (lost several games like this), also affects elevators (the one at the end of the golden 4-pillar room) and worst-case: You clip into the wall/floor and never come out[]. In this case the game waits about a minute and then despawns you as a ghost (no HUD) to the foyer[]. The game is effectively over at that point, although you can fly slowly around the room if you feel like it. :( This major bug needs fixing badly.

Disappointingly(?), you cannot throw yourself or enemies into the gears[] as an environmental hazard.

Pickups disappear way too fast, unless you fly in circles while ignoring incoming fire, they will probably despawn right in front of you. Arg! Combined with damage depowering the gun, this is quite aggravating. Yes, you can fix this with a perk, but you shouldn't have to. Pickups can also fall down onto walls and get stuck, making them almost impossible to get, which is annoying.

CRAZY air movement means you 'take off' laterally immediately after jumping, and can result in some frustration when trying to do fine jumping movements.

Sound FX are kind of weak and annoying (placeholder?) especially loot pickups and footsteps. Some of the ambient noises (gearworks) are freaking loud in some areas and too quiet in others.

Frame rate not always stable, could be my potato computer

Not enough tweaking options, but maybe can be done via config files

All in all, a very promising title and one recommended to fans of old school shooting fun, or those who want a slice of rogue-like over-the-top story-free action. I can't wait to see how it turns out if it's this good in alpha!

edit: Added pics.
Last edited by Psycho; Sep 12, 2013 @ 3:08pm