A rogue-like FPS that channels the rhythm of Quake's gunplay
With the swagger of an old-school shooter and the steampunk stylings of Borderlands, Tower of Guns is a frenetic mash-up of a game.Designed to be the type of title you can have a breezy blast with in your lunch hour, it utilises randomised elements to create a rogue-like first person shooter that’s quick of pace and focusses on the twitch response.
Fire, jump and a special ability are the only button controls, and all you’ll need to get to the top of the tower. There is a story, if you can call it that, but it aims for quirky charm and ends up being a few lines of distractionary text. Ignore it, and tool up.
Level progression is as simple as it gets too, following a series of connected rooms that have a solitary entrance and exit; no branching, no choices, just get in, obliterate everything that gets in your way and get out.
With infinite ammo and just one main gun used during any play through, it’s no frills gameplay at its core, a shooting design distilled down to the itch to fire guns. A lot. But there are a few niceties bolted on to keep things interesting.
By equipping one from a series of unlockable perks before beginning, you can add a range of abilities that complement your play style. Eventually you’ll end up with a range that can add speed or alter the difficulty, but the most immediately useful is Bluegrass, which adds a triple jump.
And verticality does come into play - the current buzzword of the FPS genre is pretty integral as you get into the Quake-like rhythm of leaping and shooting. It’s also apparent in many of the rooms you’ll find yourself in as projectiles can positively rain down from above, and there are even Portal-style opaque blocks through which you can jump and be propelled in a chosen direction. If you’re one to pause on your shooting spree, some of the grander rooms will warrant exploration, as they often house secrets.
It's in this randomisation, and the ability to have large rooms that you'll encounter the best and worst of what Tower of Guns has to offer. Some elements slot together poorly, like a Lego building constructed by a belligerent child who refuses to read the instructions. However, it's the hope of seeing something different that adds the much needed spice to the mix, and when all the parts slot together it works, with cavernous rooms housing rolling spikes and the kind of bullet hell appeal that you simply don't find elsewhere.
Beat the clock
The key catalyst for how you play - and what the game was clearly built around - is the par time that informs you of how long it should take you to best each stage, as shown before you begin. It’s a nice mechanic that other titles so often seem to reverse engineer with a countdown timer, but Tower of Guns isn’t so constrictive; dawdlers, like me - who belong to the sub-genus of time wasters otherwise known as obsessive room-clearers - won’t be penalised for trying to blast that last gun emplacement high up in the rafters.
Destroying everything may affect your time, but it does bring with it the benefit of being able to hoover up all the goodies that the plethora of unfriendly automatons drop. Plus, there’s the little satisfaction of hearing all those little pings as they’re collected; I wonder when that’ll get old. Currency can be used when you find small booths mid-level, which house a range of buffs and upgrades; health drops replenish your vitality, which is essential given there are no auto-regenerating health bars; but most interesting are the weapon experience points you’ll accrue, which will increase your gun’s effectiveness, but hits will cost you XP too, meaning guns can actually decrease in level.
Guns...a few gunsThe variety of weapons on offer isn’t vast, but they are at least well designed and offer their own style. Far from the twelve types of assault rifle found elsewhere, the steampunk arsenal in Tower of Guns is meagre but with weapons well distinguished from one another.
Starting off with the weedy Peas-N-Carrots - the quintessential starter pistol that even the game advises you ditch - you’ll progress through the likes of the Portable Pizza Oven which fires circular sawblades, until you get to the really meaty offerings. They all follow a simple weapon archetype, such as the rapid fire rifle or the gib-tastic gun with explosive rounds, which just underlines the quick and breezy way the game is designed to be played. As you progress you’ll get drops from enemies that’ll allow your weapons to evolve, making a shotgun “Machinegunified” (no explanation needed), or increasing accuracy.
The more interesting arsenal is left for the Special Weapon slot, which can also house new abilities. These are picked up during the levels and offer things like teleportation or bombs that'll wipe the screen. When you get into a style of play it becomes a tricky decision whether to replace your trusty back-up piece in favour of something that'll aid mobility.
The strange thing is the Borderlands aesthetic almost underlines the fact that the depth gets so far and then stops rather abruptly; underlining that the game's intended to be played in short bursts. The boss fights have a nice spectacle to them, but the roster of enemies is pretty small, and relies upon adding quantity rather than quality, all with attack patterns that need to overwhelm as opposed to outfox. It’s the sheer numbers that bring with them the most intense and fun moments though, as you find your rhythm, the screen fills and you realise that your weapon choice may not prove a good fit for this particular randomisation.
It’s just a shame that it’s at those times - when you’re enveloped by fire from 360 degrees, the explosions are creating a pyrotechnic lightshow and you’re thinking of hitting the Share button on the DualShock 4 - that the frame rate can take an almighty hit. For all that it does right presentation-wise, you have to remind yourself that this is an indie game, and the rough edges like instances of clipping and the imprecise enemy hit boxes are perhaps why it’s best appreciated at speed.
Even more random
Even at double par time you can easily complete the Normal mode in your lunch hour, which just leaves Dice Roll and Endless modes. These are much more interesting, and where I’d wager most will spend their time after an initial play through. Dice Roll doubles down on the randomisation by giving you random status effects, like decreasing health or speeding up the game. The challenge then becomes working around the new constraints, as things like the inability to stop jumping - particularly when you have a multiple jump ability - can leave you continually falling from height and struggling to get through a doorway irregardless of enemies.
The Endless mode is in essence a repeat, where you’ll continue to replay over and over, which becomes strangely hypnotic as you continually power up. Even though your weapon will hit its level 5 cap during the first run, the ability to keep accumulating perks, finding the more inventive add ons like mine-laying shots, and generally turn yourself into a gun god is very addictive. Without save points, this mode also highlights the benefits of the modern consoles being able to suspend software, as you try to keep your run going to see how many jumps the game will let you add and just where the secrets are.
- Traditional shooting fun
- Easy to get into a flow
- Weaponry and perks to explore
Finite boredom levels
- Frame rate dips
- Randomisation can be hit-and-miss
Tower of Guns PS4 ReviewTower of Guns is intended to be played in small doses, and it’s easy to see why. It’s built around a small amount of well designed elements and relies on randomisation and the user quitting before it gets excessively repetitive. But to judge it by the standards of longevity would be wrong; it hits its mark of being a lunch break killer.
In fact, it hits most of the targets it aimed for, being fast paced and full of action, with a few incentives to return for. It eschews depth, but laces the shooting mechanics with just enough variety to make a few runs essential, whilst also keeping the core gunplay of leaping and firing in a Quake fashion tight enough for it to remain on your hard drive for potential further occasional dabbles.
At times it can feel like a beefed up proof of concept, but in an era of po-faced first person shooters, it’s a welcome distraction, if only for a short while.
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