Wot I Think: Tower Of Guns

By Adam Smith on March 5th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Tower Of Guns takes place in a tower containing all of the guns you could ever hope to see. Unfortunately, many of those guns are attached to murderbots and you’re going to have to fight through them all to get to the top. Why? Who knows. Who cares! I’ve been playing this single player FPS since last weekend and despite including some of that fancy modern randomisation that’s all the rage, TOG is as old-school as Hanley Castle High. Here’s wot I think.

The first time you play Tower Of Guns, you can choose to have double-jump activated. Right from the start with no need to unlock anything at all, the game wants you to double-jump because double-jumping is a good thing to do. With a lot of skill and a bit of luck, by the end of a run you’ll have a quadruple jump at the very least, bobbing through the air with the shrapnel and ordnance of seventeen apocalyptic wars on your tail. Every aspect of Tower Of Guns goes up to eleven and then straight back around the dial to double up.

There are more bullets, bombs and buzz-saws in the average minute of an attempt at the Tower than in an entire playthrough of almost any other game. It’s a first-person Binding of Isaac trapped in its own personal bullet hell. How peculiar it is then to find the game absolutely endearing. It’s a brutally difficult game but it’s also a game in which all of these things are true:

1) When loading a level, filler text occasionally claims that the game is struggling to ‘define roguelike’. Might not be much but it raised a bigger smile than a reticulated spline ever did.

2) When starting a new game, the player can choose a gun and a perk, but not a character. However, there are characters, each with their own reason for venturing into the Tower of Guns. Conversations between the unseen avatar and cartoon pop-ups reveal the available characters to be, among other things, a cowgirl fast food restaurant employee fleeing from clichéd zombies and a person playing a game while discussing the mechanics of said game with a butler.

3) In the midst of the carnage, which is extraordinary even by FPS standards, there is an item that makes a ‘PEW’ noise and fires a single pathetic pellet. There’s also an item that summons cat craniums.

Tower of Guns is very silly and it’s mostly very enjoyable as well, playing out like a blended distillation of old-school FPS systems and the current obsession with procedural everything.
Like McMillen’s basement ballad of faeces and faith, Tower Of Guns repeats itself often without ever hitting the same notes in exactly the same order. There’s a toybox full of arena designs, varying from walkways hanging over lava or infinite drops, to complex structures dotted with teleporters and boost pads. Rooms do become familiar over time but the arrangement and type of enemies within is consistently surprising and challenging. Complacency is a killer.

The most important piece of advice, as in Quake or UT deathmatch, is to keep moving at all times. Everything that exists at any one moment in time will either be homing in on your position, blades whirring, or firing projectiles of various sorts toward your face. So move it. Replace your face before an explosion does.

It is essential that you remember how to circle-strafe. If you never knew how to circle-strafe in the first place, it is essential that you learn right now. Tower Of Guns requires you to keep your reticule steady while dodging hundreds of projectiles, some of which explode on impact, some of which bounce and send the player soaring through the air, and some of which create spheres of area-of-effect damage. Or burn everything in the vicinity.

This all makes the game sound horribly violent but there’s no blood, gore or gibs. Young Adam, fool that he was, would be shaking a fist at the screen now – “It’s not a proper shoot ‘em up if the enemies don’t explode in a shower of eyeballs and brainstems!” He’s such a charmer, sitting there with his Joy Division t-shirt on, looking like the roadkill version of The Crow.

But let us leave him in the past because Tower Of Guns is breezily bloodless and its a decision that works well, complementing the light-hearted pop in and play style. Within the Tower, enemies are robots. In fact, with the obvious exception of the adorable and harmless (?) Hugbots aside, most of the things pitted against the player are simply machines – sentry turrets, defence systems and other automated weaponry. They don’t emote or show any noticeable human traits, which makes them very much like online opponents I have faced in the past, except with less inclination to profess their affection/disdain for my mother.

Structurally, the Tower is divided into areas, each comprising a number of arenas and a boss fight. The arenas become increasingly hazardous as the player ascends but every enemy that explodes along the way leaves a pile of goodies behind. There are coins to collect, medikits to manhandle and power-ups to pocket. The currency is used to purchase items from lockers, which are sometimes in plain sight but more often than not hiding behind a fake wall, which is likely to be located in the room’s most inaccessible corner. This is a game that does not give up its secrets easily.

I won’t spoil the strange assortment of items that can be found throughout the Tower – some are useful, some are the equivalent of a party popper or even an alkyl nitrites popper. It’s a shame that the expanding Collection accessed from the main menu doesn’t provide more thorough documentation. It’d be useful to know exactly what an item does and how long it takes to recharge after use, and I’d also like to see more of the too-occasional snippets of text that add such flavour to what could have been a meticulous but mechanical process.

One power-up increases the difficulty of the entire game. Just like that, as if it’s perfectly acceptable to screw with the basic parameters mid-level, as if some settings aren’t sacred and for the player alone to meddle with. Your speed might increase as well, which is a relief as one of my few complaints is the trudging gait of the base settings. Oh, and there are upgrades for guns as well. At the beginning of every run, you’ll choose a gun from the set that you’ve unlocked and when you first find a ‘Mines’ upgrade for an unwieldy buckshot-blaster, you’ll fall in love.

Tower of Guns may not have Borderlands’ billions of combinations, but every alteration has a significant effect, and the combat is so swift and immediate that even puny or utterly bizarre weapons are enjoyable to use. Despite the speed and intensity of the combat, the process of clearing a room becomes a prepared routine, with reflexes and twitch coming into play when a plan goes wrong. Immediately, as the door closes behind you, enemies appear all around each chamber.

They don’t take up a position or fall into formation – there’s no time for that – they either make a beeline for the player or start shooting. Succeeding is about positioning and keeping a steady aim the whole time. Moving from platform to platform, or strafing through corridors, always ensuring that there are empty spaces to move into when the next volley of artillery arrives.

Damage degrades the weapon as well as the warrior. Destroyed enemies leave blue tokens behind, which level up the player’s gun. Taking damage knocks down health but also reduces the weapon’s experience. The double-punishment seemed too much at first but the tension it creates is delicious. The whole game is, in fact, although the nuts and bolts hang a little loose. Weapons spray rather than blasting, with no real punchy feedback, and while every enemy explodes, the destruction is withering rather than world-shaking.

There may not be enough variety in the weapons, mods, items and arenas to justify the day-long binge that I’ve put myself through but I’m rarely disappointed by the brief visit of a single playthrough, no matter how little progress I make. After a few hours and fewer successes, I do begin to perform a little too predictably, sticking to the edge of arenas were possible and sweeping through them sector by sector, cleaning up the enemies as I go.

For all of its speed, channelled from FPS games of the distant past, Tower Of Guns encourages thoughtful play. Despite the randomisation of enemies, pick-ups and areas, every distinct element that can appear is a known quantity, and that means the risks and possibilities are always obvious. But no matter how much experience you have, if you can’t think fast enough – and, no insult intended, you probably can’t – you’ll still struggle to survive.

Tower Of Guns is available now.

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22 Comments »

  1. Guvornator says:

    “If you can’t think fast enough – and, no insult intended, you probably can’t.”

    Is this wrong? Or am I missing something? Otherwise, a good read. Nice to hear it’s a blast. As the developers are two brothers and it’s very 90s based, does this mean they’re the Orbital of gaming?

    • Adam Smith says:

      Oops – chopped off a chunk of my final paragraph during a copy-paste and then re-punctuated it without checking what I’d written. Fixed. Although the original is somehow lost forever. Wonder what I said?

    • Loyal_Viggo says:

      The ‘Orbital of gaming’ – what a superb line. If only they were.

      The Box, P.E.T.R.O.L, classics. Hopefully though the game won’t become the Moebius… a twist in the fabric of space… where time becomes a loop…

  2. Cheradanine Zakalwe says:

    How beefy are the enemies?

    My main annoyance with borderlands 2 is that the enemies become meatshields capable of soaking up many, many headshots at the end game or if you play with anything more than 2 players. Do enemies die in reasonable amounts of bullets or does it become a test of endurace to finish everything off?

    • Adam Smith says:

      Even the biggest don’t take a huge amount of firepower to take down. It’s the quantity of them that brings the heat.

    • grundus says:

      Enemies don’t get tougher, they stay the same throughout. Your gun gets more powerful as it levels up, though, so something that takes two shots with a level 1 disc gun thing will take one shot with a level 4 disc gun. Which is just as well because as Adam says there are often loads of enemies spawning all at once. If anything I think you get a bit OP; a level 5 flak cannon thing (shotgun, basically) with rapid fire just chews through everything. That does create difficulty spikes though because some bosses are much, much tougher than the enemies you face which can leave you thinking ‘wait, what? I was doing SO well!’, especially since the longer you fight the boss, the more damage you take and the weaker your gun gets until you’re nearly dead with nothing but a peashooter in comparison to the mighty cannon that was still pretty ineffective even when it was at the max level.

      But hey, there has to be some challenge to it, right?

  3. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Had the Alpha for a while, it’s nice to have it in my Steam library now. A brilliant pick up and play shooter for a quick run through.

  4. Taidan says:

    First time I played, I wound up being able to do 9 jumps in a row, which is practically flight. Oh, it was so good.

    • Grimwood says:

      When You say “Jump 9 times in a row”, I suddenly think Jumping Flash 2, and a warm, elegant, joyful feeling washes over me from my memory banks.

      I’m going to need a good PSX emulator one of these days, just for that wonderful, wonderful game.

  5. Laurentius says:

    I usually don’t play FPS but i must admit i feel tempted by this WIT to pick this up. Finally WIT that made me feel I’m at PC gaming site again . It’s good to read words like cricle strafing wihout mockery and neverending praises for consoles and their dreaded”controlers”.

    • Premium User Badge

      G-Lord says:

      It is perfect for that oldschool FPS itch. Bought it in on Indiegamestand a while ago and I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I do.

  6. furrymessiah says:

    I was able to pick this game up for a song when it was in alpha during a sale at IndieGameStand, and I’m glad I did. It’s gotten markedly better with each new version to be released, and now that it’s out on Steam, with positive reviews, hopefully the developer (Another one-person game dev!) will get the profits he so deserves.

  7. TychoCelchuuu says:

    My biggest issues with this game are the floaty movement, the reliance on powerups, and the limited weapon selection.

    The floaty movement is Unreal’s fault, basically – if you’re the kind of person who can feel the difference between the Unreal engine and a Quake-lineage engine (like Source) in your bones, this game will trigger your Unreal-detection powers to the maximum degree. It’s very floaty and especially on the final boss, where you want to be dodging a lot of small things, you can really feel the looseness in the movement.

    The powerup thing is something a lot of roguelike-like games do, so it’s not a huge deal (I think the best comparison is maybe Binding of Isaac here) but the difference between completely destroying a run or getting your butt handed to you is often whether you get a bunch of jump powerups or a sweet weapon mod or whether you just get crappy drops. On endless mode the disparity gets even greater: a good set of powerups lets you tear through the game (once you can jump six times in a row most enemies become trivial and your power grows really fast because you can reach all the usually inaccessible secrets in levels) and a bad set of powerups dooms you to drudgery until you find better powerups or die.

    Finally, the guns really don’t have any “oomph” and being limited to one for most runs gets a little boring, especially if you don’t find any weapon mods that change the behavior of your gun very much. This might just be a really subjective thing – maybe other people find the guns really interesting – but for me the only one I really like is the boring machine gun sort of thing, because the rest of them just don’t have enough range or fire rate to be worth it.

    Which is not to say it’s a bad game. It’s just that it really makes me wish someone would do something like this in the Doom 3 or Source engine with more interesting guns and less of a reliance on becoming a quadruple jumping gun lord. If the movement were something like Quake 3/Warsow’s traversal mechanics or Starsiege: Tribes’ jetpack or Titanfall’s wall running, rather than floaty gliding through the air, I think I’d like the game a lot more, and if I could swap out weapons by finding new random ones during my run (like in Borderlands or something) that would keep things fresher.

  8. The Random One says:

    Those first few paragraphs got me drooling. Will definitively pick this one up.

    And if I don’t like it… I’ll know who to blame. *sharpens knife*

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Hey Where’s that RPS reader who loves jumping? The guy / gal who said bunnies are always jumping and you never see an unhappy bunny, and who may also have said proteus made them sad because they couldn’t jump in it? I cannot wait to see their unbridled infinite joy at the ability to quadruple jump ^-^

  10. Phasma Felis says:

    I read the review and thought to myself “Self, this game sounds an awful lot like a riff on Paranautical Activity.”

    So I bought it. And I was right!

    The only slightly disappointing thing is the relatively tame, same-y enemy designs. There’s a kajillion different kinds of turrets, and several kinds of floating weapon platforms, but no great stomping striders or scuttling metal insects that I’ve seen. Nothing articulated at all, really. I suppose the lone author wanted to spend his time on gameplay rather than animations.

    Oh well. My favorite character so far is the drunk fratboy who thinks he’s in his buddy’s apartment building and keeps wondering why he can’t find the party as buzzsaws whir past his head.

  11. apocraphyn says:

    Will definitely be picking this up. Brilliant review as ever, Adam.

  12. Premium User Badge

    keithzg says:

    Only for Windows, eh? Seems interesting, but not interesting enough to reboot into Windows, honestly.