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.