EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Ewan Wilson
previewed on PC
Defend your stronghold from hordes of enemies using traps – that’s the name of the game. Actually, the real name of the game is more succinct – Deathtrap. For their new game, developer Neocore has re-purposed and expanded upon the Tower Defence levels from their action RPG The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II. Deathtrap is however as close to a true hybrid as you can get. You choose a character class – Mercenary, Sorceress or Marksman – to level up and develop, acquiring new equipment, weapons and skills. On top of this, you also level up a set of skills related solely to setting traps. You can then upgrade and enhance them mechanically and magically using research points earned for completing scenarios.
Deathtrap retains the Gothic tone of Van Helsing – it looks gritty, even colourless at times. Once loaded into a level you can freely run around the structured labyrinths. It only takes a click to bash a skull in or sling a lightning bolt. As the hordes pour in and wind their way through the maze-like level, you’ll be able to hack away at them utilising your handful of class-specific skills – traps and towers will however always represent a significant portion of your power. Like with many Tower Defence games, traps can only be built in specific points on the map. Waves of enemies will also only follow pre-designated paths. Death is the only way to put an end to the flow of bodies fatalistically zigzagging their way through the terrain.
Typically, there are two kinds of contraptions available to you: square panelled spaces which activate when enemies walk over them, and ranged turrets or pylons. There are quite a few options where each point a trap can be placed, and placement is important, as different traps will be more effective against particular enemy types. The lava grill will completely fry swarms of smaller enemies, whilst the spear trap which impales foes won’t work as well against them due to its slow trigger. On the other hand, large armoured enemies will only ever be tickled by the flames, but will be completely skewered by the spears. Other panel traps include acid-spraying geysers that chip away and weaken enemy armour, and ice fields that slow and freeze.
Towers are also split into two categories: magical and mechanical. On the mechanical side there are the standard sentry guns, but more interesting is the razor launcher which launches spinning discs that tear through long lines of enemies. Magical turrets include the phoenix tower that shoots out meteor-sized balls of fire, and the lightning pylon that effectively zaps away at big bruiser enemy types. Lastly, there are the special monster traps. This category includes a ranged archery post as well as a caged monster trap that will release when enemies are close by. There is also the reanimator pit – enemies that die within this space have a chance to resurrect as friendly ghouls.
There are only seven scenarios in the Early Access version of the “campaign” currently, although Neocore plan to release an additional map before the year is up. The campaign levels, the first couple of which represent tutorials more than anything, are fairly detailed and distinct. Several of the levels include side-areas where there are neutral creatures you can take on and treasure chests to find. These are only accessible mid-wave though, so you’ll need a great deal of confidence in your strategic set up before you wander off. There is already a ton of user maps up on the Steam Workshop, but they feel quite straight forward compared to those designed by Neocore.
Amongst the constant stream of invaders are boss characters with specific quirks and stronger invulnerabilities. Deathtrap’s greatest additions to the Tower Defence genre are the elements it borrows from the aRPG. Along with the bosses, each enemy has a set of particular attributes, which adds a great deal of variety to things. A small monster could be invulnerable to fire, or you could come across giant teleporting golems that completely bypass your spear-traps. This kind of unpredictability forces you to adapt your strategy and in the long-run looks to add a great deal of replay value. Add to this the traditional feeding of loot back to the player – loot that is just as likely to improve your towers as your weapon’s critical hit chance – and Deathtrap could be long-burning as well as action-packed.
There is however a reason to hold off. With only a handful of campaign maps, there’s currently an obvious lack of content. The few levels that are in are interesting and warrant more than just a couple of plays, but you’ll soon get tired of these and be forced to look to the Steam Workshop. This is fine, but from what I’ve seen it’s in Neocore’s own, tailored set of scenarios where the freshest and most intriguing elements flourish. Whilst Deathtrap’s hybrid formulae seems pretty well-set, and has a great deal of potential, the experience will only really become valuable when there’s a lot more scenarios and the community is given time to make maps as creative and compelling as Neocore’s own.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.