by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
ONCE MORE UNTO THE INK
The game is set in the same universe as Neocore's previous game, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, drawing you into the brooding darkness of the 'Ink', a foreboding underworld apparently full of creatures with nothing better to do than try to escape. Naturally, it falls to you to use both brutal traps and your own combat skills, defending arena maps against waves of hundreds of enemies all bent on tearing their way through a magical portal to cause a right old mess in the world beyond.
Unlike many tower defence games, enemies in Deathtrap follow set paths. So, rather than giving you the option to force enemies around certain routes, you're given fixed positions on which to build your fortifications and what fortifications they are, too. While you begin the game with access to only a couple of buildings a gun turret and an acid pit the full extent quickly becomes available to you as your character advances, gaining experience and skill points with every battle. These points can then be spent on upgrades for your burgeoning arsenal, giving damage bonuses and special effects that will help you to construct formidable killing machines. It all works together to give you a solid sense of progress. You will learn which defences best complement your play-style, and there's always something to look forward to spending a few more points on.
So far, so 'tower defence,' but the action RPG elements are implemented just as thoroughly. Your characters persist between matches, levelling up and unlocking access to ever-deadlier combat skills and equipment. In-game, it all plays much like Diablo, with mouse-controlled movement and an array of hotkeys to access special skills and your trusty stash of healing potions. Attacking enemies is as simple as clicking on them, and it doesn't take long to become a force to be reckoned with, carving through streams of snarling monsters while your towers pick off any survivors.
There are occasional problems with unintended movement when making ranged attacks, your character running blithely towards the enemy if you click the ground by accident, but by and large Deathtrap feels just as comfortable in the guise of an ARPG as it does when wearing its tower defence hat. In fact, where the game really shines is when the two styles come together in a glorious orgy of bloody violence; when your meticulously constructed defensive line is effortlessly holding back the hordes and, simultaneously, you're mowing them down with the business end of a bloody big axe from the other direction. There's certainly no shortage of gore effects.
A CLASS ACT
When creating your character, you've got access to three different classes; roughly speaking, two correspond to the RPG archetypes of fighter and mage, but the third is more difficult to pin down. The 'Marksman' acts like a combined rogue and ranger, working from the shadows and at as great a distance as possible. It may be that it's intended for more advanced play, but in my time with the game, I found this class utterly impenetrable. The fact that there are only three classes is also a shame, and I would hope to see more variety added in at a later date.
For now, the variety comes in the shape of the unlockable skills, of which there are many, and the customisable equipment. Completing missions and killing monsters gives you gold and items, which can be used to deck yourself out in all manner of magical gear. Again, this helps to lend a sense of progression to the whole affair, but it's let down by the lack of fanfare when getting said loot in the first place.
Fans of Diablo will know that it excels at throwing loot around like confetti, encouraging players to act like magpies in a glitter factory. Deathtrap does none of this, eschewing the traditional method of gathering loot from slain enemies in favour of dumping a chest, rather unceremoniously, next to the player at the end of the level. In its doing so, I felt robbed of the excitement of rampant kleptomania. It might as well have just popped up a message telling me what I earned that match instead, the chest just acts as a reminder of how other games have done it better.
Naturally, the game has multiplayer. In this, it excels as expected. It's often said that it's nearly impossible to make a bad co-operative game, and that holds true here; gathering your friends to fight the masses is simply great fun, and the RPG elements help to bring things together into a more cohesive whole, lack of satisfying looting aside. There's also a versus mode on offer, available once you reach level 10, if that's more your style.
I should point out that I encountered numerous problems with the game while researching this review, from graphical glitches like missing models, to network communication errors, to inexplicable control and GUI bugs, but something kept me coming back. Like many games which graduate from Early Access, Deathtrap feels like it could've done with a little more time in the oven.
However, Deathtrap is the merging of two great formulae into one good game. If you like tower defence, you'll enjoy this fresh take on it. If you're an ARPG fan, you might be disappointed by some of the design decisions, but you might also be pleasantly surprised by the novel gameplay. Like even the best partnerships, it has a few rough spots, but there's always a feeling that it'll be okay in the end.
Novel take on both tower defence and the ARPG. Engaging gameplay and universe. Excellent co-operative multiplayer.
Unsatisfying loot mechanics. A number of bugs still present. Limited class selection.