by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Lost a limp
I didn’t quite realize how unique Tower 57 would be until my character lost her legs to a vicious beast down in the sewers. Rather than dying, she continued to move around and fight enemies, albeit at a slower pace, before pushing herself over to the nearest machine that would replace her lost limbs for a price. And it’s a good thing I didn’t die at that point, because doing so may have resulted in me starting the level over again thanks to the poor pacing, which is intent on making Tower 57 as frustrating an experience as possible.
Set in a dystopian world where humanity is huddled beneath massive megatowers after an apocalyptic event, Tower 57 places you in the role of three of six agents who are tasked with infiltrating the titular tower in order to discover what problems have arisen inside. These agents range from a cop, a mafia don, a beggar and a scientist, each of whom comes with their own weapon, special tool and super ability that can be activated once you kill enough enemies. Whether it’s the mafia don’s machine gun or the cop’s shotgun, each character has enough differences to set them apart from the rest, but all play relatively similar once you start buying and upgrading weapons.
From the start, it’s apparent that Tower 57 has been lovingly handcrafted. Freed from having to use procedurally generated content for its levels, the developers at Pixwerk have crafted a world that immediately stands out thanks to their detailed sprites and environments. The dystopian dieselpunk universe is fun to explore, with hidden details such as posters and text logs hinting at the world around you while never really spending much time elaborating on how the Judge Dredd inspired megatowers came into being. There’s enough hints to keep you intrigued, but the primary focus is on accomplishing your mission and blasting hundreds of monsters while doing so.
And you had best be careful when fighting monsters, as the three characters you choose at the start of the game represent your lives. If all three characters die, it’s time to load a checkpoint and hope things work out better next time. They can be revived of course, yet the game encourages you to play cautiously to an extent so that you don’t waste all your lives each time you explore a new area. The game is meant to be played in co-op according to the developers, with the second player playing as the remaining three characters, but I was not able to find someone to connect with while reviewing the game.
Top down shooter
Tower 57 plays like a top down shooter in practice, but it’s the different systems that are built around it that make it stand out. As mentioned previously, losing a limb isn’t the end of the game in most cases, as you can continue to shoot and fight provided you didn’t lose your arm holding the weapon. Each limb can also be upgraded on a per character basis, which combined with the diversity and multitude of weapon upgrades, allows you to customize your characters in whichever way you see fit. And rather than just sticking to shooting and activating your special abilities when you see fit, the environment frequently contains traps or destructible objects that can help you get an edge in battle, whether that’s an exploding barrel or a wall that hides a medical kit to restore health.
All in all, running through the world of Tower 57 and fighting the varied monsters you come across is a blast, and it’s impressive that each of the systems work well enough to create a challenging experience that rarely feels unfair if you can remain alive.
Yet the challenge and fun that comes with shooting your way through hordes of monsters gives way to frustration whenever you happen to lose all your lives. Should you lose all three lives, the game will load a previous checkpoint, which are placed too infrequently throughout the levels and can make you spent quite a long time fighting to get back to the location where you died. Particularly in later levels, you could go 20 minutes fighting and navigating your way through the mazes that comprise each area before suddenly dying to a trap and rendering all of that progress moot. It certainly makes the game more challenging, but it does not make Tower 57 that much fun to play. It would be one thing if dying meant that you would be back in the action within a minute or two - it’s another thing entirely when you have to repeat the same 10 minute section five times in a row.
This, in turn, slows Tower 57’s pace down substantially. It may have been fun shooting through a lab once or twice, but going through it more frequently makes the game feel bland. This is exacerbated by the game’s habit of preventing you from backtracking, resulting in you unable to access any of the supplies or tools that you had dropped or left standing while exploring each level. After some time, I could not play the game for long sessions, as I would have to step back so that I would not become bored by repeating the same actions and exploring the same section of the map again and again.
Fun to play
Tower 57 feels refreshing from the usual band of retro-inspired games right from the get-go, but it’s pacing issues and poor use of checkpoints often make the game a struggle to progress through. Yet despite it all, there remains a competent gameplay loop that is fun to play, alongside a world that is a delight to explore. Like the developers say, this may be a game that is better played with friends, but even a solo player who is looking for a new top down shooter inspired by games from the SNES era should be able to find some enjoyment out of Tower 57.
Great world design, interesting lives mechanic.
Far too few checkpoints result in frustrating pacing.