Yet another hit from 10tons, the masters of twin-stick shooting. This is Crimsonland on steroids!
Type: Single-player, Local Co-op
Genre: Twin-Stick Shooter
Release date: 26 Jan, 2018
If you’re familiar with Crimsonland, Nation Red or any “kiting” games where you walk backwards while hosing down large swarms of enemies constantly moving towards you, then you’ll understand what to do here. You need a controller for this, I can’t imagine playing without one.
The premise of the game is that H.P. Lovecraft has infested the land with his grotesque monsters and it’s your job, as an historically-inaccurate version of Nikola Tesla, to rid the land of these pests with the aid of a variety of weapons you’ve invented, and finally defeat your arch-enemy. It’s all rather silly, of course, but there are a small number of short cutscenes throughout the game mostly consisting of cartoon shaking-a-fist-in-the-air, Grandpa Simpson-style, and shouting “I’m coming to get you” etc.
Before I start explaining the upgrade mechanics I want to point out that although this may all seem quite complex, in fact it’s very intuitive – you’re presented with options and you choose them as you go along, no brainwork required.
As you make your way around a level, constantly on the move, there are 4 types of items you can pick up:
- Weapons. You’re likely to end up with a favourite weapon that you prefer – for me it’s the Repeater Shotgun – and you can press X to lock it in place to avoid accidentally picking up another weapon to replace it, which used to be annoying until they added this patch.
- Abilities. These are limited-use special weapons fired with left-trigger. Lightning rods, static clouds, big swords, that kind of thing. My favourite is the big ’10 tons’ weight that drops down from the sky and splats the monsters! Haha!
- Mech parts. You start each level controlling a Mech. It has high durability and a devastating pair of miniguns that cut through the swarms like butter. The Mech only lasts for a short period of time though, so you have to make the most of its killing power to give yourself breathing space for your next push. Then it disappears but Mech parts reappear in random spots and you have to go around picking them up until you have enough parts to reassemble the Mech once again for a limited time, by pressing A when you’re ready to deploy it. You do this when you reach a state of emergency and are about to be overwhelmed. It’s technically possible to collect parts over and over again and deploy an unlimited number of Mechs – as long as you can survive for long enough to pick up the parts – but usually you only use one Mech at the start of the level and one more mid-level. Occasionally you may use a third.
- Aether Crystals. These look like pink shrubs and they tend to be tucked away in corners of the level that can be hard to reach. You have to put many shots into them to reveal the crystals which is difficult while the monsters are after you, but if you can collect them and survive the level then they’re added to your crystal inventory which you can spend on permanent upgrades (extra Mech time, dash power, stronger this-that-or-the-other etc).
So apart from these pickups, the other way to gain power during a level is by killing monsters (believe it or not). After a certain number of kills you receive a random Perk. Unlike Crimsonland which automatically pops up each Perk window as soon as it becomes available, here you have to press Y to freeze the action and select your Perks. You get to kill many monsters, so these Perks accumulate thick and fast – it’s not unusual to activate ten at a time. You get a choice between two for each Perk, and you have a limited number of Shuffles if you don’t like either of them. These Perks are very important, they give your character the powers necessary to deal with the flood of new monsters constantly appearing on screen. Many Perks are firepower upgrades.
Finally, LEFT-BTN dash allows you to escape tight situations and kill a few monsters on the way. It has a cooldown so you can’t dash all over the place constantly (unless you get the rare unlimited-dash Perk). You have to save it for the right moments.
There are 4 boss levels, including the final Battle at Wardenclyffe Tower. Victory is declared once you’ve managed to clear all the monsters and on some levels you must also get rid of the portals that spawn the monsters.
Whenever you’re in the mood for some bonkers action with MAHOOOOOOOOSSIVE firepower and so many bullets and explosions that it’s like a mad fireworks display, BaWT is the go-to level, it’s so much fun! Here you have to collect batteries to power up the 4 generators to finally defeat Lovecraft, but you can choose not to activate the generators and instead hose down floods of monsters for hours on end. One of my favourite pastimes.
Sound & Vision
This is not the type of game that focuses on extensive artwork, it’s a shooter. However, there’s nice colourful neon eye candy, the monster designs are great and I couldn’t really ask for more. The music is brilliant and I never switch it off, it’s a core ingredient of my gameplay. It’s a raucous, powerful rock melody with the bass guitar driving you onwards into the fray, roaring your battle cry!
There are so many factors to the difficulty in this game that I’m sure I’ll forget to mention some of them, but here goes…
Firstly, the main map contains 31 distinct levels, on a meandering path, each with specific classes of monsters, that are unlocked one after another as you beat them for the first time. You become familiar with the layouts over time the more often you play them. However, there are 3 ‘planes’ – Normal (easy), Aether (medium) and Eldritch (hard) so in total you have 93 levels to unlock.
This review is woefully late, I was supposed to write it ages ago, sorry about that. However, it does allow me to mention the fact that the 10tons devs are awesome. They really listen to their users and quickly patch stuff that needs patching, which is why their games are so fabulous to play. Olli tweaked a couple of things for me within hours, what a star. Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is because before, during and even several weeks after release, the overall difficulty of the game has been going up and down like a yo-yo as they constantly tweak the balancing. It seems like every time I fire up the game the difficulty has changed noticeably. I do feel that the current difficulty is just right. I’ve played 100 hours of this, I consider myself pretty good at it, and the Eldritch plane is now giving me the hard challenge that I need without it feeling impossible. Perfect.
The first time you play these levels in order to unlock them it’s quite a challenge, even on the Normal plane, because when you start out you have only basic powers and lack of experience. The Aether Crystal upgrades make your character stronger gradually so that if you reach a hard level that you can’t beat after many attempts, you know that you can collect/spend crystals and eventually you’ll have the power to get through the bottleneck. At one time there was a daily limit to the number of crystals available and you had to wait for the 24 hour countdown before you could collect more – those were the days! But they got rid of that after complaints, and now you can just grind for crystals to your heart’s content.
There are Daily Challenges available (kill X number of Y monster; win X times with Y Perk etc) which award you a bunch of crystals. These Dailies used to be crucial during the countdown days but are now just an optional sideshow.
The overall numbers of monsters you kill also factors into your permanent power. Each time you kill X number of Y monsters, your shots become a certain percentage more powerful against that type of monster. There’s a ‘Monsterpedia’ where you can check your progress against each type of monster, but in general the game simply becomes easier the more you play it. As I said above though, the Eldritch plane is currently hard-as-nails even with +300% bonus against some monsters.
Finally, if you still feel you need further challenge (really??) there’s Survival Mode where you just have to stay alive for as long as you can and strive for #128,352 on the leaderboard. Some of these top players must be super-computers or something, I swear.
In a nutshell, this game offers difficulty ranging from casual fun/mayhem to very tough challenge. Then you can tackle the leaderboards, if you dare.
One of the many great things about this game is the smooth increase of firepower/difficulty/everything over the short term (during levels) and in the long term. This means you can play it for many hours without getting bored nor getting stuck for too long at frustrating bottlenecks. It’s constant enjoyment and keeps you coming back for your daily dose. It’s a relatively simple game and yet, even after 100 hours of play time, when I see the TvsL logo in my Steam library, with the 1,000+ other titles, I still want to play it. It’s a mid-priced game with enduring appeal.
My lengthy explanations of the game mechanics may have given you the wrong idea about this game. It’s not complicated. This is a visceral, cathartic shootfest with ever-increasing firepower.
I consider 10tons the Gold Standard of twin-stick shooting, you can buy any of their games and you won’t be disappointed, so as my verdict I’m giving this a ranking amongst the 10tons games. It doesn’t topple Neon Chrome off the throne but I’d say it’s at #2, the best of the rest, which is high praise indeed.