Tower of Guns and Indie Trends
Indie games tend to latch on to certain trends. In the same way that the 2008 release of Braid led to a raft of indie puzzle platformers with unique visual identities, the 2012 commercial releases of Spelunky and FTL seem to have done the same with roguelike hybrids. Steam in particular now sees tons of releases, such as Rogue Legacy, Teleglitch, and Don’t Starve, which contend to be “rogue-like-likes” or “rogue-lites”, games which ditch the turn-based RPG nature of true roguelikes and instead concentrate on the randomization and survival aspects for which that genre was known. Enter Tower of Guns, one of the latest Steam releases to follow the trend of splicing such elements into more familiar game styles; in this case, it’s an FPS with permadeath and lots of randomization. The result is something closer to Rogue Legacy, with a heavy focus on fast-paced combat, as opposed to Spelunky, which is closer to its roguelike inspirations, placing emphasis on exploration and survival tactics.
Tower of Guns tasks the player with ascending the titular structure, a massive death gauntlet populated with randomly generated levels stocked with giant turrets and robots firing full throttle with the player in their sights. Combat is similar to the original Quake, fast-paced and highly mobile. There is little cover in the game, and certainly no chest-high walls to hide behind, so players spend most of their time dodging and weaving through enemy fire, while delivering their own return volley. Level construction is similar to Rogue Legacy, with each level consisting of a randomized arrangement of prebuilt rooms, with enemy placement in each room being randomized as well. Permadeath is an important element in the game. If you die, the tower is generated again and you start your climb anew. Unlike Rogue Legacy, there is no persistent leveling in the game, but the selection of weapons and perks expands as certain achievements are completed in the game.
While the infusion of roguelike elements might not be the freshest idea out there right now, the game does make it work. Like Spelunky and FTL, it does manage to capture the “one more go” impulse you feel upon death in those games. And the dynamic Quake-like combat is super-refreshing when compared to the sluggish nature of today’s shooters. Quite frankly, cover is something I’m growing tired with in modern action games. Hiding behind a chest-high wall and peeking out to fire at an enemy who’s playing the same game of peekaboo on the other end of the map just doesn’t create the same adrenaline pumping experience as games which require quick agility to avoid damage. Thus, Tower of Guns finds itself in the modern company of games like Vanquish, Serious Sam 3, and Hard Reset, which keep the player quick on their feet. And while the enemies, a collection of turrets and robots, aren’t the most visually imaginative foes, they do have an unrelenting tenaciousness that forces players to take them seriously. You won’t quickly forget the first time you see a turret fire a barrage of giant bullets in your direction.
If I have any reservation about the game, it’s that I’m unsure if it will have quite the same longevity as something like Spelunky, a game which I still play frequently over a year after its release. I keep likening the game to Rogue Legacy, and I have the same attitude for that game. These games don’t have quite the same level of secrets and mysteries that has kept me coming back to Spelunky so often. This is not to say that Tower of Guns is something I plan to put down soon. Nearing 10 hours, I’m still hooked on the rush the game delivers. I hope, though, that the developer will continue to provide support for the game and maybe expand the weapon selection (there are currently only 8 weapons) and add additional difficulty levels (to my knowledge there is only one).
Finally, one more thing with regards to the roguelike trend, I think I’m enjoying it more than I enjoyed the puzzle platformer binge from earlier years, which, with a few exceptions (such as Fez and Limbo), started getting old fairly fast. I feel like the emphasis on gameplay in this new trend works to its advantage over the artistic focus of the early puzzle platformers. When this type of game is done right, such as in ToG, indie developers have shown that they can craft truly compelling gameplay experiences. And since most modern big budget games are focusing heavily on highly-controlled cinematic experiences, these indie crafts are a breath of fresh air.