Deathtrap, a spin off based in the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing universe by developer NeoCore Games, released earlier in the year. At it’s heart it is a tower defense game, but plays with much of the same action-RPG elements as the Van Helsing games. I was not quite expecting this game to be such a guilty and constant pleasure of mine; and that was before the rest of the Gone With The Win staff discovered the co-op aspects.
Deathtrap will enchant with its visual variety. Locations range from drained landscaped littered with gravestones and mausoleums, furnace filled factories with bolted iron floorings, to otherworldly and unexplained vistas akin to Half Life’s Xen. All of these combat areas are very well rendered and with lots of details in every corner. Enemies are also varied, blue crystal giants, mechanical spiders, fast moving ghouls, and swaying giant Ink Wraiths are only a portion of the total enemies you will encounter. Enemy types are broken up into types such as swarming, armored, or giants, and each have their own traits and weaknesses. You will combat these foes with almost two dozen traps (or towers). These traps tend to favor their damage towards certain enemy types but the key really becomes in balancing traps and towers together to create the best choke point possible.
After your missions, you will have to decide on what to spend your loot and skill points on. You will of course be the ultimate “tower” in this defense game, and crafting your chosen character as an extension of your playstyle(s) will require time and experimentation. There are hundreds of items to choose from. Some give bonus resistance to one type of damage, while weakening you towards another. Each hero has a dozen skills with 2 side options for each skill. Which traps do you focus your upgrade points on? These upgrade points allow for tower upgrades while in game, but some towers you will tend not to use with your hero as they may tend to hinder your efforts to control the waves. This constant managing of abilities, crafting items, experimenting with new ones, was more entertaining than I expected at first. That’s just the thing. Deathtrap had me coming back for more, I just needed to unlock the next tower. Had to try out the new weapons. What’s that new skill do? Wonder what new enemies are on the next island? I loved it.
Many tower defense games offer multiple runs at higher difficulties, or side modes like endless waves. These alternate modes are usually played with for a moment then ignored. However with Deathtrap, I volunteered for these reworked challenges with enthusiasm. The pulsating soundtracks, with its inspiring vocal chants, and clever lines from the heroes was one reason I kept coming back for more. The game can throw an impressive number of enemies at you. Seeing an army of ghouls, armor clad giants, and all sorts of mechanical monstrosities funneling towards you can be daunting. But if you planned right, and execute your skills well, watching these armies turn into massive piles of globby fleshy pieces and dark liquid torrents is very satisfying. This addition only got worse when we started pulling co-op attempts and forcing the game to its most difficult settings, and endless waves, for the highest rewards possible and actually pulling it off.
While not perfect (but as of this latest 1.05 update there have been many improvements) Deathtrap has redefined what I want out of a tower defense game. There’s something to upgrade or enhance in just about every corner of this title. Controller support. Multiplayer versus modes where you play the enemy mobs versus a traditional defender. Multiple co-op options. Three different difficulty paths that significantly alters the number of enemies, the paths they take, and the types of mobs you’ll face. An intelligent balance between isometric action, RPG style choices, and strategic defense placements, Deathtrap offers something that feels like it’s on a whole other level. How do you go back to traditional tower defense after this? – Leo
Path of Exile, the Diablo series, the Titan’s Quest series, the Dungeon Siege series, the Torchlight series, the work-in-progress of Grim Dawn…they all represent different directions on the action rpg, the evolution of the ascii-roguelike that bloomed during the infancy of gaming at the dawn of home computing. Neocore’s Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, recently encapsulated with the inclusion of all three games in the Final Cut version, have their own take on the genre, and it’s a very satisfying one. Two elements that stand out in the Van Helsing games are the inclusion of controller support and the tower-defense mini game that sees your hero defending their lair from waves of rampaging beasts, monsters and servants of the dark forces of the occult.
Deathtrap is Neocore’s full version of the tower defense mini game found in the Van Helsing games, and in my opinion, their best release as a studio. Strong rpg elements including trap progression and upgrade trees, the forced choice of certain character ability upgrade paths over others, loot collection, gear enhancement and crafting combined with well-built tower defense gameplay and wave balance make for a game that rises above the core elements of the ARPG and tower defense genres to create a hybrid that might not be a new genre in of itself, but comes very close.
Gameplay is primarily comprised of strategic tower and trap placement at predefined points, with your character having full mobility and freedom to go between the various wave paths, with the ultimate goal of surviving the map by keeping your portal alive, per traditional tower defense games. Unlike traditional tower defense games, your character is your most important defense option, as seen in games like Sanctum and Orc’s Must Die. Unlike those two titles, the rpg elements are significantly deeper in Deathtrap, and the loot-driven nature of the game and different challenges and compositions of waves based on difficulty levels and preferences, provide for a deeper, more engrossing experience.
As Leo says, it’s not a perfect game, and I think it has major flaws that need addressed, especially the unbalanced aspects of co-op. However, the core of the game is eminently enjoyable, due in large part to the ground-up support for full controller use. The combat is very similar to traditional ARPGS, but Deathtrap’s excellent design and controller support has converted me for life and I now find it very hard to turn back to using a keyboard and mouse. It’s one of my favorite Big Picture mode games. Fixes to balancing, gui, high-level item issues and crafting aside, the only thing that could make Deathtrap better is a first-person mode.. I recommend this game without reservation, both for its excellent design, the hours of enjoyment one can find grinding through its challenges and its elevation of game mechanics that it derived its inspiration from. – Zach
ASSASSINS CREED: SYNDICATE
I have an odd love-hate tug of war going with Ubisoft’s prolific Assassin’s Creed series. Definitely soured by the fact it is so prolific, and not in a good way. The various games have been uneven, some teetering on absolute boredom and lifeless exploration. Assassin’s Creed II, stood apart, and despite my reservations at the time, turned out to be a superb game. While some of the subsequent games have been good, none have been as complete as Ezio Salvatore’s adventures through renaissance Rome, until Syndicate.
While not a complete overhaul of the standard presentation and mechanics that is Assassin’s Creed, there are several areas that shine with brilliance – such as the game’s visual elements. The recreation of Victorian era London is jaw-dropping; I found myself starring at it much as I did authentic Medici collection pieces on display at the local art museum. It’s beautiful detailed in its more luxurious and opulent areas, as well its crowded brownstone streets or grimy poverty stricken hovels. Meticulous visual details are present in not only the architecture, but also in its ornate objects, layered costumes, character design, and lush outdoor gardens. At one point I had my wife hold my tablet, with Google Earth opened. I used the maps of London to find all the points of interest instead of the game map. But if you are still not impressed, jaunt up the side of St. Paul’s Cathedral and let your eyes fall over every window, column, and carved design as you go up. Or make your way to Buckingham Palace, with posted internet photographs on the side.
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate may not exactly represent a revolution for the genre, but it does bring back so many enjoyable elements from previous games with a high degree of refinement. The duality of playing as Evie and Jacob Frye keeps gameplay refreshing. Jacob was my “brawler” for straightforward mayhem, pushing skills that related to hand to hand combat and withstanding considerable punishment. While Evie was my stealthy cat burglar, hiding, pouncing, and poisoning her way towards her goal undetected. These I could juggle on the fly. Most of the game’s controlled areas operate with without the necessity of activating a mission icon, which was very nice (although not as impressive as Metal Gear V’s iteration). Juggling between starting mass riots like something out of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, or meticulously executing a silent kill amidst a crowd of guards like the 10th plague of Egypt is definite selling point. While lacking in some areas, mainly depth and AI, it is such a beautiful and enjoyable game it’s hard to leave off any ‘best of’ discussion for 2015.
George Romero’s 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead, really highlighted what I enjoy the most about zombie themed stories, the survival aspect in the face of societal collapse. Some games offer up the undead as cannon fodder. Others focus so heavily on a survival you end up in these large scale maps with 1 zombie every 24 square miles. Dying Light offers an intelligent blend of swarming undead, survival, and open world freedom.
The game takes place in the city of Harran, the majority population of which has been infected. Highways are overpopulated with decaying mangled cars. Rusty roofed homes, delaminated paint on cracked weathered walls. Sporadic fires dot the landscape. Once useful items like money, magazines, and blueprints, shredded into minutia from the chaos, now swirls in the wind everywhere. Trash heaps and their colonies of maggots and flies, fill spaces behind color drained alleys; this is the undead city of Harran and the visible cues hammer it home.
As the sun rises you are compelled to explore the city and find useful items in the ruins. Groups of undead mill about the streets and alleys. These slow moving monsters may seem dimwitted but can overpower you from all sides in an instant. Playing the game from a first person perspective is a nice touch. Adding in parkour elements was brilliant. Jumping from balconies, scampering up walls, and slamming into a distance concrete balcony after a tremendous jump is thrilling; but more so because of a realistic blind side to contend with. Infected can get the drop on you at times, and it can be a bit startling.
At night horrible screams and monsterous howls announce the fall of the sun. The daytime slow movers blend into the darkness, they are still there, waiting. Out comes a new threat however, viral monsters that make Usain Bolt look like an elderly quad-cane-sporting bingo player. The most immense of these infected beings hunt the streets for the living, they can easily tear you to shreds in seconds. Unlike their dimwitted daylight brethren these can and will climb after you (they are also better at it than you are). Despite their sheer imposing power, they cannot outwit you. Their weakness is the light, specifically UV light. As you progress in the game you’re ability to stand your ground a little more against these powerful creatures. Why would you risk the night, instead of the nice safety of UV filled safe houses? Higher rewards of course, specifically to earn the skills that make you a zombie killing, parkour flipping badass. The surge of adrenaline that hits when nightfalls in this game is brilliant.
The Dying Light offers some of the best zombie survival immersion available and it’s there’s an upcoming free enhanced upgrade coming for the game in case you missed this title last year. The first person perspective move really enhances the feeling of danger from any side, and it’s day and night change of pace is amazing. The decaying city you play is a fantastic concrete jungle for evasion. There is also fantastic cooperative play, invite friends use Steam’s built in voice comm systems with ease. There are plenty of claustrophobic quarantine zones loaded with loot, but equally loaded with virals that are so much better to face with friend. There is also a pretty clever (albeit highly unbalanced) versus mode where 4 players play humans and one or two play the fast moving giant husks. Their abilities are vastly different and there is plenty of enjoyment to be had in this mode as well. Dying Light is one of the best zombie games I have ever played, and one of the better PC game experiences of 2015.