Tower Defence is dead. Tower Defence hybrids are where it's at, and Deathtrap is one of the best I've ever played.
Neocore's latest project ought to do the business considering that the brilliant The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II was basically a prototype. "Even the optional tower defence sections are good enough to be a standalone game in their own right," I wrote, and now that game has graduated from Early Access into version 1.0.
Half Diablo-style dungeon crawler, half hardcore tower defender and all glorioisly gory gothic ham, Deathtrap really is an exceptional genre hybrid. And yet I can't help wanting more -- not from it, but of it.
Deathtrap is already built on isometric action RPG pedigree, seeing as it shares an engine and even a fair few assets with the Van Helsing series, so the raw mechanics of slaughtering Hungarian folk beasties are polished, nuanced and deeply satisfying. Only this time, you're desperately trying to stop waves of enemies from breaching your painstakingly-constructed defences rather than looking for a boss or exit.
Attacks, skills and potions are all mapped to a neat linear interface honed throughout the two previous games, while your mouse deals with the subtle nuances of murdering with blade, spell or bolt depending on what class you choose.
It's a big decision as the three potential options play completely differently. The Sorceress is the default option, a 'glass cannon' ranged attacker who blasts out ice and lightning with abandon while favouring magic-based towers. She's easy to use, but unable to attack or regenerate mana if she's moving, effectively turning her into a devastating mobile tower. In stark contrast, the Mercenary blademaster excels at mixing it up in melee combat with dashes and slams, perfect for tying up mobs within the range of your most powerful traps and kill zones.
Finally, the new Marksman class acts as a much more nuanced ranged option, more skilled with debilitating poison and DoT than direct damage. Coupled with a cloak ability that automatically increases movement speed and regeneration if you disengage from combat for several weapons, he's a stand-off warfare specialist suited for more advanced players.
As mentioned, though, you won't be using your balanced and versatile selection of attacks, spells and skills to dungeon delve, however. You'll use it to defend your Ink Gate from increasingly powerful waves of foes that trundle down their routes when you're ready for action. Each of the ten campaign levels is a tricky geometrical puzzle to solve, forcing you to dig deep and use your class effectively, though naturally this is where Deathtrap's titular deathtraps come to the fore.
Deathtrap subscribes to the fixed placement school of tower defence, with various carefully-placed hardpoints which you can optionally attach a variety of towers to depending on your tastes, the situation and your resources. From straightforward gun towers to fire pits, acid spewers, ice pillars, lightning projectors, spikes and even replenishing pods of allied werewolves or archers, your defensive options are as versatile as they are viable.
Both your towers and your class can be upgraded by completing levels, killing beasties and gaining experience, feeding directly into a robust and surprisingly flexible set of skill trees. Even the most basic towers can be turned into situational lifesavers with extra status effects, such as vulnerability to different types of damage, slowed movement or splash damage, while your characters can become more powerful as you find and buy better weapons, gear or augments. Hell, you can even craft your own.
You'll need it, mind, since Deathtrap doesn't pull its punches. You'll face off against enemies who'll merrily target you if they get the chance, bosses with an array of deceptively varied attacks and all manner of support creatures in huge numbers. Thankfully a friend can jump in and help you in online co-op, or even control the creatures themselves in competitive PvP, which is a fun diversion and seems to work well.
Both sides of the split personality are solid, but Deathtrap works best in the blend, when you're using both brains and brawn effectively. Where are you most needed? Where are your traps strong enough to hold back the tide for a few more seconds? Do you have time to face off against resident map enemies for extra treasures while the horde marches on, or do you have to sprint back to protect your Ink Gate in the nick of time? Wait, what, the boss has frozen my key towers! With several difficulty levels for each of its ten stages, plus an infinite mode, there's plenty of satisfying hybrid action to get stuck into.
So Deathtrap is excellent, but there's a serious problem. Ten levels isn't really enough.
It feels unfair to criticise the amount of content in a game that technically has an infinite amount of content. Deathtrap comes complete with a powerful level editor and Steamworks support, meaning that the community is free to create and share levels, but you can't earn experience while playing them. As such, you'll do your levelling in the same ten levels, fighting tougher versions of the same enemies, once the item hunt really begins across multiple characters.
To be clear, Deathtrap provides more than enough content to justify its inexpensive £14.99 price point. Handily. The problem is that it doesn't quite offer enough stages to fully explore and support its own addictive systems for the long-haul.
Still, there's plenty here and a huge amount of fun to be had. Here's hoping that some inexpensive campaign packs are on the way to make the most of it.
- Strong, hectic and gory fusion of APRG and tower defence
- Versatile and flexible progression, towers and classes
- Level editor should supply plenty of UGC
- Hefty amount of content for the price...
- ... but 10 campaign levels not enough to enjoy fully developing multiple characters
- Could use some more enemy types (and remixed difficulty settings)
- More enemy variety in the late-game might have been nice
The Short Version: Deathtrap brings hectic tower defence, satisfying Diablo-style combat and compelling persistent progression together in ultraviolent gothic style. Smart design choices and satisfyingly hectic moments abound, while the level editor is a stroke of genius.
Another spectacular Early Access success story, and one I'd love more of. Here's hoping a few inexpensive map packs and some great community creations will deliver exactly that.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Developer: Neocore Games