Make The Nightmares Fear You

HIGH Building pits full of werewolves.

LOW Dealing with a garbage-packed inventory after every mission.

WTF Those chaos beasts are… something else.

Set in the world of the Van Helsing Action-RPG games, Deathtrap takes the combat and character progression of that franchise and moves it into a tower defense context. The results are… fairly strange.

Set in an archipelago of islands inside an interdimensional void, Deathtrap assigns players the role of one (of three) guardians who defend gateways from horrific monsters bent on invading the real world. This is accomplished by building floor traps, deadly towers, and frequently just wading in and brawling.

As an Active Tower Defense game, Deathtrap has a lot to offer to fans of the genre. There’s a huge variety of traps to be unlocked over the course of the campaign, 25 in all. They fall into five broad categories based on whether they’re placed in towers or floor panels, and if they’re magical or mechanical in nature. There’s also a fifth category for my favorite trap type – summoning. This allows players to call hordes of their own enemies to delay and damage the encroaching beasts.

As is the case with Tower Defense titles, the key to success is building complementary traps at the right locations. In Deathtrap, players are limited to building traps at certain pre-defined spaces on the maps — there are no freeform opportunities to devise herding strategies here, sadly.

Most traps have secondary effects that can be unlocked with mod points players get for leveling up and completing special objectives, and they lend themselves well to strategic gameplay.

Poison traps placed at the start of a route, for example, will ensure that enemies are badly worn down long before they get near their objective. Placing an ice field near a cannon will slow the approaching army into a clump so that the area-of-effect attack will hurt the maximum number of enemies. It’s all extremely well-balanced, and if Deathtrap was only about tower defense, I think it would be quite a success. Unfortunately, the Active portion leaves a lot to be desired.

The devs make a good choice by following the Van Helsing series’ habit of offering wildly different character classes. There’s the Sorceress, who uses powerful ranged spells, the Mercenary who wades into the middle of the action, and the Hunter, who’s invisible most of the time and focuses on buffing towers to great effect. Each has their own spells and equipment, allowing the player to develop them how they choose. Unfortunately, the combat isn’t fantastic.

This biggest problem is that most of the characters’ combat skills need to be manually aimed, but the devs have neglected to give the player any way to accurately do that. Players move characters with the left thumbstick and activate skills with the face and shoulder buttons — directional attacks are fired based on the character’s facing, and there’s no way to fine-tune it.

Also frustrating is Deathtrap‘s loot system — it’s tedious to sift through screen after screen of junk items after every battle. There is a crafting system to improve artifacts and players can increase the value of the items by playing on higher difficulties or in challenge modes, but the this loot system slows down and overcomplicates the experience to no great effect since players never come across any uniquely amazing items — the weapons and armor are only ever marginally better or offer an occasional minor buff.

Players who can put up with the clunky action/RPG elements will find that Deathtrap offers a great tower defense experience. The enemies are fascinatingly grotesque, the maps are well-designed and the art evokes are steampunk gothic horror aesthetic that’s a pleasure to behold. It’s almost a great tower defense game, but in this case, less would have been more.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Neocore Games . It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 1 hour was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated T and contains Blood and Violence. It’s horror-themed tower defense, which means it’s packed to the gills with creepy monsters but the camera is so far away from the action that they’re not particularly frightening. There’s no harsh language or anything morally questionable — some people drink ale in a pub, but that’s it for substance abuse.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You should be fine! I encountered no audio cues of note, and there are various map features available to let you know where enemies are at all times. The text is a little small and font sizes can’t be altered, so this is probably best played on a monitor close to the player, rather than a TV across the room.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Daniel Weissenberger
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