In the beginning there was a game called Rogue. This ground breaking RPG was swiftly followed by a number of other titles that shared its penchant for randomly generated environments and punishing restarts. Lovingly referred to as Roguelikes, the last fifteen years or so has seen these sorts of titles enjoying a bit of a resurgence – even spinning out a further sub-genre, imaginatively known as Roguelites.
Rather than applying the Rogue hallmarks to yet more RPGs, this new breed's instead splicing its elements into other genres.Whether it's platformers such as Spelunky or space simulations like FTL: Faster Than Light, anything is game – and with the arrival of Tower of Guns on the PlayStation 4, yet another title is joining the fold. And this time, it's in the form of a first-person-shooter.
In the game, you're challenged with making your way to the top of the titular tower while defeating the horde of robotic enemies that stand in your way – all while only armed with a single weapon. As you make your way through the ever changing layout of rooms, you must avoid death at every turn, as should your health bar fully deplete, you'll be sent back to the base of the tower to start your journey all over again.
Before you depart on your quest you're allowed to pick a single perk and weapon to take with you, and while there are ten guns to choose from, only one – a pretty basic pistol – will be available from the beginning. Additional guns and perks can be unlocked by hitting certain milestones – such as killing a number of a particular enemy type – and there's a pretty good variety to choose from, with each offering something to suit your own particular tastes and play style.
Whether you settle for the gun that fires saw blades that ricochet off the walls or the rocket launcher that packs a big punch, you're going to need to make sure that your aim is true if you want to make it to the top. This is due to the fact that, unlike many other console shooters, there's no aim assist at all, so you can't get away with waving your gun in the vague direction of your target expecting to score a kill. Fortunately, since you have unlimited ammunition and no need to reload, you can blaze away at your robotic targets to your heart's content, safe in the knowledge that your gun will never run dry.
The action can get quite hectic at times, and you'll often find yourself in room lined with turrets all firing at you in unison, as swarms of flying robots also seek to impale you on their spikes. Cautious play isn't the way to go in the tower, so circle strafing while keeping on the move is usually the best plan of attack. The sheer volume of enemies at times can make the game feel like the first-person equivalent of a bullet hell shooter, and while it can be a little annoying when you can't see the projectiles coming at you from behind, you move at such a clip that despite this minor annoyance, you'll have fun blasting your way through the tower.
Visually, this is an ugly game with basic geometry and unsightly cel-shaded textures that's let down further by the fact that it fails to deliver a solid frame-rate throughout. While it's fine most of the time, there are the occasional rooms that the game engine just can't handle, with the performance dipping to near slideshow levels. When this does happen, it's virtually impossible to shoot accurately, leaving you with no option but to make a beeline for the exit or face certain death.
Running through each room avoiding combat is actually a valid strategy, however the higher you scale the tower, the less equipped you'll be for the trials ahead. It's vital that you not only replenish your health by hoovering up red orbs dropped by destroyed enemies, but also the blue shards that'll help to level up your weapon. By collecting more and more of these blue pick-ups, you'll make your gun more potent, not only increasing the damage that it deals, but also the rate of fire and the size of its projectiles. You need to be careful, though, as taking damage will cause your weapon to lose the experience that you've accumulated, and should you find yourself taking a battering, you'll find your gun regressing in strength.
As you make your way through the tower's random interior, you'll also be picking up stackable character boosts, weapon upgrades, and items – all of which help to increase your survivability. As you make run after run up the tower, you'll begin to realise that your success can depend a little on the randomness of the pick-ups that you come across, and while it can be annoying when a run fails to yield any help whatsoever, not knowing what's around the corner when it comes to not only the items but also the enemies in the room is exciting – well, at least for a little while.
The trouble is that anyone with even a little experience of first-person shooters will only have to play Tower of Guns for a couple of hours before they'll have scaled to its summit. With a successful run taking as little as twenty minutes, even the randomness won't be enough to encourage you to keep going once you've beaten the tower a few times. While there are two other game types – one being a leaderboards-based 'endless' mode – it's more than likely that after a few hours, your enjoyment will have waned.
Tower of Guns proves to be a fun diversion that unfortunately falters in a couple of key areas. While it at least manages to keep its Roguelite membership by randomly generating a decent amount of enjoyable content, the relatively gentle difficulty ends up diluting the impact of its perma-death quite a bit. This ends up robbing the experience of any strong sense of accomplishment, so when you best the tower for the first time, it'll feel more like a damp squib than a twenty-one gun salute.