What would it look like if Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Mary Shelley, and H.P. Lovecraft went up against a horde of eldritch monsters? The world may never know, but 10tons attempts to answer that question with Tesla Force, the pseudo-sequel to their earlier game Tesla vs. Lovecraft, which launched on Steam Early Access today. In it, players choose one of the four historical figures above and set out on a mission to save the world from the eldritch horrors that are pouring into it.
If you’ve played any of 10tons’ top-down shooters before, you likely have a vague idea of what you’re getting into. You will be shooting your way through level after level using an assortment of weapons that fit the theme, destroying select parts of the environment along the way. Every now and then, you will be up against a boss that will offer an additional challenge. Limited use abilities that you can pick up augment the way you play and perks that you earn at the end of certain levels give you a leg up in the challenges ahead. I haven’t played Tesla vs. Lovecraft, so I can’t compare it to that, but the Tesla-Mech that was featured in it makes a return here as a time limited power-up that can be activated if you collect four mech parts that are scattered throughout each level.
There’s just one major difference: Tesla Force is a roguelite. You run through a randomly generated set of “events,” what the game calls levels, that is broken into three “chapters” in an attempt to complete a “Cycle,” what the game refers to as a full playthrough. When you win, you unlock a new “Cycle” in a New Game+ fashion; right now, two of a planned eight Cycles are implemented. When you die, you have to start over from the beginning.
However, as it’s a roguelite, not everything is lost. As you complete runs, you earn progress towards new unlocks in the form of new abilities and perks. These unlocks are then added to the pool of abilities and perks that you will randomly come across throughout the game. You are also allowed to keep a currency that comes in the form of pink crystals that are dropped by enemies. This currency can be spent on several permanent upgrades, such as additional mech lifespan and the ability to see what rewards an event has. Most of your currency, however, will likely be spent on buying weapons and abilities, the benefit of which is that you start with them instead of starting with a pistol and no ability. Unfortunately, these aren’t permanent, and aren’t even shared between players, but, unlike games like Rogue Legacy, this currency is permanent and does not get taken from you at the beginning of each run, allowing you to save up currency for one big attempt at completing a Cycle, but the way that these purchases are implemented is still fairly disappointing.
Upon beginning a run, you are met with a randomly generated map of the Arkham area and are asked to choose between either one or two events, depending on where you are on the map. This choice offers you control over the route you take in an FTL-like manner. As you complete events, more of the map is uncovered—the exact amount of which is dependent upon how much you’ve upgraded your ability to see more of the map—up to the point where you can see that chapter’s final boss fight, at which point no more of the map is unlocked until you complete the chapter.
Each level begins with player one dropping in in the Tesla-Mech and all other players spawning in on foot. This gives players their first taste of a frustrating design choice: inexplicably, player one is the only player that can actually use the Tesla-Mech. For some reason, be it the fact that the game is still in Early Access or balancing purposes, players two through four can never use the Tesla-Mech, which is rather frustrating. Furthermore, the game insists on spawning you in in the Tesla-Mech, but, most of the time, event objectives aren’t spawned until after the Tesla-Mech dies out and the hordes of monsters are fairly thin at that point, making the free mech time feel somewhat useless.
As you work your way through each level, you will come across various power-ups, weapons crates, and abilities, as well as the aforementioned mech parts. Several weapons, such as the nuke and Tesla Defender, are used when you pick them up. These allow you a way to quickly clear a horde of monsters in the area they dropped in. Most, however, simply replace your current weapon.
Oddly, power-ups are temporary, lasting only a few seconds. This can often lead to a situation where the outcome of each level feels fairly random, as you are somewhat reliant on the right weapons and power-ups dropping, especially early on, when you’ve yet to acquire many perks. Furthermore, you can never really become a death machine, as the necessary power-ups that would allow you to do so only last a short time.
However, beyond that minor complaint, gameplay generally feels good. Even having just been released as an Early Access title, the game is fairly polished. Weapons are varied, gunplay generally feels good, and being able to get out of tight spots by either breaking a wall or teleporting feels great. There are a few random objects, such as boxes, that feel like they should be destructible with normal weapons, and not just the mech, but, for the most part, gameplay is solid.
That being said, there’s also nothing particularly remarkable about it. It is your run-of-the-mill top-down shooter. You shoot eldritch horrors so that you can complete events so that you can shoot larger hordes of eldritch horrors. You get a stronger version of the same gun or you get a perk that shoots energy projectiles in multiple directions when you reload. Unlike similar titles, no matter how many unlocks you get, the core gameplay experience never seems to evolve. It’s possible that this will change over the course of Early Access, but it also might not.
One of the major problems is that the events that you’re fighting your way through don’t change throughout the game. There are currently six types of event: Close the Aether Rifts, Destroy the Statues, Fix the Inhibitor, Survey the Hive, Defeat the Elite Monster, and boss fights. Throughout each of the game’s three chapters, all of the events that you play will be of these six types. Most of them will be of the first four types, as there is only one boss fight per chapter and the Defeat the Elite Monster events are rare. This might have been okay if events evolved in some way as you progressed through chapters, but the only change is an additional objective and only in the case of the Close the Aether Rifts and Destroy the Statues events. The developers are planning to add more events as Early Access progresses, but, unless they plan to make it so that certain events are only available in certain chapters, I don’t see the overall experience changing much.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, at present, levels don’t feel distinct. For a brief moment, I thought that Chapter 2’s mushrooms that shoot spores at you and can be temporarily disabled, but not killed, were a precursor to more interesting levels than those in Chapter 1. Alas, they were not. Beyond said mushrooms, some exploding barrels, and the tiniest amount of lava, there are no environmental hazards. As the environments grew ever crazier, I wanted there to be additional mechanics that kept me on my toes, but there simply weren’t any to be found. The feeling that something is missing—in later levels, especially—is unshakeable.
The Doom Clock mechanic may be part of the reason that levels are so mechanically simple. Whereas, in other top-down shooters, you might want to complete a level quickly in order to get a better score or just have the best time, in Tesla Force, you want to complete every level quickly because there’s a clock that keeps ticking and, every time it circles back around to 12, enemies get stronger. While the Doom Clock does appear to be how some enemies are added to the spawn list, the core of the mechanic is that all enemies earn increased damage, the power of regeneration, and so on. It’s an interesting take on making time matter, albeit I would appreciate it if it also introduced more enemy variation in the future.
Unfortunately, this mechanic can really leave you feeling like you got a bad roll at times. While some events can be completed in around 30 seconds, the Survey the Hive event has a mandatory waiting time of around 75 seconds. This means that, to play optimally, you need to avoid that event entirely. However, this isn’t always possible, as some randomly generated paths end up not branching at the exact moment the event appears, leaving you with no option but to play it.
In its current state, it is likely that you will consistently feel like luck either was or wasn’t on your side as you play through Tesla Force. Did you get the right power-ups at the right time to kill a horde? Did the right weapons drop? Did you get a choice of the right perks? This makes sense in games where resource management is key or random events can severely alter your chances of survival, but, in a skill-oriented game such as this, it can severely affect your overall enjoyment of the game.
Balance is all over the place in general right now and it’s not a great feeling. For example, the Daisy Chain Gun seems to be objectively better than most guns at taking out hordes. In general, electric weapons tend to be objectively better than traditional weapons because their projectiles penetrate, meaning that you can take out rows of enemies at once, rather than just one-shotting one at a time.
The shaky ground on which the game is balanced is made ever more clear when you play as Marie Curie. Curie is given the ability to—forcibly—carry two pistol-like weapons in exchange for reloads taking twice as long. If you are able to acquire the perks that grant you a shield while reloading and that shoot projectiles upon reloading, this isn’t so bad, but, if not, the increased reload time is felt in later levels, severely diminishing the usefulness of this ability.
A similar issue is presented by the Tesla-Mech. Whereas it is more useful as a perpetual shield than it is a way to mow down hordes of monsters, it can absolutely melt bosses. If you add on the multi-barrel and/or fire bullets power-ups—yes, both work with the Tesla-Mech, as well—the otherwise threatening bosses might as well be made of paper. Due to the fact that the Tesla-Mech can be earned as many times as you want, as long as you collect four more mech parts each time, this isn’t even something that you have only one chance at. You can keep wearing down the boss’ health massive chunks at a time for as long as you can stay alive to grab more parts.
However, the most hilariously broken part of the game right now is a specific perk. After you beat Gug, the boss of Chapter 1, you are presented with a choice of two perks: the ability to resurrect once or infinite charges for all abilities. These are always the same and, as far as I’m aware, the one that you don’t choose is always your only choice of perk at the end of Chapter 2. While most players will likely logically choose to save themselves once via resurrection, if you choose the other perk, you have in your hands a perk that makes even the mech useless.
You see, the way that the infinite charges for all abilities perk is implemented right now has no nuance. There is no set number of times that can use the ability before it needs to recharge. There is no cooldown between uses. It will let you use it as many times as you spam the ability button. Thus, if you get a hold of the Homing Pigeons ability—an ability that sends three explosive pigeons out in a cone—while you have this perk, you can simply spam it continuously, sending out dozens of pigeons to kill literally anything in your path. With this combination, I was able to complete the entire first Cycle effortlessly—on the condition that I never stopped spamming the ability.
Tesla Force shows promise, but it remains to be seen whether it will reach its full potential. If you’re a fan of top-down shooters that’s looking for another one to play through, this one is worth looking into. Even at this early stage, it’s well-polished, exempting some balance issues that will almost definitely be sorted out. There’s a lack of variety at present, but that will hopefully be addressed by additional content throughout Early Access. While you never quite get to feel like an all-powerful badass, which is a bit disappointing when you consider its style of progression, there are some loadouts that allow for some really insane moments, albeit they can be a little too fleeting at times. That being said, at present, the roguelite part of the game feels underutilized and there are some issues with co-op play, so, if you’re not already a fan of top-down shooters, Tesla Force likely won’t be the one that wins you over—not yet, at least.
|Playtime||Did we receive a press copy?||Price||Platform(s)|
|2.7 hours||Yes, from 10tons||$16.99||Steam Early Access|