Review: Tesla vs Lovecraft

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Top-down shooters are often the popcorn of the gaming food pyramid, light arena-based snacks that are great in short bursts and don’t offer much more in terms of story or progression. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as you’re not going to find many folks who’ll turn down a big bucket of popcorn. If we’re really beating this analogy to death, then Tesla vs Lovecraft is the premium zebra-striped chocolate-drizzled popcorn of the genre, one of the purest, most rich offerings of shooting joy. I struggle to think of another game of the type that allows for such unbridled chaos and fun, and just like chocolate-covered popcorn the only danger is overdosing on the richness.

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In this odd little mash-up of pop culture and pulp fiction, Nikolai Tesla and H.P. Lovecraft are both residents of the not-at-all ominous city of Arkham. Tesla has found a niche as a sort of local folk hero with his powerful inventions, and his most recent catch is the disturbed Lovecraft. But old Howard has a few eldritch tricks up his sleeve, and unleashes a torrent of cosmic terrors on the town to cover his escape. With the police overwhelmed, it falls to Tesla to track down Lovecraft, gun down the beasts in his way, and put an end to this unfathomable invasion. But there may be more going on than just Lovecraft’s machinations, evident from the many versions of Arkham that Tesla soon finds himself in…

I’ve spun the game’s opening cinematic into as much of a story as I can, but let it be known that plot is not at all the draw here. You’ll get the occasional animation but only in service of explaining away another boss or difficulty level. This game is about deep ones, shoggoths, and dispatching them with hilariously excessive force, and on that point the game delivers. Once the helpful tutorial levels are out of the way, Tesla will start each stage by air-dropping in on his Tesla-Mech. You’ll spend the first few seconds chain-gunning anything unfortunate enough to be moving on-screen, and when the mech runs out of juice you’ll run around collecting guns, special powers, and experience to enhance the cosmic horror massacre. There are more mech parts on the map if you want to jump back into your murderbot, of course, sometimes more than once depending on the length of the stage.

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This touches on what Tesla vs Lovecraft does so well, giving the player a variety of ways to feel like an immortal science god of destruction. Starting each stage with an invulnerable (but time-limited) mech sets the tone, and because there is always one mech piece to pick up at any time you can bee-line to getting it back for more invulnerable rampaging. Or you can focus on picking up new weapons like tommy guns, tesla rifles, and gauss shotguns to shred the hordes in more conventional fashion. You get experience for kills and more for multi-kills, and if you get into a good groove you can be leveling up and gaining new perks every few seconds. These are the real indulgence of the game, offering such dramatic upgrades like an extra bullet per shot, piercing shots, ricocheting shots, infinite teleports, and clones that spawn with each teleport. Certain perks work much better with certain weapons, and making a synergistic build can turn Tesla into an unstoppable force of deadly order.

In addition to your primary and secondary attacks, you have a generous amount of instant teleports for getting around the map and avoiding enemy hordes. Both the charge count and refresh time can be massively upgraded, and the freedom of movement offered does so much to reinforce the feeling of immense power the game affords. The first hour or two of the game is a mad haze of explosions and flying tentacles as you wipe out massive hordes in an instant and unlock new guns and perks every level. Once you complete the map, the game introduces new planes of existence that serve as difficulty levels, which ratchet up the challenge to match your wild capabilities. Here too the game transitions from throwing unlocks at you to offering crystals to find that unlock new passive abilities, which takes a bit of the manic pace out of the progression but not the action.

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At some point the combat may start to feel a bit samey to you, especially once you unlock distinctly superior options like gauss weapons to stick with every level. But it certainly never loses the incredible sense of power the game is built around, even when that power must be focused expertly to survive. Of all the top-down shooters I’ve played this one might be my favorite in terms of sheer spectacle and freedom, because it really feels like a game designed to let you have the maximum amount of fun. You’ll never be left with a weak little pea-shooter for long, you’ll never run out of hilariously powerful perks, and you’ll never be far from calling down your devastating mech. Coupled with colorful, moody graphics and solid audio design, Tesla vs Lovecraft is the total package for excessive, fast-paced blasting action.

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