The tower defense mechanic is a more strategic evolution of the classic arcade shooter the on which the gaming industry set its foundations. Excubitor manages to twin these more modern mechanics with the ancestors they were born from in a fast yet calculating space shooter. Controlling the last airship to exist in a universe scattered by war, you must protect your mothership the Antares after teams of robotic drones jump on the offensive. Through waves of battle, supported by your trusty turrets, work to uncover who’s directing these drones while protecting your beloved Antares.
The clincher here is the frantic methods you must employ to complete your mission. While the turrets are powerful, they require maintenance, and energy to build in the first place. This energy is provided at the beginning of each level, but can be topped up if you choose to spend previous time working on a generator, bearing in mind this will take an equally precious spot on your defenses.
Therefore, most of your wins will come straight from your Hammerhead ship instead which is luckily kitted out with a choice of 17 different weapon systems to be upgraded and installed into 2 open slots on board. Controlling your ship at all times has its drawbacks. Turrets require your input, and needing to be everywhere on the map at once makes for a frenzied battle, those few seconds of respite between waves are a welcome break to repair your defenses and and upgrade your weapons.
Nevertheless, it also makes for some elaborate tactical thinking. Ensuring the Antares is constantly defended, you are free to roam the expansive maps, keeping enemies at bay and exploring your surroundings. Rather than a turret free for all, where repairs are a slap dash job and the game is spent manically jumping from weapon to weapon, Excubitor hands the power back to the player and it makes for a much more satisfying boss battle win.
While the mechanics of the gameplay stand out, the graphics are nothing special. They work for the fast paced on-screen havoc, but push no boundaries in terms of spectacle. You’ll spend more time marveling at the map than the graphical quality. Clear and easy to maneuver, the on-screen navigational system marks enemy points of entry in relation to your base allowing you the time and clarity to plan your defenses accordingly. You’ll need a sharp map system too, your actual control over your ship is so sensitive it leaves you with very little power over your direction. It takes a while to master but in the beginning there will be times when a small maneuver leaves you facing the complete wrong direction.
A mediocre plot also unfortunately accompanies this action. Ignoring the dialogue and mission briefings that serve to advance the everyday space war narrative will not detract from your experience much. In fact, the weighty briefings serve to provide you with the bare minimum information to give your battles purpose, but not expand much beyond the here and now. It makes sense for an arcade-style turret shooter like this, but with the blending of old and new mechanics it would have been interesting to witness a more developed storyline.
Over 5 planets and 20 levels provide ample enjoyment in this turret defense experience, with the option to upgrade each of your weapons and your ship and the weight of the Antares on your shoulders, each wave of drones feels like a playground of bullets and EMP pulses, albeit a very difficult playground. The trickiness of this title however only serves it well in its complex strategic management and frantic combat. A few control kinks to iron out, and not much in the way of imaginative design don’t stand in the way of a gratifying and exciting play experience from Tesseract Interactive.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.