Bullet Hell shooter and Tower Defense mashed together.
Developer Tesseract Interactive’s debut title, which has been published by Kasedo Games, really is set to give players a hard time. Excubitor not only drops the player into a bullet hell with overwhelming odds, but also tasks them with the strategic challenge of placing and upgrading various towers. Then there is the upgrading of the players’ own ship to think about, finding the perfect combination to be successful. Are you up for the challenge?
Set in the distant future, when mankind has managed to harness wormholes to visit distant star systems and discover a new form of energy in the Voidshard, the player is charged with protecting the Antares from an unidentified menace which seems to control armies of robotic drones and ships. While the player will be outnumbered at every turn, they have the very capable Hammerhead ship under their control, which is easily able to turn the tide of any battle.
It is not the most imaginative of plots, but it has to be said that Tesseract Interactive certainly seem to have put a lot more detail in their futuristic universe than most games of this type. Through the various briefings, the story progresses and the universe becomes more rich and detailed. It is nice that the developers have put in the effort to flesh out the setting as it adds a little more depth to the game.
Not that the story or setting are really that important, it’s all about the action here. A rather handy tutorial will teach players everything they need to know before they drop into the levels and waves of enemies that they have to contend with. As Excubitor is a combination of both tower defense and shooter, veterans of both genres would do well to go through the tutorial, along with the newcomers, just to understand how the game works.
So players will find themselves having to defend their base, which happens to be the Antares, against wave after wave of enemy ships. They may have additional primary and bonus objectives in each level, but keeping an eye on the Antares health will be the main concern. A clear and well thought out map in the corner will prove invaluable as it shows the routes where enemies will appear from, the base, and the different positions where towers can be placed.
The placement of towers will depend on how much power the player has at their disposal, limiting the number of towers and forcing the player to make tactical decisions. The variety of towers is limited to begin with, but more towers are unlocked as the player progresses, and towers can also be upgraded to make them more effective, which is useful as many of them seem woefully underpowered to begin with.
Fortunately, the player does not have to rely on the towers alone to fight back the robotic force. By combining the genre with some bullet hell action, the player will also find themselves frantically fighting off the enemies with the Hammerhead ship. Controlling the ship does take a little getting used to, but hopefully the tutorial will set players on the right track. With a little practice, most players will be zipping around the map and facing down waves of enemies, and some impressively enjoyable boss fights, with relative ease. That is not to say that Excubitor is an easy game, as it can prove quite challenging, but control of the Hammerhead does not add to that challenge.
Upgrades become available as the player completes missions, adding further flavour to the game. The Hammerhead itself can be improved upon with modules that upgrade the likes of shields and armour, and then there are the weapons. Starting out with twin machine guns, the player will be able to purchase new weapons from the armory with some 17 available. It is not just a matter of upgrading to the next most powerful weapon at each opportunity, as each of the varied weapons has their own strengths and weaknesses, and are suited to different situations or playstyles. Players can easily change weapons as they see fit, and each of the weapons has multiple upgrade options to further tweak their offensive ability.
As already mentioned, Excubitor is a challenging game. The action is fast and chaotic, with a lot going on that the player will have to be aware of by keeping one eye on the mini map at all times. But for those who master the challenge, there are increased difficulty levels that give a good reason to come back for more. The gameplay can become a bit repetitive, but the variety in mission objectives and occasional boss battles keep it from becoming boring.
Visually, Excubitor is a good looking game. Despite the chaos on screen, everything remains relatively easy to make out and the models don’t get muddled. The environments have a nice sci-fi feel about them and look great, if slightly generic. The menus in the game also manage to look nice and are easy to navigate. On the audio side, it does the job. There is nothing special here, but also nothing broken.
With both thoughtful and frantic gameplay throughout, Excubitor is a challenging and enjoyable tower defense shooter. It manages to combine the two different gameplay styles successfully, feeling like a natural progression from a basic tower defense game, or adding extra thought to the usual mindless bullet storm type title. If you happen to be a fan of either of these genres, Excubitor is well worth checking out.