Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, engineer and futurist, contributing to alternating current electricity supply system. H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an American author, known for his influential horror fiction. Both Tesla and Lovecraft were disgraced in their lifetime but later generations would recognize their achievements. What Wikipedia won’t tell, however, is that the two men battled against each other over fact versus fiction. Lovecraft is sure that Tesla’s experiments in mastering the lightning will harm the course of nature and summons hellish monsters from beyond to his aid. Tesla, equipped with his inventions, is determined to see his work through.
These whimsical and entirely fictional events of Tesla vs Lovecraft are told through as a top-down twin-stick shooter by the masters of the genre, Finnish developer 10tons Ltd. (known for Neon Chrome, Time Recoil and Jydge, to name a few). After a few introductory levels, Tesla, our ingenuous protagonist, builds up his Tesla mech, complete with mounted twin cannons, to fight the hordes of Lovecraftian minions in the fictional city of Arkham. The gist is that the mech doesn’t last long. It has a limited life span, and after it dissipates, Tesla is on his own again. Most of the game is actually spent as Tesla, running and gunning monsters, kiting and herding them within tight level areas. The weaponry ranges from basic revolvers to gauss-powered machine guns, all unlocked through progressing in the game. All the while, Tesla has to collect five mech parts to regain his bi-pedal apparatus with its superior firepower to mow down the monsters.
As a footman, Tesla’s the most essential tool is his teleport, moving him a short distance in the direction he’s moving, much like Tracer’s blink in Owerwatch. It carries Tesla through enemies and obstacles, crucial in navigating the more tangled levels of Arkham. Tesla gains perks by leveling up, allowing abilities like faster movement, shorter teleport cooldown, health upgrades and increasing the number of supplies available. The perks are chosen between two options, whichever suits your needs in a given situation. Also, scattered around levels are supplies, including weapons and health pickups, a clock to slow down the time and special destructive abilities, like smart bombs and x-ray blades.
And then you do it all again. Every level is started on a clean slate, as previous perks don’t carry over. Weapons, other pick-ups and abilities have to all be collected time and again for each level. Collectible Aether crystals, though, are used as currency to buy some permanent upgrades, such as extra charges to the teleport. Tesla vs Lovecraft is meant to be consumed in snackable portions, with levels lasting from less than a minute to five at the most. Some levels are just endurance tests, only ending after killing all the waves of minions of hell. In other levels, it’s required to destroy monster generators, much like in an old arcade classic Gauntlet.
As a whole, Arkham is divided into three chapters, with some thirty levels and three boss fights within each, all culminating in a final showdown at Wardenclyffe (the actual place of Tesla’s wireless transmission experiments in New York in 1901-1902). Whenever the laws of nature are tampered with, something is bound to go awry. After defeating Lovecraft at Wardenclyffe, there’s a rift in time-space continuum, and the game starts all over again at Aether plane. The colors are blue-tinted, the level order mixed up and the challenge amped. The third time’s a charm, as Aether place is followed by Eldritch plane, all gloomier and more harassing than before. Is this padding? Or repetitive in the long run? Maybe, but the game revolves around the idea of resetting everything. And who could argue with Tesla’s experiments not being a plausible excuse for repeating events? There’s also a classic survival mode with online leaderboards, but sadly, co-op with up to four players is more confusing than it’s worth. There’s too much happening on the screen, and each player having their own incentives breaks down the gameplay focus.
In many ways, Tesla vs Lovecraft is similar to 10tons’ backlog of top-down shooters, but once again they have come up with a fresh angle to jazz up things. While inside Tesla mech, the game is a frenzied blast fest but as mere Tesla, it’s a tactical cat and mouse play. The camera is more up-close than in the developer’s previous games, making things easier to read. The action is super-smooth and fast. Even though there can be dozens of enemies and effects on the screen, there’s not even a hint of a slow-down. As is typical for 10tons games, the music is absolutely great. Moody and electronically enhanced heavy rock drives Tesla through Lovecraftian horrors. Also, there are some cutscenes to tell the story, illustrated in a suitably thick and naive style.
There’s something inherently 80’s in the developer’s game philosophy, and it’s evident here too. The premise down to the executive ideas are lifted from the golden age of video games, but Tesla vs Lovecraft isn’t a sad nostalgia trip. Instead, it’s modern where it matters, drawing from an age-old idea of having fun when playing video games, but executed flawlessly through an advanced technology. 10tons Ltd has managed to find extraordinary margins within the genre as restricted as top-down shooters. When they travel the road further, who knows what they can come up with? Meanwhile, Tesla vs Lovecraft is a juicy slice of blasting fun.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.