Tower 57 Review
Tower 57 is a game that’s a lot of fun, but how much fun you’re bound to have with it will depend on a few things. First, whether or not you have a controller. This game is hard, but only when using the keyboard and mouse controls. The difficulty is more reasonable when using a controller (even more so with aim assist), so having one can mean the difference between ragequitting and steamrolling the entire game without much of a problem. It’s also a fairly short game, lasting between 2 and 3 hours if you don’t find yourself stuck on a boss or something. There are supposedly modding tools coming despite the topic all but vanishing from updates around late 2015, though, and that should help give the game some legs. Hey, speaking of legs, this is a game where enemies can remove yours, leaving you to flail around helplessly as a torso in a desperate bid to fend off enemies with whatever crazy weaponry you have. Of course, that’s assuming that your arms haven’t been removed by a dinosaur, because that’s also a possibility, and you’re not going to be shooting anyone without arms. The fact that such sentences can be written in complete seriousness speaks to the utter absurdity of Tower 57, but it should also be mentioned that the game isn’t so wrapped up in craziness that it doesn’t do anything else. We’re talking destructible environments, great art, lovably downsampled voice clips, and a Dieselpunk world just dystopian enough that the jokes about social/class inequalities are reflected in the gameplay.
It also has a story, kind of!
You start Tower 57 by selecting three of the game’s six playable characters, and these basically function as a lives system. That means that having one character die switches you to the next in your group. I’ll talk more about the mechanics later on, but what’s important now is that while they all play slightly differently and come with different equipment, they’re treated as indistinguishable as far as the story is concerned; all characters are agents of the “Inter Tower Governance” tasked with infiltrating Tower 57 and assassinating the Head of Operations of a local manufacturing giant after he shut down its production for some reason. Should you die and switch to another character, they’ll carry on like you had been controlling them all along. They all share the same written dialogue (though they have their own distinct audio quips), so it works.
Part of me wants to say that your characters don’t have much to do with the story, then, but that wouldn’t actually be accurate. It’d be more accurate to say that the story itself is interesting, but not particularly heavy-hitting or affecting, serving its purpose of shuttling your characters across numerous different areas perfectly adequately. There’s no pretense of it being the focus here, and that’s actually kind of refreshing. Still, that doesn’t preclude there being legitimately interesting bits of lore and dialogue littered throughout the game, and the game handles a lot of this with humor befitting a game where you strafe around arm-destroying dinosaurs with a rocket launcher.
One of the game’s favorite methods of humor involves pointing out how those on floors higher than level 42 are treated completely differently than most of the people you meet in the rest of the game. I posted some examples of this in my first progress log, but there’s also a screenshot at the end of the review about how a floor 7 resident was run over by someone higher up and the tower’s court finds that she “acted in good faith when she backed over the accuser with her car” repeatedly. Little things like this found on the terminals scattered across the game add a lot, both in terms of humor and world building. And it’s worth remembering a few of the things you see, because I noticed at least two callbacks to earlier news stories toward the end of the game.
The mechanics here are great for the most part
One of the few characters who reoccurs throughout the game is the Fortune Teller, a woman of questionable skill at telling fortunes but who’s nonetheless capable of resurrecting anyone who dies. To have her do this, you need to bring her Amber Balls, a fairly rare resource occasionally found during stages. One ball revives one dead character, basically, and since characters function much like lives, doing so is the equivalent of replenishing a lost life in another game. Of course, your characters are all individuals, and they come armed with different weapons and tools. If you upgrade one of your characters but fail to switch to the others and upgrade them as well, having your main character die can mean scrambling to stay alive as the others. Body parts can be upgraded at certain terminals, and weapons can be upgraded at a different type of terminal, so switching to your other characters when you’re in the hub city (because it has both) and buying upgrades becomes fairly important. This requires sizable sums of money, and there are several minigames you can win money from, but far and away the best method of making money is the slot machine that’s in a hidden room in the city.
Part of the reason controllers feel so much more natural with this game than the keyboard and mouse do is because the aiming reticle is locked a certain distance from your character when playing on a controller. That means that if you swing around to aim at something, you instinctively know where it’ll be and therefore where your shot will land. You can freely move the reticle around the screen when using the keyboard and mouse, however, and I found myself constantly misjudging shots because of the varying distances between me and it. Besides which, having it move all over makes it easier to lose amid the chaos of the bullets and enemies. Missing shots becomes a problem with certain weapons, too, as all weapons but the weak default pistol use up ammo, and missing shots increases the likelihood of running out before you find an ammo refill. Aiding both control schemes, however, are character-specific special attacks that can be performed after defeating enough enemies (or obtaining a bluish-silver Mana Ball during a stage). On a keyboard, this is Q, while it’s X on a controller. The spy character’s special attack causes all enemies to freeze for a short time, allowing her a bunch of free attacks. The scientist unleashes a bunch of lasers on all visible enemies. The don calls in a vehicle to hit enemies with a drive-by shooting. These special attacks can be a godsend against large groups of enemies.
There are a few imperfections, but the sound and music are absolutely on point
One of the more frustrating things about Tower 57 is that it’s not always obvious what does what. Sometimes you enter a door while exploring and it locks behind you, cutting you off from places you haven’t visited yet. Sometimes you progress through a level and return to a spot you visited earlier, but platforms that used to move suddenly don’t anymore. It’s hard (sometimes even impossible) to tell which of the million things you did leading up to that point caused the change, with the only exception being early on when little cutscenes show doors being unlocked and such. This becomes especially frustrating when you lose a limb and can’t backtrack to a nearby limb terminal to buy a new one. There are also a small handful of mostly-cosmetic bugs like multiple songs playing over one another, but I also came across an instance where the game thought that I was broke when I actually had tons of money. None of this was enough to ruin the experience, though, because the game is just pure fun to play when you get down to it. Mindless, nearly overwhelming fun. The graphics and music enhance the experience, too, with both being surprisingly great and varied. Everything looks distinct, and breakable objects (which is pretty much all objects in the game) go through multiple levels of destruction. As for the music, have you ever played a game where you start it up and the music is so good that you just leave it running for awhile? This is definitely one of those games. Bravo to everyone involved in the art and music.
*A review key for Tower 57 was provided for the purpose of this review