It’s not often that after a review is finished I want to actually delve back into the game. Usually I have my fill, and move on to my enormous and ever growing backlog. Yet for some reason, I feel this desire to hop back into the Lovecraftian world of Tesla Force. The development team over at 10tons have managed to create a game that is brimming with all of the frantic energy of a mechanically solid twin-stick shooter, while also managing to instill a sense of fear that all rogue-likes should aspire for. One wrong loop, a mistimed teleport, or even a false sense of confidence can end your run in the blink of an eye.
The actual world of Tesla Force is fairly empty in terms of characterization. In an attempt to give the world unlimited energy, Tesla accidentally opens up a wormhole to a Lovecraftian hellscape, allowing for all sorts of beings to flood into our home. Told in surprisingly beautiful, albeit incredibly short, motion comic cutscenes, the story is just some set dressing to get you on your way. Don’t expect the game to ever explain how folks are teleporting around or who the actual main antagonist is. The function of these cutscenes aren’t to dump exposition on you; rather to get everyone in the same place.
And with your team assembled, and growing as you complete certain goals, you get to play as one of four different characters – Tesla, Marie Curie, Mary Shelley, and Lovecraft himself. While they all play slightly different, they never actually interact with each other, which seems like a missed opportunity. To have two scientists known for pushing the boundaries of their fields, and two famous horror/gothic authors saving the world, seems rife with interesting dynamics. Alas, it’s not the story that you come to Tesla Force for, and it’s certainly not going to be what keeps you.
Rather, you’ll find yourself coming back to grind your crystals, buff up your character and mow down hordes of horrors. What makes the actual game design work is the breakneck pace that you go through it. Often in my experiences with rogue-likes, you can find yourself trying to navigate levels to find the exit or any hidden treasures. In Tesla Force, each level is self-contained, so as soon as you finish whatever task you have, whether that be closing portals, inspecting a hive or killing an elite monster, you just tap Y to finish the level. This helps prevent the game from slowing down and inevitably getting boring between fights. And once you complete a level, similar to games like FTL, you choose where you would like to head to next across branching paths. As you level up specific perks on your character, you are able to see further and further down the paths, allowing for you to plan out routes and potentially influence specific builds.
What build you decide to go for may depend on which character you choose. For example, Marie Curie dual-wields guns at the detriment to her reload speed. So you can decide to close that gap and choose perks that shorten that time, or you can go for one that doubles the amount of bullets shot, allowing for a constant spread of fire to cause havoc with.
While there is a fair amount of freedom in terms of what builds you end up going for, the game does suffer a bit from repetition. There are only a few different level types, so you’ll find yourself investigating hives or repairing machinery often. On top of that, early on you can find yourself being presented with the same weapons or perks. With the more interesting rewards being left for the later levels and difficulty, this can lead to a sense of “sameness” at the start of most runs.
But luckily this doesn’t get in the way of your enjoyment. Each level is brief, so while you may be doing the same missions over and over, they never overstay their welcome. The pace of the combat is also incredibly quick. You’ll find yourself teleporting your way through hordes to complete your objectives, picking up materials to call in your mech and blasting away at foes with a decent number of unique weapons and power-ups.
While not all of them may be the most useful, some do shine. Jacob’s Ladder quickly became one of my favorite weapons since it shoots lightning that arcs between the monsters right on your tail, destroying them in one fell swoop. But while it may be simple on the surface level, you’re often faced with the dilemma of how to tackle levels. Do you want to rush your way to your mech so that you can mow down your enemies safely? Do you risk teleporting into the middle of the horde to try and get a power-up that can change the tide of the fight? Or do you try to complete the objectives before the doom clock – an ever-present reminder that your enemies grow stronger – strikes 12:00? Between all of these choices, and the little resource management there is, you’re constantly having to think on your feet and act quickly before you become overrun.
Twin-stick shooters are a special genre for me. For over a decade since I first played I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, I’ve been chasing that frantic and goofy high ever since. 10tons have managed to recreate that feeling of running out of time, surrounded on all sides, and even sometimes fares better than many games in recent memory. While Tesla Force on Xbox is lacking in variety, especially upon repeat playthroughs, what it does have to offer has continuously dragged me back in for more.