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Excubitor Review

One genre that has struggled with diversity is tower defense.

There are plenty of genres out there that allow for developers to flourish in creativity and give them plenty of room to reinvent what we come to expect. Platformers are a good example of this: take the first Super Mario Bros. game and compare it to something like Braid - two games that feel the same but are vastly different in their respective designs.

One genre that has struggled with diversity is tower defense. It's difficult to make a game that can classify itself as a tower defense without feeling like every other tower defense game out there. Build towers, upgrade towers, brave the waves and move on to the next level to do the same. At a certain point, there were so many tower defense games coming out that I felt like I had to establish defenses of my own in order to block their constant assault.

Excubitor, from Tesseract Interactive, tries its hardest to mix things up in tower defenses by adding a few different genres to help spice things up, but it unfortunately still feels like just another tower defense. All the same mechanics are still there: build towers, upgrade towers, brave the waves and move on to the next level to do the same. But in the midst of doing those things, you’re given free rein of your spacecraft and you’re able to fly around to manage the waves more directly. This freedom allows the game to blend tower defense with some bullet hell, shmup-style combat that helps keep things a little more kinetic and engaging - especially with the boss battles which I’ll talk about shortly.

Getting the small stuff out of the way first, Excubitor tries to put in a story that doesn’t really do much to the game except add a bit of context on things to come. They do have some story beats but, for the most part, it might as well not even exist because it ultimately doesn't lead to much of anything.

The building and unit design in Excubitor reminds me a lot of Command & Conquer in a lot of ways which is certainly a positive.

At the same time, the game lacks originality and really makes everything seem reused. On a positive note, each of the game’s levels differs and legitimately makes you feel like it’s in a different location. You’ll jump from destroyed cities to space battles to snowy terrain, and each of these places feel unique and separate from each other - even if all the units tend just to mesh together after a while.

The big stand-out to the hordes of lookalike enemy units is the big boss battles that take place every so often. The first big boss fight was a nice change of pace for the game’s first few simpler and introductory levels. Without giving too much in how to defeat the boss, the game sticks you in front of a much bigger ship and forces you to blow it up (naturally).

While the level itself is still a tower defense game at its core, allowing you direct control over your ship gives the game a bigger shmup-style feeling than I expected. Each turret on the big, bad ship throws out a different type of bullet type causing you to dodge and weave through the patterns once you figure them out. While attacking this behemoth, it’s in your best interest to keep returning to your base to protect it from oncoming attacks because it will be attacked with much more vigor than you’d expect and it goes up just as quick. This necessity was the first time the game really stood out as something unique, and it made me feel accomplished when I finally thwarted that bad guy and turned him into a heap of space junk.

Sadly, the game is too safe and not enough of crazy to help it stand up in front of the other tower defense games out there on the market. This is a shame since the game has a pretty solid foundation for what could be a fantastic tower defense/shmup.

As any good tower defense, Excubitor offers you a choice of where to put your towers of choice.

As long as they are predestined building spots on the map, of course. In Excubitor, you have two sources of resources: Energy and Credits (Or Gold? Or whatever they decide to call money in the game). To create a tower, you need some credits - which you get from killing the hordes. But in order to place enough towers, you need enough energy - which can be given by placing generators. Energy also helps to upgrade your currently placed towers. For the most part, the balancing of Energy/Credits seems decent, but the tower placement seems odd and not as well thought out.

As any good shoot-em- up, Excubitor offers the option to upgrade your weapons and choose which kind of weapons you decide will help your playstyle the most. You get these upgrades by getting credits playing. The game is structured by levels, and each level is graded by how well you do. If you avoid death, you get a bonus, etc. I was playing on Normal and I got mostly all Gold rankings. I was quite pleased with this.

Excubitor does a good job of adding plenty of moving parts to each map as well as various “Bonus” objectives placed throughout the map that you can choose to interact with. These Bonuses give you more energy or credits to help raise your overall score to the game. Some objectives are labeled on the UI - things like “Blow up such and such” - and some are hidden - like trucks or silos that need exploding.

As mentioned above, I’ve been playing on Normal and the game is definitely not too challenging, but there have been many instances where I felt like I was shortchanged by the weapons I had at my disposal and by the placement of the towers. I understand that this was most likely by design, but at certain points I felt swamped regardless of how ready I thought my towers and I were.

One of the more annoying choices to me is the locked camera angle. It’s at such an awkward angle, as it cuts off a large chunk of what’s in front of your vision. It’s something I just got acclimated to over time, but I would have preferred it to be either a little higher up or just a little tilted up above default. At least give us the option to change/adjust on the fly, as there are plenty of times where the default worked to my benefit; however, for the long range stuff, it’s pointless.

There’s not a whole lot to say on Excubitor other than it’s a very competent Tower Defense game with Shmup elements to mix things up just a tad bit. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s something that’s a necessity to play by any means. If you’re in the need for a new tower defense game where you build defensive towers to defend things, you might be interested in this. If not, just play one of your old favorite tower defense games for a bit and get bored of those instead.

5

The Verdict

Excubitor’s often exciting environments and set-pieces/boss battles, coupled with its Tower Defense/Shmup combination make for a very familiar experience with just enough variety to make it somewhat interesting. If familiarity is in your comfort zone, you’re in luck - but don’t expect to be blown away like hordes and hordes of explodable enemy units.

James McKeever
Written by
May 31, 2016
Published in Action

When not playing video games, James is usually found playing video games. When he simply does not have time for video games, he goes to a thing called "Job" where he makes money to feed himself and his wife and to buy more video games. Since he was too scared to use the controller himself at the young age of 3, James started his gaming career as a "navigator" of sorts instructing his father when to jump in Super Mario Brothers. Since then, the fear of controllers has subsided and James can now jump freely, circumventing the middleman.

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