‘Deathtrap’ Preview

Remember The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing’s tower-defence mini-game? It’s kind of out-of-place for an action role-playing title such as developer NeocoreGames’, but at the same time, it’s also a nice distraction. Well, it seems like Neocore saw something more in said diversion, because it has decided to turn it into a full-fledged standalone title. I’ve managed to sink in a few hours into its Early Access state, and was quite impressed with the level of polish it has received, so far.

Deathtrap is set in an “otherworldly” realm beyond ours called the ‘Inkheart’. Van Helsing franchise veterans will definitely recognise it, as – in said series – you are able travel to this mysterious land through different portals, in order to either complete objectives or to simply get more loot. This time, it’s all about the killing.

What separates Deathtrap from the usual tower-defence game is the inclusion of a character which players control across battlefields. He/she features a few sets of skills, just like in Neocore’s Van Helsing series. What’s also new is the fact that some skills now affect your traps and towers, giving them a boost in damage, decreasing their construction costs, or even awarding you with extra experience points for each of their kill.

Deathtrap features three classes – Sorceress, Mercenary, and Marksman. Unfortunately, the Marksman isn’t available in the current state. As you might expect, while the Mercenary focuses on melee combat, the Sorceress excels at dealing long-range damage. Although both feature some shared skills, there is enough here to differentiate the two classes. The Mercenary uses rage for his skills, while the Sorceress uses mana. Both rage and mana can be obtained by slaughtering the incoming waves of creatures. It’s a more streamlined approach than that of Van Helsing, but it’s also befitting Deathtrap, because it never overburdens it. In short, it hits the sweet-spot.

The Inkheart features several strongholds which need defending – i.e. maps – each including three difficulty options. Each map has limited “life-points,” which start draining as creatures enter its “heart.” Naturally, reaching at zero points means it’s over.

Deathtrap features two kinds of defence-mechanisms – traps and towers. Traps include spraying corrosive toxin, the usual fire, or Tomb Raider fans’ favourite – spikes coming out of the ground – while towers include the usual automated gun-sentries, lightning pillars, and another type which prefers to boost the traps around it instead of firing a single shot. While some might feature none, most of Deathtrap’s traps and towers feature their own weaknesses and strengths against different kinds of monsters. The game features three types of monsters and two types of defence-mechanisms – at least its Early Access version. The third type of monster is sort of neutral, so perhaps that’s the reason why traps and towers feature one less kind. The in-game currency comes in the form of ‘essence’. Building new traps and towers consumes said resource. You get a set amount at the start of every new wave, and can earn extra by killing monsters.

Enemies come in different shapes and forms. There are the usual melee/ranged creatures, while some can even spawn smaller monsters in real-time. All of them have been brought over from The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, and while this might make you scream laziness, it actually makes perfect sense, since Deathtrap is taking place inside Van Helsing’s universe.

Completing each level earns your character experience points with which to unlock, purchase, or enhance new skills, in addition to awarding you a number of stars based on your performances, thus increasing Deathtrap’s replay value for “completionists.” Active skills include the usual dashing towards your foes or making them more vulnerable to physical damage, while passive ones offer your character an increase in essence, for example.

Outside of maps, players can also unlock new traps and towers, in addition to upgrading those already owned with another set of points – research ones, to me more precise – while also upgrading their character’s skills, and selling unwanted loot found on the battlefield and purchasing new one, further enhancing their character.

Map themes range from an almost-burnt-out forest to an actual castle, and most are big-enough that Neocore has included several teleportation grounds for players to easily jump from one side of the map to another. Additionally, some maps feature secondary objectives which can be completed only during a wave, making for a diverse and exciting change of pace. Naturally, some strongholds also end with a boss-fight. Although they aren’t yet available, an Endless and a Scenario mode is planned for each of Deathtrap’s maps.

Deathtrap also features a two-player cooperation mode. It adds virtually nothing to the core gameplay, but it’s always better to play with a friend than all by yourself. Finally, leaderboards are also in for bragging rights, while the game offers one last feature – a map editor which lets you design your own strongholds and share them with the world. From adding your own creatures, traps, portals, or even customising the monsters’ paths, Deathtrap includes a pretty robust editor, which is a huge plus for this type of game which heavily relies on new content.

I am particularly fond of the game’s soundtrack, as it perfectly fits the gothic-noir 19th-century Eastern Europe theme. On the visuals side, Deathtrap closely resembles the two Van Helsing games, meaning it’s a nice-looking title, but there’s nothing to write home about.

While the overall design has been taken from past entries in the Van Helsing franchise, Deathtrap seems like it’s going to be a great spin-off to said A-RPG series. There are still classes and maps to add, more side-quests, modes – maybe even a few surprises – but as it stands, Deathtrap is a great example of an Early Access title done right. Developers, take note.