by Bill Spencer
Short review: I really enjoyed this game. With a $20 version now avail. for PC (you'll need W95/DirectX though), and many more-or-less competing games for other systems, you'll have to decide if it's worth the steep Telegames price. I wanted a game I could play at home, ruling out the PC, on a system no one else in the house uses, so it was worth a bit more to me. Still, the unique combination of 3D combat, strategy, and RPG elements make this is a decent game irregardless of system or cost, especially if you're willing to show interest in a slower-paced game than pure combat games are.
Towers does not break new technological ground for a Jag game. It features flat maps in a first person perspective similar to Alien vs. Predator and Wolfenstien 3D. The only twist on this is to trade off distance viewing for improved framerate vs. AvP and it features texture mapped floors and ceilings unlike Wolf. The rooms are rectangular boxes with things like round tables scattered around. However, like AvP, there is definitely an original slant to it, and the game is not seperated into levels where you finish a level and then never return. The tower has multiple floors (12) to provide a single mega-episode, and you can save the game at any point. The floors are called "levels" but should not be compared to levels in Doom, Quake or Duke3D.
Towers adds role-playing game elements to the Doom genre. This allows the designers to add some very interesting things to the game. Also, the player can recharge his "Energy" (life) and "Mana" (magic) by "sleeping." Since you can not sleep if hungry, this requires at first you search out food, and carry some with you. Fairly early in the game, you get a "Create Food" spell. You should still carry some food, because spells don't always work, and you could run too short of mana to cast it anyway, but you're no longer dependent at all upon power-ups after this point. Since sleeping is fairly rapid, and can even be done during a fight, it may seem unrealistic as being real sleep. I prefer to think of it as "recovery time," in fighting game terms. Since the player's character is fairly easily damaged, and has very limited mana, enemies must be isolated in order to be killed. With more powerful enemies, it will take several "fight and flee" cycles to kill them.
I have little or no experience with playing RPGs (does Faxanadu on the NES even count?), so I can't say how this one compares to others. I was somewhat bewildered at first. The manual is mostly complete but brief (there's also some errors, such the reference to a mouse click).
The player has 4 characters to choose from. I chose the circus acrobat at first, but got stuck after, being so pleased with achieving an objective, I saved my game before noticing I couldn't get out of the hole I had fallen in. I started over with Merton, the magician, and haven't looked back. His full magical powers make the game more interesting (and perhaps less tedious), and his physical weakness made the beginning much more of a challenge.
Button A on the controller toggles between "hand mode" and "movement mode." Hand mode allows the manipulation and storing of objects. It is also used to talk to other characters and open doors. You can even throw objects. I used it extensively during the early stages when playing Merton to throw knives, getting the attention of guards and isolating them for battle. Hand mode is shows its roots in the Falcon game by being mouse-oriented, but is still not too hard to use with the joypad, just a hair slower than you might wish.
Movement is good, but the character has some inertia. This is important since you can move slower by pulsing the forward-reverse function, and is somewhat realistic to real life, but it is overdone and a little clumsy. The Jag keypad is used for sidestep, and this feature is great. I love the feeling of control this provides. You will need to learn to work the joypad and punch buttons with fingers so the thumbs can be used for sidestep. You can't always get away from enemies by backing away, but you can always outrun them while going forward, which is slightly faster.
Combat is very different from most Doom type games. There is considerable hand to hand combat towards the beginning of the game. Due to the limited maneuverability, first person perspective, and short weapons (swords, etc.) there's not much you can do except get in close and hack away at the fire button. It helps a little to back away right after a stroke, but that's about it for the hand to hand killing. But there's more to it than that. Strategy, isolation of enemies, and running away when needed plays a big part in success. Later, you get projectile type attacks in the form of bow and arrows, and magic.
During hand to hand combat, you will score hits and misses randomly, with the odds set by the Dexterity parameter of the character. Your Strength sets the damage incurred and the amount of wieght you can carry, and Constitution sets how easily you are damaged. When casting spells, they will work or not work randomly, with the odds set by the Wisdom of the character. Move to a different location or switch between hand and movement mode before trying again. The amount of mana available for casting them is initially set by the character's Intelligence. Mana and other capabilities increase at times, with the message "Your skills have increased."
Spells and other messages are on scrolls left around the tower, and are read by holding them in front of your character's face displayed in the top left corner of the screen. This allows a storyline. It's not earthshaking, but it definitely makes the game more interesting, and had me on the edge of my seat at one point. There are many weapons, keys and other artifacts to find. Some you will need, some are useless. Slots are provided for carrying things, expanded by bags and a backpack, and slots are provided for outfitting your character with weapons, armor, etc.
The map function is excellent, one of the main advantages of this game over AvP. Things within a room are indicated by different color dots -- the scale is very small. The entire level is displayed at once, and levels are switched by the joypad.
You can move between levels by stairs and holes in the floor and ceiling which you can fall through and eventually levitate up through. Holes are 3D but you can't see the next floor, and stairs are pictures of stairs on the wall, not 3D looking at all. There are also teleporter mirrors.
Since this is an RPG, you have to find most the secrets in the game, but only a few are not well marked. There are some puzzles, none of which seem hard in hindsight, but which can stump you when you don't even know what to try. The hints on the JV games page and some help from the net (thanks, Wes) were most helpful. As I now have a debt to pay, you can ask me for help now too ;).
2 forms of game saving are provided. The Memory save stores everything about your game but is lost if the machine is powered off. Use this often. The Cartridge save is best used for a "safe position" save and also maintains all game data until the machine is powered off -- at this point it becomes a Limited save. Most essential game data is saved but some enemies will come back and some dropped items will revert to their original position. Be sure that you haven't used up any resources needed later, trapped yourself, or left yourself vulnerable to attack when using this save slot.