There is a sweet spot in the media we enjoy - whether it’s destroying big bad bosses in our favorite game or an unbelievable plot twist in a movie that blew our minds - where it just ‘clicks.’ Tesla Vs. Lovecraft ‘clicks’, but it does so at the exact moment that it begins to lose steam and fall apart, which is unfortunate because up to that point it feels like a pretty solid twin-stick shooter.
Tesla Vs. Lovecraft picks up with Tesla putting on an event showing off his latest invention. Unfortunately, the fun of the evening is cut short by Mr. Lovecraft, who summons evil fish-people from the Aether to destroy Tesla and the city (or the entire world, the scale he’s working on isn’t clear). It’s a weird premise but it feels more off the wall and fun than all too strange. However, there are a couple of instances where the voices didn’t match up with the subtitles on screen with completely different dialogue being spoken than what was read. This isn’t a big deal, since the game features so little voice acting, but happening so early on pulled me out pretty fast from what was happening around me.
Your goal as Tesla (or Teslas in Co-Op, where everyone is a different colored Tesla) is to shoot through wave after wave of Lovecraft’s creations with the help of different weapons, abilities, perks, and technology. The game starts slow but gains pace very well, with the first level giving you a basic pistol and explaining the shooting mechanics and each later level granting new guns, details on how to level up, how to use abilities, and more. The highlight of finishing the introductory levels is using the Mech suit for the first time - a walking tank that players collect pieces for throughout the level. Once all five pieces are gathered a player hits a button and transforms into a walking gun-machine. After taking enough damage, or about 30 seconds pass, the player will drop back down into their normal Tesla form. It’s a cool mechanic that makes a player feel like a complete powerhouse while it lasts.
After finishing the first few tutorial style stages, each round begins with Player 1 dropping down in Tesla’s Mech suit and blasting as many of the creepy-crawly bad guys as fast as they can for that 30-second window. The game always puts Player 1 in the mech suit at the start of each round, which is fun for Player 1, but in Co-Op can grate on other players who start without the Mech suit for no fault of their own. Once the initial Mech suit phase passes (or if you’re not Player 1), you use your pistol to blast as many of the Lovecraftian bad guys as possible while picking up the 5 pieces it takes to rebuild the Mech suit. The pieces are shared, so once they are all recovered the first player to hit the button can hop in the new suit. You have to move quickly to avoid being cornered by bad guys while also trying to find your favorite weapons and abilities, as they will randomly spawn on the map. It’s fast and chaotic, and it’s a lot of fun avoiding large waves to grab your favorite powerup.
Guns come in abundance with shotguns, tommy guns, revolvers, and ‘Tesla’ variations of these. Each gun shoots differently and reloads differently, with the Tesla versions shooting energy instead of bullets, but some of the bullet weapons pack more of a punch. A Tesla shotgun, for instance, has little energy balls that spray further apart and fires eight shots before needing to reload. A double-barrel shotgun, on the other hand, does more damage per shot, but with less spray and needs to reload after two shots. Early on it becomes pretty easy to figure out which is your favorite weapon and settle in. However, the weapons don’t carry over from round to round, and since each round starts with a pistol and weapons can spawn anywhere there were a number of times my Co-Op partner picked up multiple weapons before I could get anything other than the (borderline useless) pistol, typically because I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Aside from firearms, there are ‘Abilities’ that players pick up during the level and have a limited number of uses within that level. These range from exploding barrels that the player can place to giant weights you can drop on bad guys, and while they can kill enemies en mass, they feel very easy to ignore altogether since they only have a few uses. If you find ‘your’ weapon, you may run through hoards of bad guys for it because you will use it to the end of the level. If your favorite ability pops up, you only get 5 or so uses out of it, meaning it often isn’t worth fighting for.