Tesla vs Lovecraft is a funny sounding idea, but as a cross-over it makes just enough sense to get by. Its uncomplicated, tumultuous gameplay encourages not paying much attention to the story, and as such can enjoy the well suited aesthetic that both of these characters bring to mind – the mad electrical inventions inspired (very loosely) by Nikola Tesla, and the nightmarish creatures of Lovecraft’s lore – without requiring too much explanation as to why any of this is happening. Essentially Tesla being turned into a bad ass hero who uses his knowledge and inventiveness to harness crazy weapons and abilities in order to defeat Lovecraft and his rampaging monsters.

Ostensibly there is some sort of disagreement between the two, with Lovecraft harassing Tesla at one of his talks/demonstrations – complaining that he is going too far, and that he doesn’t know what forces he is playing with. Soon after, Tesla finds his lab burning down and all manner of creatures nicking his stuff, and so sets out to get it back and put a stop to these shenanigans.

The game is an isometric twin-stick shooter that takes place across about (an initial) 30+ short levels. The levels are like small arenas within which you must survive increasing onslaughts from various Lovecraftian monsters. You begin each level with the same rank and the same weapon, and must rely on random drops and levelling up in order to improve yourself and survive the waves of enemies.

As you progress in the campaign you will unlock new weapons, perks and abilities; so while you are essentially in the same position at the beginning of each level – equipped with a pistol and back to experience level 1 – the variety and power of the items that get dropped into the level increases as you progress. Fore example, you will soon find yourself eschewing the shotgun that seemed so important before in favour of a gauss rifle, or a tesla repeater. This system ensures that there is some sort of progression, however it relies on you having the ability to fight your way to good gear, and also deal with its random nature.

Abilities consist of a selection of limited powers. When you pick one of these up you will get a few shots (5 to begin with, until you upgrade) with some handy gadget. For example, there is a pulse ability that does damage to anything around you, there’s an arc blade that swipes to decimate anything that stands in front of you, and even sillier abilities like a massive weight (ala the ton weights from cartoons) that falls from the sky to squish your enemies. They may be of limited supply, but when things get really hectic, these abilities can be the difference between life and death. Some are better than others, but again this plays into the idea of lucking out with random drops.

Perks, however, are the more interesting feature. Initially they just appear to be useful passive abilities. When you level up in a level you will get to choose from one of two random perks, including things like ‘more health’, ‘more teleport charge’ (this becoming very useful in later levels as you zip in and out of combat trying to avoid getting overwhelmed), and even things like ‘extra barrel’ – which literally puts an extra barrel on your weapon, allowing you to fire two shots. But where this really gets crazy is when you realise that these perks are stackable, and how they fit in with the different weapons.

Take a shotgun for example. Shotguns have a pretty good spread, right? Well how about that extra barrel perk, giving it another blast? Oh what’s this, another extra barrel perk that you can dump on top of the previous one? Yes please. Now you have another spray of bullets. Combine this with the ricochet perk which allows your bullets to bounce off walls, and levels quickly become absolute madness. The more perks you unlock, the more variety you can administer to your set up; and some of the combinations are really cool and useful. But once more, this relies on you getting the drops in the first place. Where some levels you can have bullets flying everywhere and mowing down fools like it’s nothing, in others you might find yourself with a combination of a few less useful ones and end up not being able to contend with the waves that are thrown at you.

The enemy variety plays well with this too, as some enemies are tougher than others, some are bigger, and so on. If you are facing off against tanky enemies, you will want powerful abilities and perks that increase your damage, whereas if you are facing against smaller enemies that swarm you, you want extra speed and more AOE focussed abilities. It creates an element of tactics, not allowing you to simply rely on twitch skill or dodging.

You can, however, throw some of these random elements in your favour by purchasing upgrades. Thankfully I’m not talking about micro transactions, but crystals that you acquire through various activities in the game. Initially you can only acquire crystals by defeating a certain number of enemies – kill a load of Deep Ones and you get some crystals and a damage bonus for that enemy type. But later on you unlock the ability to harvest them from levels, and also daily quests, which impose tasks such as picking up a certain number of powers, getting multi kills and so on. This is what you will probably rely most on to get your upgrades as the selection you have to choose from can get pretty expensive. The actual upgrades include things like ‘increase your chance of getting an epic perk’, ‘increase your teleport charge’, ‘add armour to your mech’ – these are passive upgrades, but ones that give you an edge on the game’s randomness. And as you progress to the more difficult versions of the game, these upgrades are pretty much essential.

As I mentioned before, the game lasts an initial 30+ levels, however upon completing those, you are treated to a cutscene, and gain access to more difficult versions of those levels – Aether and Eldritch. The story continues through, so it’s not quite like you are just starting the game over on a harder difficulty, though aside from a new enemy type and tougher waves to contend with, you are essentially playing the same levels again. On the one hand, the increased difficulty and access to new perks and features gives you more of a chance to mess around with the shooty carnage, but on the other it’s a little disappointing that more levels were not created. Many of them are quite short to begin with, so it’s not like there’s a whole lot to see.

The story is quite minimalistic, with just two instances of story development in the game – those being at the very beginning and at the very end of each plane (normal, aether and eldritch). That isn’t really an issue as the game is clearly very silly and more about throwing you into the action, but I suppose some could take it or leave it on that basis – there’s not much to invest in, and it verges on mindless fun (which can be seen as a good or a bad thing).

But that mindless fun is the biggest selling point, and though I had hoped for some more weapons to play with and better level variety, Tesla vs Lovecraft is still a riotous twin stick shooter. After the first few slow levels, things become hectic and progressively more challenging – with boss encounters that feature some of the more intimidating Lovecraft monsters. The perk system makes the game stand out, and though you won’t always get the combinations you desire, when you do, the hell that breaks loose is all worth it – especially with your mech (a devastating suit that can be summoned after picking up 6 parts in the level). If you want something in-depth and more narratively focussed, then this probably isn’t for you, but if you’d like a simple, fast paced shooter with a few quirks, then Tesla vs Lovecraft does a pretty decent job.