Hydraulic Empire is one of those attempts to put a new spin on an old genre. Just as Bloodsports.TV opted to create a MOBA-esque experience sans some of the more alienating elements, this game is attempting to give the player greater control when it comes to Tower Defence releases.
Set in a steampunk world of hostile creations, your task is to guide a lone exiled soldier on his quest for survival. Rather than just plonking down turrets wherever there are enemies, you instead control the soldier directly. It’s an interesting limitation and new element to the game, as while the soldier himself can take pot-shots at incoming foes – effectively giving you a mobile turret – many of the abilities tie into him. Want to set down a turret? He needs to run over to it. Want to upgrade one? He needs to be close by. Want to personally launch pools of acid at your foes? He needs to launch it personally. It prevents players from simply spamming certain abilities, and forces you to choose the most optimal location to strike from.
The enemy variety is more or less what you’d expect, small fodder, the odd big soldier and a few flying ones, and the turrets are your common or garden gatling, mortar combos; but Hydraulic Empire hides that well thanks to its visual aesthetic. Atop of this, there’s a nice variety of maps on hand, often shifting where you need to place turrets and with a few RPG styled upgrade trees. It makes for an even start, but the game is hardly without its problems.
Even accepting the aesthetic style, the graphics look like something from well over a decade ago, and it’s hard not to wince at some of the cruder textures. Atop of this, the soundtrack is extremely reparative, meaning you’ll likely switch it off after only a few missions. On a more gameplay related point, the map designs can often seem over-engineered. In the opening level you can ignore well over half the map as the enemy attack route never comes close to crossing over into it. Others aim for a sprawling, vast design but the turret placements and best locations to bottleneck forces are extremely simple. As a whole, the game aims to have big ideas but the execution is decidedly mixed; a matter not helped by some poor optimisation and frequent frame drops.
As a whole, it’s hard to say that Hydraulic Empire isn’t fun, but it’s far from memorable. If you can ignore some of its rough nature, or enjoy the steampunk genre, it can make for a fun time waster, but don’t expect much in the way of real substance.
HYDRAULIC EMPIRE / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: SOLITUDE ENTERTAINMENT / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW