Review: Hydraulic Empire, a Steampunk Tower Defense

Hydraulic Empire: robots in red and gold
Review: Hydraulic Empire, a Steampunk Tower Defense

Platforms: Windows PC, Steam

Game Name: Hydraulic Empire

Publisher: Solitude Entertainment

Developer: Solitude Entertainment

Genre: Action, RPG, Simulation, Strategy

Release Date: July 31st, 2015

Hydraulic Empire – What We Think:

Hydraulic Empire isn’t a reinvention of the tower defense game, but it’s a very well executed implementation of it. In addition to its surprisingly colorful take on steampunk imagery, the game includes some light RPG elements and even interactions between enemy mobs.

Hydraulic Empire: a fight on a bridge

Shiny Gears

The game’s particular thematic approach is a blend of generic fantasy and smoke-belching steampunk robots. If some of the imagery can be a bit on the plain side – stone castles and the same blimps you see in every vaguely steampunk game, comic or anime – a lot of the characters and towers are really cool-looking. The enemy robots, in particular, all have face-plates like cattle catchers from old-time locomotive engines.

Some of the character design is in fact so eye-catching that it’s kind of a drag how cluttered the screen gets during the latter part of most levels. You want to see the cool robots marching around and the towers you’ve placed firing on them – the phonograph-shaped bomb launchers are another inspired design choice – but you can’t make out what’s happening amidst the carnage.

Hydraulic Empire: robots in red and gold

That’s where the color scheme comes into play. Instead of the usual steampunk beiges and browns, Hydraulic Empire is actually quite colorful, from the brilliant greens and blues of the backgrounds to shiny red and gold paint jobs on some of the robots. The overall effect is reminiscent of Blood Bowl and other lighthearted offerings from Games Workshop.

Gearing Up for a Fight

The central mechanic should be more than familiar to anyone who’s played a tower defense game. Enemy mobs march from one side of the screen to the other, while you place towers to attack them and redirect their motion. Too many of them make it to the other side, and you lose.

Hydraulic Empire: a maze of gun towers

The game’s most innovative offering is the interaction between enemy mobs. The basic enemy unit, the Tinker – it looks a little like a key-powered robot toy – actually interacts with other units. As its name suggests, it can hop aboard the backs of the larger Grunt units and “tinker” with them for upgrades and repairs. Add in some giant mechanical spiders that lay eggs that hatch into smaller, creepier mechanical spiders, and suddenly you’re quite a few miles – as the zeppelin flies – from your typical single-file marching mobs.

Hydraulic Empire also throws in RPG elements to keep things a bit more interesting. For starters, while it doesn’t go quite as far as tower defense/FPS hybrids like the Sanctum and Dungeon Defenders games, you do have a main character you can control. He targets enemies automatically, but you also have additional “magic” powers and traps he can deploy. Particularly useful is a sniper shot that comes in handy to take down mobs that manage to make it past your regular defense.

There’s also a skill tree where you can upgrade your hero between levels. More interestingly, there are also City and Factory screens where you can pick permanent upgrades for your towers.

Hydraulic Empire: City mode

Grinding Gears

That Solitude Entertainment has made a pretty killer tower defense game is pretty inarguable. But will it appeal to players that aren’t already fans of the genre? It’s hard to say. The tutorial is good enough to get you moving, but it won’t take you very far. The City and Factory upgrade screens are also kind of obtuse.

But if the initial learning curve is a bit steep for tower defense newcomers, Hydraulic Empire does a great job moderating that with multiple difficulty settings. And it’s well balanced: innovative enough to keep tower defense veterans intrigued, solid enough in its core mechanics to keep purists happy, and just forgiving enough to bring new fans into the fold.

All things considered, this game is poised to join the likes of PixelJunk Monsters, Kingdom Rush and Revenge of the Titans in the ranks of classic tower defense games.

[xrr rating=”4/5″]

Watch the trailer for Hydraulic Empire below: