That last wave of Clockwork horrors has left me exhausted with my defeat looming imminent. The enemy infiltrated my barriers, and have begun their final push toward their objective. The stronghold will be destroyed within seconds once they break through, but I’ve got the next round planned. I’ve assessed my strategy and know how to hold the oncoming Clockwork army back until I can regroup. This round my plan will surely... wait, no! How did they get through there that fast? Wait!
Lock’s Quest immerses players in tower defense gameplay with RPG elements sprinkled in. The game first hit the scene in 2008 when THQ released it on the Nintendo DS. At release, it enjoyed a bit of a cult status with mixed reviews from critics. On May 30, 2017, the remaster released on consoles with updated music, controls, and graphics, as well as the addition of extra content.
The new graphics slap a new coat of paint on Lock's Quest that looks like an isometric mash-up of Pokémon and Stardew Valley. While music and UI got the remaster treatment, combat saw expansion. A new progression system, strategy elements, map, endless mode and other features were added to appeal to old fans of the series as well as "sophisticated gamers" according to the new features listed on the game's website. This beefing up affects build and combat gameplay (more on those modes later). The progression system now aligns with the plot, unlocking relevant goodies for build-mode. And the remaster also boasts speedier build/combat cycles so players can assess their strategy if necessary to tackle the next wave more effectively. While I did get frustrated when I failed a stage, I did appreciate the ability to reset and tackle the challenge with new knowledge. However, I did occasionally have issues with crashing when attempting to do so.
Speaking of building and combat, 5th Cell structured gameplay around tower defense into two distinct modes: Build Mode and Battle Mode. Players have a time limit on their barricade planning in Build Mode. This barricade protects an objective and must withstand a barrage of enemies within the combat time limit. The tools and resources at your disposal correspond to progress as the enemies get more diverse and stronger. Structure options include walls, turrets, land mines, soldiers, and more. The currency you'll use to construct your barricade comes from defeating enemies and adds a depth to the difficulty. If you're not doing well in your planning it will carry over to the next level.
During the battle phase you have control of Lock, and depending on your progress, he has different abilities. At the very beginning of the game though he has a vital skill called ratcheting where he repairs the damage done to structures. His other abilities range from attacks and energy drains to more advanced repair and money drops. The enemy, the Clockwork focus on attacking your infrastructure during this stage. Guiding Lock will help you save your defenses for future rounds and help earn some currency.
The foundation for the civilization of the Kingdom where Lock's Quest takes place surrounds the discovery of an element called Source, aka that currency we were talking about earlier. Source doesn't really have an explanation, but people who have been dubbed Archineers found a way to manipulate it. The magical stuff powers defense items, like what Lock builds and uses. Conflict came when one Archineer found that Source could replicate life and utilized this ability. The king banished this Archineer. This Archineer then became Lord Agony and created the Clockwork, "living" machines, in retaliation. Lord Agony disappeared seemingly defeated, but the details of the battle remain unclear to the world's inhabitants. This all happened before the events of the game. One thing is clear, however, the Clockwork have returned.
Players participate in the current, battle-ridden world as the titular Lock, a young hero with an unclear past but a determination to pave his future. Lock lives with his sister Emi and grandfather Tobias. One day while making repairs to structures on the shore Lock and Emi come across a wounded Archineer who fled from a battle against the Clockwork. The wounded Archineer enlists Lock to help fend off an upcoming attack. In the chaos of the attack, Emi is lost, the town falls under the attack and Lock gets determined to defeat the Clockwork.
What I could really get behind in terms of the story was the fact that it explained the gameplay. Lock's Quest's use of story makes it unique. Rather than arbitrarily running alongside the gameplay, the story seeks to explain the presence of the RTS gameplay. Lock has Archineer abilities and can manipulate source making him able to build turrets. This makes sense with this context. Rather than expecting players to just accept the mechanics of the game, the devs did a good job of weaving it into the story. Not a small feat for a tower defense.
While Lock's Quest's strength shines in its storytelling, its weaknesses lie in combat. Isometric view is standard in games like this, but I found myself fighting with it during the battle sequences. Moving Lock around was painful. The slow movement became especially noticeable while fighting under the constraints of a time limit on a battlefield swarmed with enemies. I also had some issues with crashing and having to restart. I wasn't a happy gamer when I discovered that the cutscenes were unskippable.
While frustrating at times, Lock's Quest provides engaging mechanics that makes you want to progress. I found it a little addicting to see how the enemy would interact with my builds, and the degree to which they would be successful. And like a good little gamer I was driven by the need to unlock new gear to fortify. Crashes and trouble finding Lock during a stressful attack sequence definitely detracted from my initial experiences, but overall this title had me pushing my left brain during combat and engaged my right with the world it managed to create.
Lock's Quest was reviewed on Xbox One and is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo DS.