Tom vs the Armies of Hell has a pretty relatable initial theme if you’ve partaken in the bizarre yet vital quest for loot that we call working life. Particularly those of the corporate office vocations, it can be a dull, frustrating affair with unusual rules and seemingly pointless activities which offer little reward other than money. And this is the rut that we find Tom in at the beginning of the game, working for a corporation, being a slave to working life and not really enjoying himself.

Unfortunately for Tom things only get worse from here. An experiment below his office goes wrong and ends up opening a portal to hell, dragging the building and its staff into the void. After being savaged by a demon, Tom is fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at things) saved by an imp called Beezle. Not only does Beezle save Tom’s life, but he also makes him part demon – set with demon arm, extra strength and the inability to permanently die. Of course, it’s then proposed to him that in order to get out of this mess, Tom will have to fight through the demon hordes, following Beezle’s advice.

It’s a pretty good concept and theme, and the most stand out feature of Tom vs the Armies of Hell is its sense of humour surrounding this. The writing is top notch, and the narrated cut scenes I found to be a surprising hit. It’s a shame the actual gameplay sections only feature text dialogue, but the humour still pervades and generally the whole game is a silly, whimsical affair.

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This, of course, extends to the actual gameplay, and I am happy to say that, while simplistic, the mechanics are reasonably enjoyable. Action is fast paced and colourful. Essentially you are equipped with your powerful demon arm for melee, and an experimental soul gun. This is the only gun you get throughout the game, however there are multiple types of souls you can use as ammunition. Basically, when you kill an enemy, they may drop a soul which can be sucked in by your gun. The souls are different colours, and each colour represents a different type of ammo. There’s electricity, fire, ice, plasma, shotgun, rapid firing laser, and an explosive laser beam. Each obviously has a unique effect and can be used to your advantage in different situations. For example, the electricity ammo can be charged up to link to multiple enemies, while the ice ammo slows down enemies and makes them very vulnerable to your melee strikes. Ammo runs out fast and you will find yourself switching on the go, which creates a really enjoyably hectic style of action.

The action itself is typical isometric gameplay – calling it a twin stick wouldn’t be too inaccurate. You can aim with the right stick, move with the left, fire with RB, roll/dodge with A, melee with X, interact with Y and change ammo type with B. LB can also be used to change ammo, but LT engages your gun’s ‘sucking’ mechanic for you to harvest souls, and RT activates your special ability (transforming in to a demon – more on that in a bit). It’s a reasonable set up, and the action is generally enjoyable, however it is somewhat clunky at times. Movement is neither fluid nor sturdy enough, and Tom has a rather annoying habit of leaping towards a randomly selected enemy during melee combat (not very fun when it chucks you in close range with a group of monsters and you have to start the level again).

Levels are fairly linear, as are the objectives. You go from one end of the map to the other, fighting the demons in your path. The areas range from offices to various dark and gruesome locales of hell, and each ends in a boss fight. There are a few items that can be found in each level, offering some kind of advantage to Tom’s arsenal, so exploration is a factor, even if it is quite simple. You can find a claw to improve melee damage, armour, and an item that increases accuracy and so on. For what can be at times quite a challenging game, these are little bonuses to search for to help you on your way. Most exciting of the bunch of items you can find are the purple crystals. You can carry two of these at a time, and when used will transform Tom into a giant demon, capable of smashing anything in its path. These are particularly useful for boss fights, and I found myself saving them for those instances.

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Boss fights are unfortunately a mixed and frustrating bag. I was impressed by the variety of bosses on display, each with their own unique movement and attack patterns, meaning you need to adapt and play with intelligence to survive. But on the other hand, they’re also crushingly difficult in some cases and encourage cheesy, manipulative tactics. I mentioned saving the purple crystals for boss fights, well, that’s the way I ended up defeating all of the bosses. For the first couple of bosses this made them too easy, managing to defeat them in a matter of seconds, and for the later bosses there seemed to be no other option than to use the purple crystals against them, as going in without seemed virtually impossible. As an example, one boss when reduced to half health begins to feast on weaker mobs that walk straight into its mouth. It’s an interesting idea for a boss encounter, but the problem is, it only took a couple of mobs for the thing to regain all of its health, and you can’t do damage to it when it’s feeding. I couldn’t be fast enough to defeat the mobs before they reached the boss, and I wasn’t powerful enough to defeat the boss before he started to feed. So how did I defeat it? Yes, that’s right, I glitched it into the corner, used a purple crystal and spammed its ass to death. That’s not a very satisfying conclusion to a boss fight, and the rest of them are similarly silly and frustrating. A shame, really, because they are nicely designed otherwise – they could have been interesting encounters if implemented effectively.

Unfortunately that sentiment pretty much sums up my feelings on Tom vs the Armies of Hell: if implemented effectively, this game would have been quite good. As mentioned, the action is mostly enjoyable – I like the differing ammo system, gunplay packs a punch, and the game requires skill to master – and there’s a good variety of enemy types, such as plasma shooting ones, fire breathing, weak demons, demons with guns, and even slugs that protrude spikes. But fighting them can be clunky, and despite the advantage of having multiple ammo and enemy types, the developers didn’t balance them out in an interesting manner – ammo doesn’t have different effects on different enemies, you can’t use ice to exploit the weakness of fire foes, and similarly, fire ammo does just as much damage to fire foes. It seems like a missed opportunity.

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The dialogue, cut scenes and story are all great – I genuinely found them amusing – but there’s no voice acting in-game, and the story really isn’t paced very well (it’s a case of ‘quick, sharp and to the point’). Not to mention the game isn’t the most attractive – I really like the drawn cut scenes, but particularly in the hell areas, there’s a distinct textureless brown to everything, unlike the combat which of course has multi-coloured ammunition.

The reason I give this a 5 instead of a 4 is because there’s still plenty to enjoy about the game. Most of the issues come from a sense of missed opportunity, or rushed/amatueristic game design, and while it definitely effects the quality of the game, the enthusiasm and bright ideas still shine through. If you’re willing to deal with some frustrating boss encounters, there’s still fun to be had with the combat and story.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29