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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Guns of Icarus.

You know, today was going to be Teen Wolf. That hasn't panned out, and Drive hasn't been subbed quite yet, so instead we're going to do ... Hang on while I roll this wheel ...

Guns of Icarus.

Guns of Icarus is an indie game built in Unity that puts you in the shoes of the crew of an airship as they fly through the skies in fierce airship battles. Taking on the role of a captain, gunner, or engineer, the game urges you to use teamwork to keep your airship in good nick as you attempt to gun down teams of opposing ships. There's no story mode to speak of, instead being a purely multiplayer game in which you can partake of a variety of different game modes in a range of different ships, each one with their own strengths and weaknesses.

(The closest the game ever comes to a story is the short sections of flavour text as each area loads - things like historical tidbits about the Fjord Baronies or a short bit of prose about two desert empires at war with each other, which is nice but which you'll mostly ignore, as it's not really relevant to anything.

Which is fine, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, I love story driven games, and I prefer single-player games to multiplayer ones, but if you intend your game to be a multiplayer game, I'd rather you do your multiplayer well than expend energy and resources on a story mode that you're not really interested in and isn't really necessary.)

I like fire.

In terms of gameplay, Guns of Icarus is very much unique, in that you are not, per say, controlling the airship directly, or at least not entirely. While your captain is piloting, three out of four of the crew will be scurrying about the airship, hitting various components with tools to rebuild, repair, or buff them; or grabbing one of the guns around the ship to shoot at. It is, in many ways, the closest video games will ever come to an actual flying-a-steampunk-airship experience, which rather explains why it has to be multiplayer - crewing a ship is, after all, a several person experience.

Of course, that reliance on teamwork can be both good and bad, and I've experienced both when playing it. When it's good, the crew works like a well-oiled machine under the direction of an able captain, and I've had the fortune of being in crews like that before, where voice chat was used for the players to clearly relay information to each other and for the captain to send directions back to them. When it's bad, you play six matches with a captain who can barely fly and who keeps blaming the ship, and then they log out halfway through a match and one of the hapless gunners and engineers, none of whom have ever captained a ship outside of the tutorial before, has to take over. I am talking from personal experience here.

(In one memorably terrible match, the captain left the wheel to go and man a gun, shooting wildly at an enemy ship as we drifted inexorably towards the waiting jagged rocks.)

The human element can also mean great things for opponents. One match (which the crew I was on won) saw one opposing ship captained by an unusually canny pilot, who was constantly easing his or her way into our blind spots, or putting obstacles between us and them, showing some of the most skillful piloting I'd ever seen and making sure we could only hit them for a second or two at a time. That isn't something an AI would be able to reproduce, because computers just aren't that cunning.

See, this is gorgeous to look at.

That human element saves the game in many respects, because otherwise it might be quite dull to just run about a ship hitting components - the frenetic and unpredictable nature of battles means that there's always a sense of tension, and always a chance that things will take a highly unexpected turn and force you out of your comfort zone (leading to gunners and engineers having to play at being the other quite frequently).

Visually, the game is stunning, giving you vast skyscapes filled with things like mountains and dust storms (which will obscure you from an enemy but also erode your airship's health) to play in. It's not without graphical issues: You'll find yourself clipping through objects fairly regularly, and when maps first load it sometimes takes a while for the lighting to cut in, leaving you floating around in what I can only aptly describe as a terrifying eldritch dusk. I actually quite like the terrifying eldritch dusk. It's very atmospheric, and it's almost disappointing when the game suddenly remembers that it's actually meant to be day time.

These people are less enamoured with fire.

In terms of sound - well, the game has pretty much no music except for that which is on the menu, no doubt mostly because trying to voice chat over the sound of musical backing is a hellish and difficult experience no matter how nice the music is, so I can't really begrudge the game for that. The background noises of the ship all sound very real and authentic, insofar as it's possible for something to sound authentic to a thing - steampunk airships in this case - that doesn't really exist. So that's nice - it wouldn't be a dealbreaker either way, but it's indicative of a wider effort and care put into the game's production.

All in all, Guns of Icarus is a very fun game, and it's a very good game to pick up and play a few matches of when you're feeling like something simple and entertaining. There's a lot to be said for that. 

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