In this depressing economic climate, online debates continue to rage (online debates never merely simmer) about the cost of games. Is Portal 2 worth £40 despite its alleged brevity? Should you have to pay for multiplayer if you're buying a pre-owned game? Is Gatling Gears worth a whopping 1200MSP, or does it mark an ever-escalating cost for Xbox Live Arcade games that's just too damn high?
You know what? I've spent more money on a single pizza than the cost of Gatling Gears, and it wasn't nearly as meaty or satisfying. After having my brain melted to mozzarella with the aforementioned Portal 2, it's great to finally play something where I can leave said brain to recoup in its usual caffeine bath. Your biggest decision in Gatling Gears is whether you'll blow up that tank with an electric cannon shell or a nuclear grenade.
One of the more subdued moments, believe it or not…
This is the way a shooter should be: stomping through forests and deserts in a walking tank defeating wave after wave of bullet-spewing steam engines, robots that attack you with trees they've torn from the earth and screen-warping explosions. The bastard child of Metal Slug and Ikaruga, it mixes steampunk aesthetics with classic shooting action straight from the arcades of yore. There are as few decisions as opportunities to sit down and discuss philosophy with the enemy soldiers: it's non-stop literal wall-to-wall blasting that isn't afraid to put up a decent challenge.
Like the best arcade games, it has a lot of immediate appeal. Gorgeous mod cons massage your tired eyes: plumes of thick smoke emanating from the charred corpses of your enemies, rays of sunlight trickling through the corpse smoke, and particle corpse ash. Lest you think it's a depressing game, it's actually quite upbeat in spite of the potentially horrifying subject matter. Its bright colours and Rube Goldberg hydraulics are oddly reminiscent of the Dreamcast fighter Power Stone. One letdown is the music, whose whimsical melody jars with the carnage and never gets your pulse racing the way it should. The rest of the audio design is appropriately thunderous and you'll struggle to tell the explosions from your neighbours' fists banging on the walls.
The scenery crumbling around you looks impressive, but you're always a passive observer of it. While the intensity does ramp up somewhat in the final stages with more difficult enemies and scenes that require fervent bullet watching to negotiate a path for your vehicle, calling this 'bullet hell' is crediting the game with more intelligence than is due. Compared to Ikaruga and the Touhou Project shooters, it's a decidedly less-refined experience. This is probably a good thing though, since watching videos of Imperishable Night on Youtube is more enjoyable than actually playing it.
Like every arcade game ever made, there's a rubbish story. It's not quite "Are you a bad enough dude to destroy the empire you previously deserted?" but not far off, and barely elaborated out with a few loading screen descriptions. I never thought I would say this, but a cutscene or two wouldn't go amiss. You won't be stopping to read the subtitled dialogue between characters when ten angry soldiers with bazookas and flamethrowers are chasing you through the collapsing mountainside. If you somehow feel compelled to read the subtitles, you won't be on tenterhooks for long.
It was all going horribly wrong at the annual Evil Empire science fair
Gatling Gears doesn't offer a lot of variation. Although it's technically an extremely repetitive game, it doesn't always feel as such. Like its steampunk stablemate Metal Slug, it's fun to replay multiple times. However unlike Metal Slug, when you're playing a console game you expect a few branching paths and reasons to return to earlier stages. All too often levels end with a shootout that, while fun during the first few encounters, becomes an endurance test when you're eager to move on to the next area. The now obligatory Survival mode doesn't bring much to the war table with some arbitrary structures to defend and more of the same from the campaign, minus any feeling of progression.
The experience is improved considerably with a buddy. It never punishes you for bringing a friend to the party with nonsense like a shared cache of lives or smart bombs: two players bring double the chaos, and all the fun that implies. There are plenty of enemies for two to share, like a giant feast of exploding nachos, but with two skilled players it obviously becomes a little less challenging. There could be more differentiation between players' vehicles: as you progress through the campaign you'll unlock new paintjobs, effects like flames and even a companion fox who follows you around to serve no purpose aside from irritating Daily Mail readers. These augmentations merely confuse, and it would be better if they affected your abilities.
You can upgrade your weapons by collecting badly-hidden gold bars littering the stages and can redistribute these upgrades at any time. It's a smart move since you can pile on the armour plating if you're struggling to pass a particular section, but in practice it's so easy to upgrade that you'll be maxed out long before the end of the adventure. I'd have preferred a system like that of Castle Crashers with more investments and greater rewards, but at least some semblance of progression is included.
I can't help but feel that for all the destruction, I wanted Gatling Gears to be even more action-packed. Whenever you get a momentary boost of power and your gatling gun rattles the pictures off your living room wall, that's what the whole game should feel like. I want colossal rockets with sharks painted on their faces, bosses the size of whales chucking cars at you, volcanoes erupting from your cannon and singeing your eyebrows in real life. Death defying jumps across icy mountains while pursued by a hundred-foot tall robotic dinosaur. All in one level.
The Evil Empire military barbecue also left a lot to be desired
Make it the most ridiculous, over the top game I've ever played. Don't ever let me guess what's going to happen next, because I'm too distracted by the constantly evolving mayhem around me. An ideal ending would involve your walker destroying the last remaining chunk of planet before escaping to space.
GATLING GEARS VERDICT
Gatling Gears offers several hours of enjoyable carnage and it’s doubly fun with a friend, but it settles into a routine early on and sticks to it. You wouldn’t want to plow through the whole game in one sitting - it’s long enough that most would find that difficult - but that doesn’t excuse a lack of variation that causes it to feel formulaic by the end. Is it worth the money? That’s a difficult question, because your perception of value depends on more than just the quality of the game. Co-op junkies with plenty of gamer friends will get a lot for their money, but solo shooter fans might want to wait cynically for a price drop before giving it a go. Either way, it’s a tasty morsel of action that deserves your attention- whatever the price.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Gaining a temporary boost of Herculean power and hosing an entire battalion of enemy troops into meat sludge with your chaingun.