When I closed my eyes after an afternoon of Gatling Gears, all I could see were rockets. Little flying red rockets, zooming in front of my face. Because after six hours of rampaging my way through Gatling Gears that’s all my brain was processing.
Gatling Gears is the latest offering from emerging developer Vanguard Entertainment, and entertaining it certainly is. Over the weekend, myself and a fellow gamer put this twin stick shooter through its paces.
Gatling Gears is an interesting little title. It’s the kind of title that fits right at home in the Xbox Live Arcade Universe. Its zany, competitive and overall pretty fun.
A hefty dose of Gatling Gears’ charm comes from its aesthetic. By cleverly locating the title in an alternate history experiencing its own version of the industrial revolution, Vanguard has tapped into both the fantastical and the familiar. It’s a path well trod by game developers (and even some animators – there is a big Last Exile vibe here) but the path is well trod for a reason. The goofy mix of crazy contraptions and cartoonish exuberance always goes down well.
Gatling Gears might look the part, but as story-lines go, it’s not got much on offer. There’s barely even the skeleton of a plot here, even the developers acknowledge that. You play as a pilot of a Gatling Gears – a death-bringing, weapons-blazing walking-robot – and you, along with your niece, are rampaging your way through an evil empire that's set on environmental destruction. The set up ain't particularly clever, and you get the feeling its only there so you can read something during the loading screens, but as story-lines go it's competent. If you care enough about these things (and unfortunately I do), you might need to pay closer attention than you would have liked in order to pick up some of the game’s more minor plot moments. But if you don’t care for a gripping yarn then you’re not missing out on much, Gatling Gears’s storytelling isn’t really the main thing on offer here.
What’s on offer is some violent, manic, explosive carnage, which is pretty well presented. The hype around Gatling Gears emphasised the opportunity to “blow s#@t up” and it didn’t disappoint. As far as combat goes, the title has almost everything a shooter fan wants. The twin stick mechanic is a throwback to the glory days of arcade gaming, and it does a pretty good job of easing you into it. Manipulating one thumb while dodging explosions, mines and lasers is challenging enough at the best of times, it’s even harder with two. After just a few missions even the most spatially challenged gamer will become a natural.
The combat itself is a simple affair, which at the beginning of your gaming experience is welcomed. Simple games are easy to pick up and easy to get going – just the thing for an arcade title. But the combat’s simplicity is also one of Gatling Gears’ major flaws: what’s required of you is not particularly challenging. A variety of enemy units approach you as your progress through a scrolling map, and you blow em out of the ground, or sea, or sky. You can do it in a variety of ways, with cannons, Gatling guns or grenades. As the game progresses the enemies get exponentially harder, and the mix of units also begins to vary. As far as intense action goes, Gatling Gears sure can put on a show.
But the problem is that, while the combat is getting more difficult, the fundamental way it happens isn’t. After a short while the title starts to become increasingly repetitive, both in form as much as content. Each chapter (there are six, including the prologue) are fought through in exactly the same way. All you have to do is plow your way through four areas (in which you can collect experience points and gold bars, which allow you to upgrade your weapons and kit out your walker) and then defeat a boss at the end – some of which are both challenging and totally over the top. This combat mechanic is not inherently bad, it’s been a staple of the industry for years, it’s just that beyond it there doesn’t seem to be much inherent impetus to keep playing. Some games get around this by switching things up a bit, others do it by pulling you into the story. Gatling Gears doesn’t do either, and it needs to. This omission is a shame, because there is a really atmospheric twin stick shooter here. It’s just one that needs to be enjoyed in a certain way.
And that way is cooperatively. While trudging through single player will only make the hardcore happy, it’s in co-op mode that Gatling Gears shines. Its lack of story and its unfortunate repetition still exist, but with a buddy by your side it’s far easier to manage. With two Gatling Gears on the go there are more customisation combinations, letting you specialise in different weapon types – and you can also ramp up the difficulty, making the game more of a challenge and more a of chaotic visual feast. Its obvious Vanguard was expecting co-op to be a big part of the titles experience. At the end of each area, each player’s score is calculated and displayed for everyone to see. It’s not the most subtle way of keeping your attention or your resolve, but it does provide a decent dose of competition. And to be honest, for this game’s target audience, a bit of boyish bravado is probably all that’s required.
Gatling Gears is most definitely an entertaining arcade title. It’s polished, action-packed and fun. But it is a limited experience, one unfortunately let down by a lack of narrative and variety. But these are not fundamental flaws. As far as twin-stick shooters go, Gatling Gears is an enjoyable romp. With a fellow pilot by your side, a few beers in the fridge and six hours to kill, it’s a great title to pick up, play through and then leave sitting on the shelf.
Vinh Vu – Counter Punch!
In this experimental new format, we tasked Vinh with providing a second opinion on the experience - Ed.
Conrad is pretty much right on the money with this one. Gatling Gears is a solid game, but it’s a flawed diamond. Its multiplayer co-op elements rightfully deserve praise. It’s in these parts that Gatling Gears really performs. The multiplayer aspects totally change the dynamics of how you play and how you approach each level. With a teammate alongside, it opens up new strategies and approaches to the game’s combat. This is rather crucial in the final stages of the game, when the gradual increase in difficulty inexplicably jumps up a notch in the final chapter. These social strategic choices really increase Gatling Gears’ overall experience and demonstrate the most appealing aspect of the genre.