That being the first post in a row of game reviews, I’d like to introduce my approach to video gaming first. There are some games that I’m going to do a review on, for various reasons. First, I don’t like killing time with games. Instead, I enjoy spending my time with video games a lot and I free up time in my schedule just for that. Second, they should be complex enough, providing enough space for optimization and fine-tuning, learning, adaption and having fun. I enjoy four kinds of games a lot:
- Cooperative team-based online multiplayer games (Fortress Forever, Quake 3/Live, some Battlefield games, Unreal Tournament, Planetside 2)
- Singleplayer games either telling an interesting story or presenting a dense atmosphere by means of a very distinctive setting and being highly stylized, ideally both (Borderlands, Realms of the Haunting, Psychonauts, Beyond Good and Evil, Zelda: The Breath of the Wild, Styx, No One Lives Forever, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, Fallout: New Vegas, GTA San Andreas, Dishonored, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
- Simulation or arcade games: Flying (MS Flight Simulator, Hind ’96, many WW2 air combat simulators), Racing (DiRT and GRID without assists, various Rally simulators, Trials, Redout, Sonic All Stars Racing) and sometimes low-gravity fighting (Descent, M.I.S.C, Gravity Force), Portal (including its gameplay predecessors Narbacular Drop and Tag) and a lot of Mario games (Galaxy and Odyssey)
- Couch/table-coop or competitive games: Worms, Trine, Serious Sam, Age of Empires, Mario Kart
Guns of Icarus is a steampunk airship battle simulator and fits into the first category, particularly stressing the cooperative part. It’s the first game that I played which actually requires communication besides learning how to play it. With a team of experienced players you don’t need to talk a lot about the basics, but that frees time for trying something more advanced, which, in turn, requires communication. It features Player-vs-Player and Player-vs-Environment (other A.I. controlled ships) battles. I’m going to write about the former only because I just started to play the latter and because I think that Player-vs-Player already captures the essence of Guns of Icarus. The game recreates the feeling of running a pirate ship with your childhood friends and does a good job formalizing the rules in a way that makes a victory even more satisfying.
Each ship offers room for a four-people crew and a few stations: Some engines, a balloon, a hull, a steering wheel and a set of customizable weapons. All of them except for the steering wheel are able to take damage and can be destroyed by enemy fire. There are three player roles: Engineer, Gunner and Captain. You don’t need to be captain to steer the ship, but each role brings some important special capabilities to the table. The captain is able to boost the engines and the balloon, temporarily making the ship faster and more agile. The engineer can bring up to three repair tools with different characteristics, being the one in charge of repairing damage because of either the captain operating the ship above its normal limits or enemies trying to destroy your ship. The gunner packs special ammunition types and can increase the firing arc of onboard weapons.
Basic play modes include basic team deathmatch (2vs2 up to 4vs4 ships) and King of the Hill (static and rotating). There is a lot of interaction between crew members and ships in the same team. You absolutely should use the integrated voice chat to talk to your crew members about when to go where, which enemy to shoot and some special measures in case of emergency. Another thing that I appreciate about Guns of Icarus is the general atmosphere within the community. Compared to a lot of other team-based multiplayer games Guns of Icarus managed to create a helpful and uplifting atmosphere. If you ask people how and when to use a repair tool, they’ll tell you. If you’re unsure about which ammunition type to use right now, ask and somebody is going to answer. Most people don’t have issues with mixed-experience teams because that’s the best way to learn. There is a small, but enthusiastic playerbase that embraces fun, patience and teamwork.
The game’s focus is clearly airship gameplay, so don’t expect top-notch graphics and real orchestras playing in-game music (although that would surely add to the steampunk-infused battle drama on top of the already good sound design). On the other hand, you neither need a fast computer nor a very fast internet connection. Even on a 4G connection in the Peruvian highlands I was able to get my fix, unlike for games like Quake which require a ping well below 100ms. Graphics-wise, any newer Intel integrated graphics card is enough but if you got anything up from an entry-level notebook graphics card, you’ll be able to enjoy decent frame rates at medium settings.
You shouldn’t jump right into the game without playing at least the basic tutorials. The captain role requires more experience which you can only obtain by previously playing as engineer or gunner. Try to first find out how different ships fly, shoot and break down. After a few rounds you’ll get an impression of what an engineer or gunner can do, enabling you to steer the ship into the right direction (and backing up if it’s too much). The game has a lobby and matchmaking system that allows you to set up your crew and talk to people about different ship combinations or tactics upfront.
It’s interesting too see how people in different roles behave and communicate, just as they would in any other kind of cooperative undertaking. You’ll sometimes learn more about certain people in a game like Guns of Icarus as you would by just talking to them on the street, having a drink together or working together in easy projects.
I’m going to dive right into two of the roles available, captain and engineer, to give you a short impression of how they play.
If you like steering (air-) ships and love outmaneuvering your enemy in midair, go for that one. You should have a good understanding of what your ship and crew can do and what not. Especially if they’re busy with repairs it usually means you’ve maneuvered the ship into a disadvantageous position, not being able to have a clear shot or fire a full broadside. Depending on the ship, you’ll align yourself in a certain angle so that your crew is ready to shoot continously. Weapons have certain characteristics like maximum turning angle, projectile trajectory, fire rate and, more importantly, the ability to deal more damage to certain components of enemy ships. Some weapons are only effective against the enemy hull, some only against weapons or engines, others against the balloon. An experienced crew makes your life much easier, however you need to tell people about your idea of how to work together on that ship. A few default setups are easily regcognized by most people but if you got any special ideas, you need to communicate those. Different ship types have different capabilities. Some are faster and turn or rise/drop quicker, but feature a less resistant hull. Others are slow and have slots for heavier weapons. You will surely find one or two ships which fit your taste and you can always use temporary boosts to compensate for key weaknesses of a ship. If just firing weapons bores you, try ramming enmey ships as soon as their hull is vulnerable. Think of the hull as two stages, similar to a shield and underlying health: One bar (the shield) can be repaired and protects the actual hull armor. As soon as you got a hull breach, enemies are able to deal permanent damage to your ship. Dealing actual damage to enemies requires good timing and synchronization of multiple weapons and bringing the ship into the right position.
You can totally operate a ship with three engineers and a captain. You’ll not be sitting idle in a fight because you either need to repair or shoot. As an engineer, you lack certain gunner-specific special actions but you are able to bring a lot of repair tools. On top of that, you can spot and tag enemies, making them more visible to your whole crew and sharing intelligence with your team’s other airships. The captain can help you with finding your role on a ship. Each ship got vastly different characteristics so you need to adjust to that. During fights, usually two people are shooting as often as possible and one person is tasked with repairs only. In a demanding fight, your hull being attacked continuously and engines already damaged to an extent that the ship cannot move any longer, more people need to step in with the repairs. There’s an interesting balance to keeping your enemy busy with your fire and not letting him shoot back, which frees your crew from continuously repairing your ship. Repair actions have a timeout and restore only a certain amount of health per hit so you need to think about when and which tool to use to repair most efficiently, or rebuild a component if it got destroyed completely. It’s always a good idea to develop an appropriate rhythm for a certain position on a ship, ready to jump in if somebody needs help, keeping an eye on your surroundings.
Interaction and cooperation is key. There is no right way to setup a crew and to play the game but due to the existing ship layouts a certain set of sub-roles have emerged. You won’t win going with a single strategy because of the way that the roles work strongly interacts with your enemies, usually more than one at a time. With time, you’ll learn why and how you succeed and fail and even after a few hundred hours it stays interesting. The only downside for me right now is that some maps are a bit too dark, making you unable to see enemies and obstacles clearly. Fortunately, it’s easy to fix that using your system’s graphics card settings. Turn up gamma and saturation for your screen and it looks good again. Overall, the game is a solid and motivating experience.
If you like cooperative games, try Guns of Icarus. It is one of a kind and I didn’t encounter anything similar so far.
The only thing that came close to that is Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime on Nintendo Switch, which features a similar kind of cooperative gameplay with the added bonus that you can play offline with some friends in a bus terminal while traveling, but it lacks online Player-vs-Player modes and it is only in 2D.
The PS4 release of Guns of Icarus is due for May 1st of 2018 and it supports cross-platform play with integrated voice chat. Even if your console didn’t catch dust so far, give it a try. Until then, Guns of Icarus Alliance including both Player-vs-Player and Player-vs-Environment modes is on sale on Steam for about 3 dollars, which is a steal for that game.
Which games do you enjoy the most? Do you have some personal recommendations that you’d like to share? Also, are you into game development or game design and like to get in touch?
Thanks for reading and have fun,
Johannes aka ‘Wurstbeschleuniger’