My Grandma once told me to never leave a conversation on a negative note so lets get it out of the way right now, the scrolling screen on Vanguard’s latest title totally ruined what could have been a tidy little top down twin-stick shooter.
Gatling Gears, developed by Vanguard Games and published by EA, is available on XBLA for 1200 MSPoints.
Set in the same beautiful Mistbound world as the turn based strategy game Greed Corp and with some charming loading screen industrial artwork, Gatling Gears stars Uncle Max Brawley complete with flying goggles and bushy moustache a la Uncle Matt in Fraggle Rock. After disagreeing with the ruthless attitude of the Empire and refusing to fight on any longer, he’s retired to Mistbound to live out the rest of his days in peace and tranquillity. Fat chance! Without ever really going into any detail why, the Empire strikes back (ooh, that would be a great name for a film wouldn’t it?) and he has to don his mustard yellow, metal suit that’s more of a gun on legs (called a Walker) and shoot them down. Earplugs at the ready because with inexhaustible supplies and four ways to take the enemy down, the shooting is relentless!
The gameplay is simple. The enemy will shoot lots of things at you. Little red rockets, bigger red rockets, slower heat seeking missiles, bombs and the like. Some will run circles around you whilst some are stationary targets belching out some serious firepower. The first call of the day is to keep moving with the left stick. Dodging as much as you can as you move around the battlefield is the key to success as really your Gatling Gun, even when fully upgraded doesn’t have a great range. You use the right stick to fire. You also have grenades, which you launch with left bumper but have to aim with right stick, which will really test the dexterous thumbs of regular twin stick shooter fans as you switch from gun to grenade. There are also rockets to launch with your right bumper and a super static shock wave! This you can only use once per level (though for score seekers you get a 10,000 point bonus if you can avoid using it at all) and will utterly destroy everything on the screen – very handy when in a tight spot. All the other weapons regenerate over time, though where Uncle Max keeps all these in his Walker suit is a mystery.
30 levels in and you’ll be glad of those earplugs. The constant noise of shooting can drive you a little crazy and wears you out. The bosses are good but you can usually get past on one or two attempts if you remember to keep moving and work out the pattern of their attack. The sense of satisfaction comes in those moments of quiet when the battle is over and you’ve defeated a gigantic mechanical monster.
I bet you’re thinking this all seems rather easy. Well, as you’d expect, the further you plough on, the harder it becomes – not because the enemies are harder but because the environment around you and even mother nature make it tricky to navigate your way round or see anything you are doing. Chances are when you do see what you are doing, you’ll be in the middle of a frenzied attack and will be moving to avoid bullets coming you way, only for the screen to shift meaning the health repair tool or a gold bar you had intended on grabbing is now just out of reach. It is soul destroying to gouge a line through the enemy only to be denied rewards because the game won’t let you go back on yourself. Even if you can see your prize at the edge of the screen, invisible barriers that lock the screen in place will stop you collecting booty – so desperately needed if you want to upgrade your Walker. Why specifically design a game that requires you walk around in order to get stuck in the action gun only to combine this with a scrolling screen that purposefully hampers your ability to move? When enemies die, you can collect their gears to rack up big scores but these only last a short time before fading. Set off to collect them and the screen kicks in hiding other items you will miss – grrrrr.
There are occasional moments of excitement if you grab a power up which lasts a brief time but can turn your gun or cannon into a mega, rattling killing machine spraying lightning rounds of explosive but there is very little else on offer to keep players at this for any great length of time. The story is thin, the baddies are monotonous and tiny to see hidden among trees and the such and collecting the gears they leave behind when they die in order to amass a huge score for no other reason all feels a bit bland. Those moments of satisfaction and enjoyment are far and few between. There is a local or online co-op mode but two walkers do not double the fun or there’s a survival mode though I’d say completing the single player campaign leave’s you with the same feeling of “Glad that’s over, what next?” Overall it feels like this game should be so much more exciting and addictive than it actually is. Grandma will be very disappointed, as it seems I ended on a negative note after all.