The Mistbound universe is becoming one of our favorite places to hang out. Vanguard Games first introduced us to its doomed-but-beautifully-imagined steampunk world with the excellent Greed Corp. While that downloadable title featured thoughtful turn-based strategy warfare revolving around trying to avoid having your forces dumped into the void left by the crumbling landscape, this sequel/spin-off takes more of a “kick the door down and blast everything that moves” approach. Gatling Gears explores a new facet of Mistbound’s fascinating realm viewed through the lens of a fast-paced dual-stick shooter. The action is marvelous, if a bit repetitive, and the crafty stages yield some very satisfying shootery to balance it out.
You play as an aging mech pilot named Max Brawley who decides to grab his young niece and go all Rambo when the greedy and destructive Empire comes knocking on his doorstep. Strapped into the cockpit of a large walking hunk of metal, you stomp through a string of gorgeous locales, using your Gatling gun, rockets and grenades to chew up Empire forces and random buildings alike. The main campaign sports an introductory prologue and five lengthy chapters set across different regions of Mistbound’s ailing landscape. Whether played solo or co-operatively, Gatling Gears’ arcade action delivers a near-constant adrenaline rush, since the moments when your guns stop blazing are rare.
Walking the mech around with the left thumbstick and independently aiming its auto-firing gatling guns with the right stick makes dodging incoming fire and blasting away at nearby foes a fluid process. Though the machine isn’t speedy by any means, quick reflexes are needed to maneuver through the fields of missile fire that erupt during the game’s frequent chaotic moments. Tiny foot soldiers launch missiles from all directions and the screen gets busier as sprays of incoming fire increase once tanks, walking enemy mechs, giant robots, and flying drones enter the fray. When all else fails you’re given one mega bomb per stage that wipes the screen clear, and the limited pickups that appear at regular intervals intensify the killing sprees in pleasant, short bursts. Battlefields turn into a thick pea soup of explosions and bullet-fire, but that’s nothing compared to the imaginative bosses as the end of each area. These encounters pit you against huge robots, armored trains, and fortified bases that transform through various attack phases as you defeat their different incarnations. They’re not particularly tough on the normal difficulty setting, but it’s fun to see what craziness each stage throws at you.
Mowing down foes produces gears you can pick up and add to your score multiplier, ultimately earning you experience points based on your performance, which unlock new skins for your mech, interesting visual effects for it, and even animal companions that merrily follow you along into battle. Your multiplier takes a hit when you’re injured, so there’s some strategy to maneuvering around the levels beyond trying to stay alive. Collecting gold bars hidden throughout each stage also lets you upgrade your main weapons and armor at special drop points. Though the upgrades add some extra incentive to be diligent in your gunning, it doesn’t take long to max out most of the available upgrades well before the end credits roll.
Gatling Gears’ satisfying mix of fast-paced slaying and collecting grows repetitive a little too soon, but stunning environments and frequent changes in scenery make the push onward worth the effort. The presentation is packed with excellent minor details, like cool explosion effects and intricate battle damage (parts falling off foes you’re chipping away at, etc). Considering how the overarching story of each game set in the world of Mistbound focuses on the ravaging of land by overzealous resource harvesting and environmental devastation, it’s awesome how level designs make use of this setup to its fullest. While you’re blasting away through lush forests, arid deserts, rainy mountaintops, and snow-covered plains, you regularly see huge chunks of the landscape you’re fighting on crack off and fall into oblivion. It’s an impressive sight that makes the precarious nature of the world you’re battling through all the more poignant.
Despite lacking some gameplay depth of its predecessor, Gatling Gears dishes out the kind of frenetic action any good dual-stick shooter should, and it does so with great flair. Were it not for the tremendous sense of setting the game’s back story and presentation lay out, the experience might fall short. But making lots of crazy evil whirligigs go boom in a spray of shrapnel over and over again is still a lot of fun. We’re eager to see where the next chapter in Mistbound’s troubled story will take us.
Jun 16, 2011