We're midway through a match of Lemnis Gate, and I've just sniped myself in the head. More specifically, my former self has just sniped my present self at point blank range, right in the back of their skull.
In my attempts to construct a turret against the enemy's offenses, I've accidentally walked right in front of the iron sights of a teammate from a previous time loop at precisely the wrong moment, taking a bullet that – in the original timeline – was used to kill an enemy from afar. As if that wasn't humiliating enough, I now have to watch this soldier get himself killed every time the loop resets; putting my faux pas on repeat for all other players in the match to see.
If this is all starting to sound like something Christopher Nolan would babble in his sleep, I don't blame you. Lemnis Gate is an inherently mind-bending concept that can be hard to get your head around at first. But, once it clicks, you realise that developer Ratloop Games has not only struck gold with a brilliant idea perfectly suited for the multiplayer medium, but has managed to execute that idea with remarkable assuredness. Lemnis Gate may not have a release date just yet, but a few hours of hands-on preview time have already made it a game I can't wait to play more of.
Time to explain
"We wanted to bring something innovative to the table," says director James Anderson of Lemnis Gate's origins. "We're an indie studio, so we needed a gameplay hook or something that brings it into the spotlight. We really tried to bring a twist that fundamentally modified the way that a first person shooter would be played, drawing on those old school design approaches from that era when games weren't really defined by genres."
To put it as simply as possible, Lemnis Gate is a turn-based, multiplayer FPS which takes place in a time loop. Players on each team take turns to control characters over the course of 25 second runs, pursuing objectives such as capturing domination points or collecting Exotic Matter. These runs then repeat themselves, while players continue to add in new loops with each subsequent turn, to the point where the final stages of a match will have dozens of characters operating at once, all following their predetermined path.
To complicate matters further, Lemnis Gate is also a hero shooter. The game has several characters to choose from, each of them equipped with their own weapons and abilities – and it's here where things start to get really interesting. When the other team is taking their turn, you'll be able to observe the arena from a navigable drone, thinking tactically about how you want to counter the enemy's loops with your own.
Say an opponent decides to kill one of your characters who was able to successfully capture a domination point in the previous run. In response, you could a) kill them before they kill that character, b) pick a hero who can deploy a protective orb on your teammate to deflect the enemy's bullets, or c) ignore the encounter entirely to pursue other strategies elsewhere on the battlefield, including pre-emptive measures such as laying down traps.
Having to forward (and backward) plan in this way, manipulating the sequence of events while both reacting to, and anticipating, your opponents' moves makes for a compelling blend of first-person shooting, real-time strategy, and PvP politics. For Ratloop, the hope is to encourage players to experiment and adapt under Lemnis Gates' unique rules of engagement, finding new ways to exploit the timeline and turn the tables on the opposing side.
"I think there's definitely a lot of creative and outlandish strategies that are going to rise to the surface once the game comes out," says Anderson. "We've already seen some strange moments during internal playtests. There's all these pre established notions that we've picked up by playing other multiplayer games, but if you really get creative, and challenge the status quo, you can actually find some really interesting and potentially advantageous locations in the map, and discover new movement techniques that are really unique to the time loop."
Plays of future past
Targeting both previous and current gen consoles in addition to PC, Lemnis Gate is hoping to find an audience big enough to sustain it well beyond launch day. While Anderson avoids teasing any details of a potential roadmap, he does reveal Ratloop's hopes for a "living game" that can be supported far into the future, while promising that the team is "taking advantage of all the power and facilities of the next gen consoles" to provide a superior experience on PS5 and Xbox Series X.
While the game certainly isn't ugly, its visual identity isn't nearly as remarkable as the central time loop mechanic at its core. The various characters offer helpful tactical distinctions, but come across as sanitised, knockoff facsimiles of characters from other hero shooters at best. The game's familiar sci-fi stylings, meanwhile, suggests Ratloop could do more to take full advantage of the creative liberties afforded by its conceptual pitch. Still, Lemnis Gate's core gameplay more than makes up for any ancillary shortcomings for now, but the more pertinent question concerns its longevity as a multiplayer timesink. For Anderson, the game's advanced competitions will be all about one thing; speed.
"The way that you play once you've gone through a few games, and you've learned the layout of the maps, is with a focus on movement," he explains. "If you watch high-end players, they're basically speedrunning through the maps to get to position, because even just a half second advantage is huge in this game, you know. So getting to where you need to be quickly is a massive part of that."
It helps, of course, if you don't let your past self shoot you in the head, either, but that's one lesson I imagine many players, like myself, will learn the hard way once Lemnis Gate arrives later this year.