You can never have too much steampunk in your life. The industrial revolution inspired sci-fi aesthetic is always a delight when treated with enough care in fiction and, frankly, the sub-genre’s rarity in big budget gaming (compared to, say, cyberpunk or high fantasy) is a deeply regrettable oversight.
It’s one of my favourite worlds to explore in interactive entertainment, and perhaps explains why I’m more of a fan of Bioshock Infinite (opens in new tab) and The Order: 1886 (opens in new tab) than most. Come to think of it, it also goes a long way in explaining why I’m a little bit obsessed with Guns of Icarus Alliance right now, which has more cogs and corsets than you can shake a H.G. Wells novel at.
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Developer Muse Games’ commitment to the Steampunk cause is admirable, but Guns of Icarus Alliance merits a look-in beyond its anachronistic depiction of old and new, especially now that it’s just made the jump to PS4 after a six year stint on PC. The game can be best described as a multiplayer first-person action sim, in which crews of four players pilot a giant airship together, taking part in PvP death matches against other teams or enjoying a broad selection of PvE missions and challenges.
Similar to Sea of Thieves (opens in new tab), the survival of your crew’s airship depends on everyone working together like a well oiled, uh, ship, with each member performing their own designated roles encouraged by Guns of Icarus’ class system. Pilots are there to helm the wheel and navigate the ship around any obstacles and into effective battle stances, while the gunner class is best suited for manning the on-board artillery and taking down enemies before they take you down first.
Meanwhile, the engineer has arguably the most important role of all; keeping the ship alive and - more importantly - not on fire, by running around the deck and buffing, repairing, or extinguishing various components of the aircraft, including the Balloon component keeping you afloat. If that gets destroyed, you’ll find yourself plummeting towards the ground, and no one wants that.
Guns of Icarus Alliance exhibits the kind of unique co-op play you don’t get to see in games very often; all four crew members are experiencing different play styles albeit for the common goal of staying afloat and dominating the competition. Every role brings its own gameplay challenges, and there are layers to each.
Gunners will have to destroy an enemy ship’s armour with explosive rounds of ammunition before laying down damage with the machine gun, for example, while the engineer has to contend with several different tools at once, constantly switching between them to cater to what repairs are needed at the time. Pilots probably have the least busy role, and the simple act of steering can fall into monotony at times, but there’s a subtle skill to driving that will hopefully appeal to someone on the team.
Things are spiced up more so by the fact that dozens of airship types can be unlocked and customised as you progress your character in Guns of Icarus Alliance, which brings a much needed sense of diversity to the battlefield. The large Galleon warship is one of the most durable vehicles available, for example, but its size and strength comes at a cost to maneuverability for the poor old pilot at its wheel. Meanwhile, the Squid trades in weapon mountings for speed and engine count, making it great for outrunning and weaving amongst other opponents.
Though the PvE missions are a respectable way of learning the ropes and testing out your favourite classes and ships, it’s when playing online in a match of up to 32 other players when Guns of Icarus really comes into its own. As your captain is shouting orders from the helm while a barrage of explosives are raining hellfire down upon your engines, you truly get a sense of the scale that Muse Games has spent years polishing and fine-tuning since the game’s original release on PC.
Though Guns of Icarus Alliance has only just come to PlayStation 4, don’t expect it to be looking anything close to a current gen title. As a six year old game, its engine is serviceable at best, designed to run smoothly at all times and accommodate technicalities like longer draw distances, but the graphics are functional, not jaw-dropping.
The better news is that cross-play between PS4 and PC players is fully supported by Muse Games, which will be music to the ears of those who already own the game and have been struggling to find matches on the PC’s dwindling user base.
Hopefully Guns of Icarus Alliance can find some new life pumped into its rusty bones now that it’s hit PS4, as there’s real entertainment value lying within that stylistically satisfying steampunk concept. For PS4 players wanting in on some of that Sea of Thieves-esque interdependent co-op action, this is a great choice, and an even better one if you can find a party of three other friends to join your crew.
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