Welcome to Guns of Icarus Online Review!
“I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” – Capt. John Paul Jones, 16th November 1778
I think Capt. Jones there had the right idea; when it comes to ship combat – whether it be upon the open sea, or thousands of feet above it – speed is everything. The ability to out manoeuvre one’s opponent, gaining the advantage, then using that advantage to unload a perfectly timed wave of attacks, is the key to success.
Though, there are many that disagree, opting for larger vessels that lack the speed an maneuverability I so crave, but with significantly more weapons at their disposal at every corner of their ship, allowing for more attack variety and much greater firepower.
Of course, it’s the choice that we desire most; the ability to make such decisions based on our own strengths, weaknesses and preferences – and those of our crew – is what makes a good interactive experience. Guns of Icarus Online, a recent addition to the niche aerial combat genre, offers precisely such choice – among many others – offering Captain’s like myself a feature rich experience like none before it.
TEAMWORK ABOVE ALL
Guns of Icarus is a game based around a single, defining concept: teamwork. Each airship requires 4 players of varying roles; a Captain and 3 others formed of Gunners and Engineers. Captains are responsible for steering the ship, while gunners man the various weapons strewn throughout, and engineers beat things with hammers and wrenches until they come back to life.
These roles can be filled with bots, too – so it’s not absolutely necessary to have other players. That said, other players will usually outperform bots, so it’s best to get a full team before beginning a battle, and highly recommended that you know the players on your crew.
Why? Coordination. There’s a lot of that in GoIO – players have access to in-game voice communications at the press of a button, which is essential for success. Gunners, for example, are limited in where they can attack by the angle of the ship, and will regularly call for a ‘HARD LEFT’ or ‘STOP TURNING’ when attempting to attack an opposing airship – and a good engineer will keep his captain well aware of any damage or dangers to the ship, allowing him to retreat where necessary.
Captain’s are also given access to a Captain’s channel, which allows them to directly communicate, in private, with other ship captain’s on their team. As all games are team games, regardless of the game mode or map, it’s always a good idea for captain’s to remain in constant communication with other vessels, allowing for coordinated strikes and ambush attacks.
Teamwork, whether that be within a crew or between multiple ships, is always essential. This is the first lesson any player in GoIO should learn, and the last.
HOLD MY DAMN HAND
Gameplay is fairly straightforward; so long as you’ve got a crew, and you’re able to communicate, it’s fairly easy to get a grip on how it all works. Captain’s steer a ship using the wheel, increasing and decreasing speed and altitude where necessary, while gunners run circles around a ship, selecting weapons that best suit the situation, followed by engineers who hammer away at engines and cannons to keep them in working order.
It’s important to note that your role doesn’t restrict access to any part of the ship, so you don’t need to be a captain to fly, nor a gunner to shoot. That said, roles are given multiple special tools and abilities that often decide the fate of an engagement, so it’s highly recommended that you play your role well, and ensure that your crew has all bases covered.
Goals and objectives aren’t always clear, which makes for a complicated introduction. Often times, players simply resort to shooting other ships at random – assuming they know which ships to shoot. That’s not always clear, either. Sometimes, enemies are noted by a small, white rectangle and attacks are confirmed by smaller circular reticles – but that’s not always the case, and as all games are team-based, it often causes confusion.
The interface could use some improvement, especially in the menus, but also during games. Icons litter the screen, but again, it’s not always clear what an icon represents, or what your contribution to that icon is after you interact with it, or smash it repeatedly with a wrench. Of course, sometimes it’s obvious, like repairing damage – but applying buffs to a weapon or engine? No idea.
Text is displayed on screen when accessing various elements of the ship, but again, it’s not comprehensive enough to leave you feeling confident about your goals. What’s needed here is a tutorial mode – not a practice mode, but some kind of training that places you in various roles and scenarios, teaching you the effectiveness of different elements, and how they might be used to best defeat your opponents. A story mode could easily provide such an experience, alongside expanding the richness of the world; and yet, it’s not there.
Currently, the best way to learn to play is to play and figure it out as you go along – and with the help of other players via text and voice comms – and while it does work, it’s not at all consistent with the ‘hand-holding’ offered in most of today’s games, and will likely see many players giving up before they’ve had a chance to explore everything GoIO has to offer.
Which is a shame, really, because there’s a lot on offer. Customisation is in full effect, allowing you to purchase and equip a huge variety of costumes and accessories, skills and weapon enhancements, and tools and items – each dependant of which role you choose to play.
SPOILED FOR CHOICE
The Gunner, for example, can choose from a variety of different ammunition types each with their own strengths and weaknesses against different parts of an enemy ship, or at different ranges. The Engineer can equip different tools, such as the hammer, wrench and fire extinguisher, each with their own specific uses that help to keep a ship alive and optimal. The Captain is definitely the most complex, as alongside customisation of the player’s tools and equipment, which increase and decrease various ship statistics for a limited time, there’s the option to choose and customise ships themselves with different weapons.
Each of these classes can be levelled individually, too, and come with their own unique challenges and achievements that range from winning matches and killing opponents to playing on specific maps or crewing a certain ship. Everything is recorded, from ship repairs to blasting opponents out of the sky, so there’s always a guide for progression.
Guns of Icarus, to me, feels like a piece of a much larger game concept. Were this an MMORPG that encouraged exploration of a giant, uncharted land, littered with ancient ruins and lost relics and enemy ships – I’d be screaming its name from the rooftops to all who would listen. But it isn’t that; instead, it’s something more like an experiment – both technically and conceptually – that while offering an intense, vibrant and unique experience, fails to deliver the complexity and progression we’ve come to expect in today’s rich, expansive world of gaming.
There’s a hell of a lot to love about Guns of Icarus, and once it’s been cleaned up a bit, certain types of gamers are going to fall in love with this one and never leave it. It’s perfect for a quick 30 minute game with a group of friends, one that rewards strategy and skill and persistence in a way that so few games do – but given the limitations on scope and variety, and the intense focus on teamwork, it’s unlikely that it’ll see the top of any charts. Which is probably a good thing – the Call of Duty kiddies wouldn’t stand a chance, anyway.Related: Action, Guns of Icarus Online, Review