Who among us has never fantasized about commanding their own ship?
Chances are almost everyone can get on board with hearing the words “Aye Aye Captain!” and this is just the type of experience that Muse Games is trying to create with Guns of Icarus Online.
To put it simply, Guns of Icarus Online is a first-person team based multiplayer shooter, only the team at Muse Games has put in several twists on a traditional formula and created something unique. Instead of traipsing around maps looking for kills each player is assigned to an air-ship commanded by a captain. There are three classes players can choose from; an engineer, a gunner, and of course, the captain. Each class has their own unique abilities and while anyone on board may take the wheel, man a gun, or repair damage it when you play your role that the satisfying nature of the game comes together.
It takes some particular skills in order to play each class correctly. Captains must know their ship's capabilities and maneuverability and some geographic familiarity with the maps will definitely come in handy. Engineers must be constantly aware of their ships conditions, be quick to react to enemy fire and repair damaged parts of the ship. Gunners must have a keen eye and sharp shooting skills in order to inflict damage on enemy ships. When taken separately each class may seem pigeon holed but most people will tell you that it takes one hell of a crew to man a battleship. All it takes is one person to get distracted or fall asleep at the wheel and things can fall apart very quickly for the ship and her crew.
From what I've played Muse Games is trying to create a larger team driven experience. Most multiplayer shooters try to get you to work with your teammates but often a “Lone Wolf” will do just fine and can even contribute to the team's overall victory. In Guns of Icarus Online it's almost impossible to be a “Lone Wolf”. If you're on a gun, who's steering the ship? If you're steering the ship, who's manning the guns? The core gameplay doesn't suggest or encourage you play as a team it down right requires it. At first I though all ships would be the same in order to keep things balanced but I quickly learned that each ship has a different layout, meaning guns, engines and other components are in different locations and each ship controls differently. There are smaller yet quicker ships and larger and more cumbersome vessels. Each had a very distinct feel to it and served slightly different purpose. For example: A larger ship could draw enemy fire while teammates in smaller, quicker ships attempt to flank the enemies. It's this type of strategy and teamwork that is encouraged and ultimately rewarded.
Gameplay aside, I was really impressed with Guns of Icarus Online's visuals. Each ship has a relatively unique aesthetic. While they all seem derived from a steampunk-esq motif they all manage to incorporate other influences, which can be cultural or practical. I also found the maps to be unique and beautiful with interesting features. While I appreciated the post-battle feel of Battle of the Dune which takes place in the skies above a desert wasteland populated by air-ship wrecks, I’d have to say may favorite map was Water Hazard. Water Hazard featured rock spires rising from the sea into the sky. The spires were great for cover if you need to escape enemy bombardment but also a challenge to navigate for even skilled pilots. It was this mix of level design and visual design I appreciated and would like to see more of as the game gets closer to release.
After all the good things I've said about Guns of Icarus Online I can't help being a little excited for this title. It's from a small independent studio and features big thinking and a commitment to quality that is often lacking in the indie space. That said, I do have one concern about the game and that is: Who is this game for? While the gameplay provides a unique first-person experience and features some really deep teamwork and strategy, I find the overall package a suited a little too much for niche audience. Will Guns of Icarus find the right audience for this game? Muse Games bring forth a new dawn in team-based strategy? Or will the nuanced gameplay and exceptional visuals be enough to keep captains and their crews coming back for more? I can't say for sure but we will find out when Guns of Icarus Online is released on September 30th 2012.
Guns of Icarus is currently in closed beta and can be per-ordered on Steam.