Developer: Grip Digital, Terrible Posture Games
Publisher: Grip Digital
Played on: PC
Release Date: July 17, 2018
Played with: Mouse & Keyboard
Paid: $0 (Key provided for review)
Prior to writing this review, I spent a decent chunk of time playing MOTHERGUNSHIP (henceforth referred to in a form that doesn’t imply I’m constantly screaming); nine hours, to be exact. Yet I feel like I spent twice that time contemplating one simple question: why doesn’t this game work for me? I’ve played and loved fast-paced first-person shooters like High Hell. Roguelite FPSs such as Immortal Redneck have brought me countless hours of bliss. So, the mystery of Mothergunship’s mediocrity has plagued me, to the point where I had to go back and replay some Immortal Redneck to attempt to glean some fresh insight.
Here’s the rub: overall, Mothergunship feels like a safe, bland version of Immortal Redneck. Instead of the colourful Egyptian setting with its host of vibrant and recognizable characters, you get monotonous sci-fi environments and robots. Fast-paced movement with a sprint so quick it takes time and practice to fully master has been downgraded to sluggish, dare I say lumbering motion with a single starting speed: too slow. And unlockable characters and branching skill trees have – in my experience – been replaced with nothing more than a bland stats spreadsheet with exciting upgrades like, “+20% health”.
To be clear, I’m not harping on Mothergunship for not being Immortal Redneck. Rather, I’m disappointed that – for a game that tries to be wacky and light-hearted with its story and weapon customization, so much of it feels like a retread of boring genre staples that have long since been improved upon.
That out of the way, let’s talk about the story. As an unnamed member of a resistance force (apparently, your type is no stranger to being dispensable, hence the anonymity), it’s up to you to lead your ragtag group (consisting of an out-of-touch general, a smartass techie, and a neurotic AI) as they take the fight to the titular Mothergunship. As the name implies, said ship is the – well – mothership of an invading fleet, and getting to it, hopping on board, and destroying it is the name of the game. Along the way, you’ll have to contend with an enemy ship AI so daft it’s a wonder your foes don’t just blow themselves up, new crew members who are just versions of previously-living individuals, and your ship’s deck being flooded with clickbait ads for free timeshares. Yes, really. Oh, and the thousands of bullet-slinging, laser-wielding buckets of nuts and bolts that stand between you and your goal.
As premises go, Mothergunship’s isn’t half bad. There’s some amusing writing and goofy voice acting, and the whole thing ends up feeling like a Borderlands-esque romp, sans as much cringy reference-based humour. However, it becomes clear that the devs may have been a bit too confident in their story, to the point where they always demand your full attention. Dialogue only occurs in the corridors between rooms, and the next room “conveniently” never finishes loading before the characters are done yapping. Even if there’s a solid minute of that. If you retry levels (something that’s bound to happen on tougher maps), be prepared to mash the ‘E’ key to skip all the dialogue after your first run or two. Why this couldn’t simply be overlaid during combat is a complete mystery to me. It’s like being forced to eat a stale carrot before each bite of a fresh burger. Bleh.
Of course, narrative isn’t the prime focus of Mothergunship, despite what the banter may have you think. Rather, gun crafting is what it’s all about. As you play, you’ll frequently be collecting gun parts, whether through purchasing them yourself or being given them as rewards. Then, at any workshop in a level, you can start mashing pieces together like potatoes in a Thanksgiving dinner until you produce a massive mashed potato sculpture. One shaped like a gun…this metaphor kind of broke down.
At any rate, your only limits are your imagination and the number of socket holes available on your weapon of mass destruction. One part can be attached to each, and you can add connectors to increase the quantity available. Caps can be slotted on, providing passive bonuses of varying descriptions, but the real focus is the barrels: big ol’ bullet/laser/lightning/sawblade spewing gun barrels. The restriction on them is that they must face forward; after all, you probably don’t want to get a faceful of buckshot every time you pull the trigger. That aside, your only limit is your imagination…and whether you can find ways to rotate all your parts so none of them collide. Unfortunately, the game decides to make this a pain in the ass: if you’ve already attached a part to your gun, it needs to be removed before being able to rotate it. Not only that, but all bits attached to the deleted piece also go back to your inventory. Thus, if the component needing tweaking is the first one you welded on, prepare to disassemble your entire gun and rebuild it from scratch.
The other thing holding you back from simply throwing every part you find onto one of your two (yes, you can dual-wield) overpowered firearms is that each component – connectors aside – increases the amount of energy required to fire the weapon. Rather than using ammunition, each volley decreases the energy available for that gun, which slowly recharges when you cease firing. In other words, you can throw everything you get onto one giga-gun, but then you’ll only be able to fire once or twice before needing to recharge. At the very least, it makes sense to split your mechanical monstrosity into two weapons, since each hand has its own energy gauge; in other words, if your left-hand gun runs out of energy, you can keep firing your right-hand one.
Just make sure you don’t need to swap the weapons between hands. I found myself wanting to do it when I was still learning the game, and Mothergunship doesn’t take kindly to that sort of tomfoolery. To do so, you must completely dismantle each gun and rebuild them in your other hand. It’s not game breaking, and – with practice – it probably won’t be much of an issue. However, it seems like a substantial oversight in a game that’s all about constantly tinkering with your weaponry.
Once the tinkering’s done, it’s time to start blasting. Upon walking into a new room, the music flares, all manner of machinery spawns into being, and you start shooting and strafing for your life before your face becomes a smoldering hole. The gunplay is frenetic, and with the ability to triple-jump (more if you collect certain power-ups), you’ll usually find yourself flying around and shooting like a maniac before landing, running circles around an enemy as you unload all over them, and then repeating. Of course, here’s where the movement speed issues frequently come to bear. I never felt like I was getting outrun by enemies, but the character speed nonetheless seemed too ponderous until I started upgrading it. Yet then I was taking away experience points that could be spent on things like max health, energy recharge rate, etc., and pouring them into velocity in the hopes of making the game more exciting to play.
The other “excitement” is – in my opinion – the worst kind; aka, sheer terror and frustration at the thought of losing everything you’ve worked so hard to build. In most levels, you’re allowed to take a small selection of previously-collected gun parts in, giving you starting weapons that aren’t just your fists. When you beat the level, you get to keep all the parts that you collected and brought in; sounds great, right? Well, if you die, you lose everything you’ve collected, and everything you brought in. As a result, I consciously avoided taking objectively great gun parts into levels, because RNGesus could take them all away at the drop of a hat. That’s right, the mission layouts are randomly-generated, meaning no matter how well-prepared you are, the game might just throw you into a room that’s more lava than floor and cackle mercilessly as you lose all your best gear.
To make matters worse, the most economical way to collect more gear is to – you guessed it – grind out missions for parts. However, old missions disappear upon completion, forcing you to run through the same bonus level over and over, albeit with a new layout each time. Granted, there is a mission available that provides free parts to start, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re replaying the same level in the hopes of getting more parts that you hopefully won’t lose in 30 seconds on the next story mission. Alternatively, you can buy components on your ship, but the prices are so tremendously jacked that I honestly can’t see how it could ever be worth it. For a game to revel in such excess with its ability to craft absolutely insane firearms, then punish players for going all-out if they don’t make it on their first try…well, tonal whiplash is an understatement.
And then there’s co-op. All I can say is: if you’ve thought about buying this game for the co-op experience, just forget it. The game mode is boring, tacked-on, and almost always guarantees one player will be left out in the cold. Drops don’t go to both players, meaning whoever happens to be running the up-close shotgun-fuelled loadout will be snatching up all the coins from dead enemies before their cohort even has a chance to try. While testing it out, I found myself actively running away from enemies, simply so that both my partner and I would have money to spend at the next shop. You can’t even trade weaponry or resources. Say that you get to a shop with three coins, your partner has five, and there’s a weapon you want for four gold. You’re out of luck, as your partner can neither give you the one gold you need, nor can they buy the item and pass it to you. This gets immensely frustrating once one of you starts amassing a large component collection, particularly if the other player is lacking. No longer need your starting blaster, while your partner has nothing but a couple peashooters? Sucks to be them; you just get to hold onto a trash blaster for the rest of the game while feeling sorry for your friend.
It took me a long time to get this review out and to put a half-decent number of hours into Mothergunship. I still haven’t beaten the game (I’m stuck grinding on mission 8), and I frequently had to coerce myself to try once more, simply because doing just about anything else seemed more entertaining. Contrast this (last comparison, I swear) with Immortal Redneck, which I loaded up to quickly figure out how it differed, and eventually had to wrest myself away from before I went for a sixth run. I’ll give Mothergunship a bit of credit: if you liked Tower of Guns, but thought it needed to be a bit faster (believe it or not, TOG is slower-paced) and have weapon crafting, you’ll probably find a lot to love here. For me, I’ll stick to games that don’t make me wonder if surrendering to the enemy’s really such a bad choice.