Pick Up the Pieces
The sense of satisfaction that one can get from creating something can be a drug like no other. Spending time putting random pieces of stuff together into a functional and useful item, being able to point at it and say “I made that,” can give you a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.
So, of course, companies have found a way to sell that feeling to you!
Everything from Legos to Ikea furniture, model kits to make-your-own-game engines, all are toolkits sold to you at a cheap price to let your creativity run wild and pump more sweet sweet positive feelings out of your brain when you see what your work accomplishes. I, myself, am a complete and absolute sucker for that feeling.
Video games have caught on as well, with a number of massively popular games allowing players to fiddle around with in-game tools to create things, either to further the purpose of the game or just for the sake of creating. I mean, seriously, look at the shear number of Minecraft knockoffs that flooded the market a couple years ago. I’d also argue that Fortnite is at the top of the Battle Royale world right now due to its creative elements.
With this, we know that gamers love being able to create and customize. What else do they love, though? Guns. Lots and lots and lots of guns. So why not mix up the best of both worlds, and let people create their own guns? It’s killing two birds with one stone! With that, I present to you the presumed thought process behind the developers of the game we are looking at today.
Developed by Grip Digital and Terrible Posture Games, and published by Grip Digital, Mothergunship was released on July 17th, 2018, for PS4, XBox One, and PC. The PC version was played for this review.
Saving Your Soul
The Earth is under attack by an alien species known as the Archivists. These aliens are abducting humans and creating digital copies of them…for some reason. You are a part of the Resistance, a small group of people who have managed to escape the Archivist ships, and of course, it’s up to you to save the world. How do you do so? By destroying the lead ship of the Archivist fleet – the Mothergunship.
Mothergunship‘s cast is relatively small, with your character being mute and the other three or four speaking to you through your radio. The writing is in a snarky, sarcastic, and occasionally surreal humor style that reminded me greatly of the Borderlands series, and managed to get consistent genuine laughs out of me throughout its runtime.
The story itself is rather basic, although it has its moments here and there that help keep things interesting. I was much more interested in the characters than the plot, and their interactions amongst one another were probably one of my favorite things about this game.
Keep It Down
However, this isn’t a game that was made for a story! No sir, this is a game all about making the biggest, baddest guns you can and using them to wipe out the alien fleets!
Mothergunship as a game is a very fast-paced FPS with some Rougelike elements, and the marketing mentions taking influence from the bullet hell genre as well. Each mission you take on is semi-randomized; you move from room to room trying to find the finish line or a boss to beat, with each room having a random set of enemies and/or obstacles within them.
You start each mission with a small load-out of gun parts – either chosen yourself or assigned to you, depending on the kind of mission you’re undertaking. The gun parts fall into three categories: connectors (pieces that connect other parts together), barrels (the shooty-shooty parts), and caps (mods that can increase damage, make your bullets bounce, etc).
At the beginning of each mission, as well as spread randomly throughout each level, you can find workbenches to assemble and adjust your weaponry. You’re given absolutely free reign on how you want to build your guns; your only limits are the pieces you’re carrying and the fact that the gun barrels need to face forward.
However, there are a few other limitations imposed that keep you from getting too crazy. For one, as I mentioned earlier, you only begin each level with a small load-out, which ranges anywhere from one to six gun parts. The rest you have to purchase from shop rooms throughout each stage. This is where the rogue-like randomness can get in the way a bit, as there’s no guarantee you’ll actually come across any shops or workbenches to expand your guns. Coins to buy gun parts are dropped randomly from enemies as well, making it a crapshoot on if you’ll actually have the cash to buy anything. It wasn’t rare for me to run through a whole level with just my initial loadout, either because I didn’t find any shops or I didn’t get enough coins to actually buy anything.
The other limitation is weapon energy. Each of your arms has an energy gauge that drains every time you attack, refilling automatically. Every gun part you attach to your gun has a certain energy cost, reflecting how much of this bar is used to fire your gun. So, sure, you can save up all your money to build an absolutely ridiculous chaingun/sawblade/railgun combo, but you may only get one shot out of it before you have to recharge…so is it really worth it to build?
For all the crazy chaos the game encourages you to perform, both in game and in marketing, it winds up making much more sense to play the game more sensibly. I ended up settling on a few barrels that work well for the stage your in, and keeping my guns limited to three or four parts each. Further reinforcing safe play is the fact that if you die in a stage, you lose every gun part you’re carrying, both your initial loadout and whatever you purchased mid-level.
Speaking of, be prepared to lose gun parts often, as the game’s difficulty ramps up very quickly. I was able to get through the first three or four story missions without any issues, and then found myself hitting a wall on each subsequent mission. I wound up having to tackle various side missions to try and earn enough experience points to upgrade my character (with upgrades including things like health, movement speed, maximum number of jumps, etc), or if I got really lazy, retry the level over and over until the RNG gave me a version of the stage that I could pass.
I was able to overlook these issues most of the time, though, as I found Mothergunship just plain fun to play…and this is coming from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of the FPS genre. The breakneck pace of battles, the sheer chaos going on around you, and the customization options (when the game would give them to me) ended up creating an addicting gameplay loop. Add on the fact that each mission is only around ten or fifteen minutes long, and you have a game that you can easily sit down and play in bite-size chunks, great for the busy gamers out there.
Straight Off the Factory Line
At the outset, I really enjoyed the industrial aesthetic of Mothergunship. Everything is high-tech, metallic, and robotic, and many of the room designs were quite attractive to my eye. This, unfortunately, began to wear thin rather quick, as the room designs begin to get repetitive to the point of staleness. Eventually, the only differences that popped up were rooms being lit in different colors than usual.
Enemy designs also suffer from repetition – during most of my playthrough, I only encountered maybe eight or ten different enemy types. Within a couple of hours, I began encountering numerous palette-swapped enemies as well. Boss battles managed to break things up, though, presenting massive mechanical monstrosities that could be weirdly unsettling.
I definitely want to give special mention to the game’s voice acting. For a game with minimal plot, the actors and actresses behind the cast sure went all out with their performances. Most of the humor in this game comes from these performers, especially the Colonel giving you your orders.
As far as the soundtrack…it’s nothing really interesting. There’s no tracks that stood out in particular, and what there was just gets buried underneath the sound of explosions.
A Bit of Tarnish
Overall, Mothergunship is an addicting and challenging FPS with a few nagging annoyances holding it back. For as much as the game pushes going hog-wild with building insane guns, actually playing the game successfully practically requires doing the opposite. The game’s difficulty also ramps up surprisingly fast…although, to be fair, that could also just be my lack of skills in the genre.
If I had to point out one specific element that drags the game down, it would be in its Roguelike elements. Removing the randomization of each level would fix many of the issues I had, namely the uncertainty of being able to upgrade weapons mid-level and the repetitiveness of the levels themselves. If the developers would have taken the time to fully handcraft each of the levels, I would think we would be looking at a prime A+ game here.
As it stands, though, Mothergunship is still a game worth a look. The gun customization, even with the limitations the levels impose, is still a blast to play around with. The character interactions are also a cherry on top, adding a spark of charm that games like this really need to stand out from the crowd.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Grip Digital for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.