by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Bringing Ragnarok to modern times
If Norse mythology were to be reinvented in the 21st century, I am absolutely certain that all of the battle axes, hammers and swords would be replaced with guns. Who wouldn’t like great Viking warriors wielding explosive and powerful ranged ordinance against jotuns, dwarves and whatever else crawls out of the woodwork during Ragnarok? It’s a compelling idea in my book, and it’s one that Gunnheim - a cooperative twin stick shooter - uses as its premise.
Interesting as that premise may be, it cannot hold up the rest of the game by itself. And it doesn’t, with unbalanced and, frankly, bland gameplay turning what could have been a fun game to play with friends into an experience I will soon forget.
Where to begin?
Each time you start Gunnheim you create a lobby where you and up to three friends can join in. In the lobby, you can choose from one of four characters to play as, though two are only unlocked once you beat the game on normal and hardcore more, essentially limiting you to two options your entire first playthrough. From there you enter a sort of hub world, whereupon you choose one of several worlds to walk through and begin shooting.
Almost immediately, one can ascertain that both of the two starting characters are woefully weak in comparison to the hordes they fight. The default weapons, an assault rifle and shotgun respectively, deal little damage against even the most basic of enemies. This turns every fight into a dance, in a way; you need to manoeuvre and dash out of the way of incoming enemies to chip away at their health in pieces. Damage against you builds up quickly, necessitating the outright avoidance of enemies.
By itself, this is not a bad thing. Properly implemented, the default weapons would be like temporary downgrades, with picked up weapons providing most of the damage. And what an interesting collection of weapons to unlock as well, with railguns, uzis and bazookas all lying amongst the randomized pickups which drop from enemies or chests across levels. Using these weapons, the game becomes far more exciting, with powerful guns obliterating enemies until they run out of ammo, whereupon you dash away to find the next weapon to turn on whatever's chasing you.
An exercise in patience
That is what Gunnheim would ideally play like, but the weapon drops are exceedingly rare. For example, if you get more than two weapon drops a level, consider yourself lucky. And since they all have ammo, unlike the defaults, you better not miss when you shoot those guns. Three seconds of firing an uzi is enough to empty the magazine. Three seconds. Then it's back to the world's worst shotgun again for the remaining 90 percent of the level. As such, you are effectively forced to play the game one of two ways: Either you take time and slowly kill everything in a level without dying, or you run through everything as fast as you can to get to the end. Neither option is particularly appealing in a genre where you want to shoot as many things as quickly as you can.
A side effect of the conservative weapon drops is that it artificially ramps up the difficulty for anyone playing by themselves. As far as I can tell, enemies take and deliver the same damage no matter how many people are playing. Hence, two people firing a terrible assault rifle will still be better than one, with anyone playing single player forced to suffer due to the lack of balancing. Boss fights are exercises in patience.
The worlds you traverse are entirely randomized level by level, ensuring that no two playthroughs are the same. The worlds themselves are neither beautiful to look at nor ugly in their design. They just simply exist, serving as little more than a reason to shoot up the colourful mobs spread throughout. The levels serve their purpose, with nothing special to speak of.
Could've been better
And that’s a shame, because Gunnheim could have been entertaining. There are sparks of life in the creature and weapon designs that cry out for a better game. The soundtrack, while not astounding, does enhance the experience. With others, the game becomes at the very least mildly enjoyable.
But in the end, the only scenario where I might recommend this game to others is one in which you and your friends are looking for a light, mindless game to complete in an hour or two and never play again. And even then I would be cautious, as there are plenty of other twin stick shooters out there that are far more enjoyable than Gunnheim.
Entertaining with friends, soundtrack is ok
Unbalanced gameplay, awful single player, forgettable