by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
Sometimes when I play a game I want to be emotionally moved through the ebb and flow of an expertly crafted story and characters that I care about. Sometimes I want to be blown away by the technical prowess of pristine graphics and huge, detailed worlds. Sometimes I want my brain to hurt from straining to work through ingenious puzzles of logic and skill. Or, sometimes, I want to play a game like MOTHERGUNSHIP. MOTHERGUNSHIP isn’t about story, graphics, or puzzles. MOTHERGUNSHIP is about throwing you into a room with a bunch of unfortunate alien robots and letting you let loose in a show of speed, action, and destruction, more chaotic than anything than anything else I’ve played in recent memory.
Plot is thin in MOTHERGUNSHIP, but this is one of those games where that’s probably a good thing. There’s no preamble, no cut-scenes, and no long monologues cheapening the experience with uninteresting lore or emotional manipulation. Earth’s being held hostage by a fleet of alien spaceships, and it’s up to you and the resistance to build some bat-shit crazy guns and destroy them all on your way to taking out the titular head of the fleet. Despite the lack of a strong or deep plot, MOTHERGUNSHIP did do a surprisingly good job of making me care about its world. This is largely due to the small cast of supporting characters that fill your comm with chatter, who’s dialogue nails the humor more consistently than I’d expected it to. The game is legitimately funny, and a few of the bits inbetween missions elicited some audible chuckles. It’s a great example of doing a lot with a little, and the game is all the better for it.
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON
Bullet-hell games aren’t exactly a rarity, but MOTHERGUNSHIP tries to shake things up by letting you piece together your own weapons from a huge number of parts. To be honest, crafting is just about my least favorite part of any game that it’s in. I just don’t like it. That being the case, I’m pleasantly surprised to report that I absolutely loved putting my guns together here. The key is that there’s plenty of room for strategy and experimentation in your builds, but at the same time everything is simple enough to keep things from feeling overwhelming or too “puzzle-y.” The obstacles standing in your way come in two major forms: space and energy. You won’t be able to just solder 50 shotguns into a ball and make a bouncing sea-urchin of death (as much as I might have wanted to). Instead, the physical size and shape of each part must be Tetris-ed together into something that actually fits into the connection points of your receivers. Can you just add on more receivers? Absolutely! Guns run on energy (instead of ammo), and each part you add on makes the gun drain energy more quickly. It turns the whole crafting thing into an interesting balancing act. Want a gun that’s straightforward, but can shoot for days without recharging? How about a one-and-done nuke of a firearm? Both are possible, as is everything in-between, and I absolutely love it. The icing on the cake is that each arm holds a separate, uniquely crafted gun, giving you even more to think about as you put together your instruments of death.
“But Quinn, how do you get the parts for making these amazing harbingers of pain and destruction?” you may ask, to which I’d reply that you shouldn’t start a sentence with “but.” Then I’d continue to say that it can happen a few different ways. Before each mission you’ll be given a bunch of parts to pick from, but you can only bring down so many from your HQ to the ship you’ll be fighting through. If you die, those parts are gone, so there are consequences for failure. You’ll also be able to buy parts from the shop that are (for some strange reason) scattered around the alien ships, costing resource points you’ll find throughout your missions. I will say that it’s nice not having to manage a grocery list of resources. Despite being crafting-focused, you won’t have to manage an inventory, hunt specific parts, or anything like that, and that’s great in a light-hearted action game like this. The randomized nature of the game does make things a bit frustrating sometimes, where you may find tons of resource points to purchase parts but no store to spend them (they don’t roll over from mission to mission) or vice versa. But I found this to be more of an occasional annoyance that’s to be expected in the genre, rather than a major point of frustration or an actual flaw.
MIXING IT UP
Levels in MOTHERGUNSHIP are randomly generated, which works both in the game’s favor and against it. While random generation makes it easy to have a whole bunch of unique levels that extend playtime, it also means that while the core gameplay is solid, levels lack the tightness and “specialness” of hand-made missions and maps. Though the robots they’re filled with will change, you’ll notice room layouts repeating themselves very quickly. There are special rooms that add modifiers to force you to mix things up in order to clear them, but most look largely the same from a visual design standpoint (even though I do like the visual design). But none of the missions offer an intentional, unique, driven experience like you’d find in most other first person shooters with standout, memorable missions. This is much more the case with side missions than story missions, but after long play sessions I felt fatigued with both. This kind of map design isn’t bad, per se, but a few handcrafted levels with a human touch could have enhanced the experience. As it stands, the repetition of visual style and room layout make this a game better suited for popping in and and playing a couple missions here and there instead of binging large portions of the game.
MOTHERGUNSHIP is a ton of fun. When you’ve built a lava-spewing dual minigun with a rocket launcher shooting ricocheting explosives in the middle of your 40th jump since touching the ground- and that’s only on one of your arms- it’s pretty hard not to smile. The game nails its tone, full of color, speed, and humor, and it doesn’t let off the gas pedal from start to finish. It’s not a perfect game, but it does what it needs to do, and I’d have an easy time recommending it to most.
Endearing characters, good humor, crafting is a ton of fun, guns are satisfyingly unique and effective, bosses are fun to fight against and visually intriguing.
Room layouts and enemies get repetitive after awhile.