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Preview: Gatling Gears

4:40 PM on 05.04.2011 // Tara Long

I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated by Gatling Gears at first. Can you blame me? If you caught the trailer that was released last month, you probably don’t remember seeing much beyond some robots and a metric f*ckton of explosions.

Despite the game’s seeming complexity, part of what initially drew me to it was the fact that it’s a twin-stick top-down shooter. Not having seen many of those types of games recently, I was curious to see how the gameplay would stack up against other similar titles, especially after the disappointment that was Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime. Fortunately, the non-stop action and linear gameplay of Gatling Gears make it particularly well suited for this style of game.

Gatling Gears (XBLA [Previewed], PSN, PC)
Developer: Vanguard Games
Publisher: EA Partners
To Be Released: May 11, 2011 (XBLA), May 17, 2011 (PSN), TBA (PC)

The story of Gatling Gears begins on the island of Mistbound, where a recent industrial revolution has diminished all of the land’s natural resources. Where life once existed, robots have now taken over, looking to exploit and ultimately destroy Mistbound's few remaining resources. You play as Max Brawley, a tiny old pilot with steampunk goggles, whose mission is to destroy the invading forces and restore the island to its once beautiful landscape. Destroying your enemies won’t be easy, though. You'll encounter waves of enemies barraging you with missiles, flamethrowers, grenades, and military tanks, just to name a few.

As the title of the game would imply, your primary weapon will be your Gatling Gun. It will allow you to fire a unlimited stream of bullets whose direction is controlled by the right analog stick, while the left analog stick controls your movement. You also have access to a cannon and a grenade launcher, though ammo for these is limited and regenerates over time. Players are also given a Spark Bomb, which kills all enemies on the screen but can only be used once per level.

Campaign mode leads the player through six master levels, each with various stages. The levels themselves are quite linear, with each stage boasting its own unique environment. When enemies are killed, floating gears appear in their place, which can be collected and eventually used to upgrade your inventory or unlock special items. Weapons and armor can also be upgraded in Pirate Shops, which appear at the beginning of each stage. Enemies also occasionally drop green wrenches which improve the player’s health.

The game can be played on Easy, Medium, or Hard, and also scales proportionally in difficulty when playing in co-op mode. That means twice as many enemies and, of course, twice as many bosses. In my interview with Sander van der Vegte, the game’s senior designer, at GDC last month, he stressed the importance of hard bosses in the game - something that I feel is often missing from a lot of newer games.

Gatling Gears also features a Survival mode, which takes place on a single area of the map. This was arguably my favorite part of the game, simply because of the non-stop excitement. With two players, a full Survival mode game takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on the difficulty setting. Up to two players must survive ten waves of enemies, each with more and harder-to-kill enemies than the last. On top of that, players must also defend two nearby water towers from oncoming minecarts full of dynamite. The key to success in this mode, as I quickly learned while playing, is to constantly be moving in order to avoid your enemies’ homing missiles. As in Campaign mode, enemies will drop gears which can be collected and used to increase your score multiplier, among other things.

Any initial skepticism I had about the game was immediately curtailed after playing through Survival mode. Not only is it terrific mindless fun, it’s also the best way to acclimate yourself to the intensity and often downright crowdedness of the game. The same issues have typically turned me off other "crowded" games like Super Smash Bros., but I found the learning curve much easier in Gatling Gears and it didn’t take long before I was launching grenades like a pro.

I left my demo with a new found sense of accomplishment, which is about the most I can ask for in a video game. It’ll provide hours of fun for a modest price point and, oh - did I mention it looks gorgeous? Check out Gatling Gears  when it hits XBLA May 11th and PSN May 18th. A PC will be coming soon after, but no release date has been announced for that yet.

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Tara Long, Queen of Video Things
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