The original Guns of Icarus is a graveyard in terms of players–I sought players from both the European and American users to no success, and for good reason. Guns of Icarus, though slightly charming with its steampunk aesthetic, is a horrendous experience when brought alongside its successor, Guns of Icarus Online. In the time between Guns Of Icarus and Guns Of Icarus Online, Muse Games have intensified the vision of the Guns Of Icarus name in several ways: at the time of this writing it is entirely multiplayer with a focus on player-versus-player, a thousand leagues better looking, and is now in first-person.
While the first game had the player playing a unique take on turret defense but having them run from turret to turret on a gigantic airship, Guns Of Icarus Online has players forming teams of four with unique ship configurations combat other aerial swashbucklers. It’s an ambitious vision within the crowd of class-based multiplayer shooters, though it rarely capitalizes on its unique qualities. For all of the lessons that Muse Games have learned in the time since awkward third-person handling of Guns Of Icarus, there’s plenty left to be gained from the mistakes that chain the aerial combat of Guns Of Icarus Online right to the ground.
Guns of Icarus Online’s gameplay is split between the three classes players can choose at any time in the main menu: gunner, engineer, and captain. The roles are quite obvious, gunners control the turrets on the ship, the engineer repairs the ship’s systems, and the captain is in charge of piloting the ship. Depending on what class they choose, players are allowed three special pieces of equipment to aid them in whatever class they choose to play as. Gunners get special ammo types that can increase the range or speed of their fire, captains receive lucky charms that allow them special modifications to the ship’s movement speed and other factors, and engineers have tools that can buff the ship’s systems to allow guns to cause more damage and systems to be less vulnerable. Players can even go on to make a basic customization of their own airship out of six possible designs, choosing what turrets go where.One of the biggest problems with Guns of Icarus Online’s systems is that it never tells you any of this.
There is a few scattered pieces of tutorial text in the game’s practice mode (read: bot match where you’re forced to pilot as the game’s AI can’t handle piloting) and when you interact with the ship (e.g. fix a turret) but it is not the same as a full-fledged tutorial that would greatly aid players in learning the possibilities of the game’s mechanics. The equipment can be especially vexing as the game doesn’t inform the player of what the equipment he or she has chosen does, essentially forcing the player to remember number-heavy statistics, such as the heavy clip’s “-80% recoil, -25% muzzle speed” and that the “lochnagar shot” will actually damage the gun as you fire with it. It was because of this and the multiple bugs I endured during my use of the game’s equipment that I chose to mostly ignore a lot of equipment during my time with the game. How is anyone supposed to know when a captain’s charm is at work when there seems to be little to no feedback for the player? Why does my gun only fire one shot when using any of the special ammo types I’ve chosen? What the hell do they do? Why is there no basic instruction pdf booklet for players to read? How many questions do I need to keep asking until someone in the game’s chat yells it at me out of frustration?
Given that being an engineer consists mostly of a rather boring and distant animation of slamming a hammer into the various guns and systems of an airship, and that the game bafflingly doesn’t offer a third-person ship view while piloting, I chose the route of the gunner throughout the majority of my time with the game. Though the game’s “practice mode,” offers a chance to play around with piloting in hopes that players will warm to it, I found nothing accessible about the controls and was merely frustrated by the poor camera angles. I could have understood a strict first-person aesthetic preventing the developers from wanting to venture in that territory given the piss-poor controls of the first Guns of Icarus, but the game’s optional and intensely limited third-person view is just a limited taste to what proper piloting could have been with the right camera angle. Fortunately for Guns of Icarus Online, firing turrets happens to be one of the most exciting parts of the game. When the ideal moment arrives (hint: it’s not often) and your side of the ship lines up in perfect range with an enemy combatant, there is nothing quite like barraging them with the devastating missile barrage of the Manticore Heavy Hwacha. The delicate lining of the shots and aggressive side-to-side battling is perhaps the only authentic gameplay element to the game’s pseudo-pirate aesthetic; players cannot board other ships or fire with personal weapons, leading to moments of awkward disappointment while the game’s “physics” cause ships to barrel towards your vessel and comically bounce away upon impact.
Guns of Icarus Online was constructed with the Unity engine and looks fairly attractive upon first-glance. There’s a strange glow that permeates all of the game’s lighting, but textures look decent and the vistas players are treated to in the maps are fairly grand and adventurous. The locales vary pretty greatly, ranging anywhere from a Tatooine-like ship graveyard (which contains actual naval vessels, strangely enough) to an Arctic landscape brimming with mountainous glaciers. It’s within the design of the characters themselves that the game becomes might questionable, boasting subpar Final Fantasy aesthetics in their steampunk outfits, complete with fey hairstyles and horrendously boring design overall. It’s understandable that the player models themselves might not be the most inventive element of design in a game so focused on ship-to-ship combat, but there are a plethora of real cash clothing purchases that can be made in the game’s store which makes the entire operation feel a little disgusting. But hey, two dollars for a pink steampunk pimp hat might be right up your alley.
The biggest blot on the game’s artistic design is how many little bits of imperfection shine through and really underscore how janky Guns of Icarus Online can be on a technical level. When a player’s ship explodes they’re treated to a few awkward seconds of falling and landing on the extremely low-res ground texture as they wait for the game to respawn them and their teammates. This isn’t a bug and seems to occur after every “death,” illustrating just how big of a disconnect there is between the players and the ships themselves. With no way to deal or receive damage on their person, it’s nigh impossible to be lost in the game’s atmosphere.
Complete with a spectator mode and statistics-heavy equipment, Guns of Icarus Online feels as though it was primed for tournament play since inception. A close-knit, voice-aided, and well-learned team of four can steamroll their opponents with ease, and it’s a bit magical to witness when it happens. The casual observer that wanders into this product probably won’t be so lucky to easily find a team that’s willing to commit to one another. The server browser seems to be the casual gamer’s best bet to experiencing the occasional joy since they can still change their team in matches that haven’t started. Entering the game’s quick match option as a captain is almost always a fatal risk since most of the time players will be matched into a live game with a team already equipped with a captain steering the ship. What’s more is that the actual situation where Guns of Icarus online becomes a thrilling game is so rare that I have more experience being frustrated by the glacial pace of games where the ship’s captain simply wouldn’t pilot into combat. Too often was my fun impeded by a poor pilot or lackluster opportunity and before too long I was only too aware of how necessary it was to be in some sort of faction or guild to enjoy casual play. If anything, a guild might have been useful for match-to-match evaluation, something that the game managed to ship without.
Without a proper single player component the game doesn’t quite feel like a complete product. Muse Games promises bug fixes and routine updates, but that doesn’t change how the game has managed to ship without a proper tutorial or text file explaining the mechanics, why they’re asking more money for poorly designed player clothing in a retail, twenty-dollar product, or why the camera for piloting is so poorly implemented. Rushing through the sky at a breakneck pace, firing and blowing absurdly designed airships up can be a blast, but too often does Guns of Icarus Online make me glance at readily available free-to-player multiplayer shooters, of which there are plenty, and ask myself why a player wouldn’t prefer those. Sadly, the truly unique quality of proper airship-to-airship combat can’t justify all blemishes that come with Guns of Icarus Online. It would simply be deceitful for this reviewer to say there aren’t better, free, and readily accessible alternatives.