Mothergunship Review

Mothergunship is *deep breath* a science fiction-based, first-person shmup with rogue-like gameplay. As a robotic drone that can punch and shoot, you’re sent to wage a guerrilla war on behalf of a resistance army engaged with the Archivist, a super advanced AI that has rallied a massive armada to hold Earth hostage. Controlled by the titular Mothergunship, you’ll leapfrog across one battleship to another stealing intel, upgrading your tech, and then blowing them up. The resistance fighters mean well but they also serve as the game’s comic relief as they bicker and argue amongst themselves, especially the Colonel who has a grudge against the resistance’s more competent and successful leader. Mothergunship is heavy on fast, brutal first person gameplay that feels like a spiritual successor to Terrible Posture Games’ previous title, Tower of Guns. Only now, they’ve tied a brick to the accelerator. You’re going to need to keep on your toes as the game delights in throwing so much at you all at once that it can be pretty overwhelming to the point of frustration. 

What separates Mothergunship from other FPS games like this is the emphasis on crafting weapons. At the start of the game, you don’t have much to your name except a simple blaster and the expectation that you’ll take down an entire armada by yourself. Gunning down enemies, be they bipedal canons, robot dogs, flying buzz saws, giant multi-gun turrets, missile launchers, and tanks, nets you experience points and, more importantly, coins that can be spent inside shops that pop-up randomly and carry an constantly changing selection of gun barrels, connectors, and cap modifiers. After purchasing these items, you can make use of them by accessing the nearby crafting stations where you’re free to engage your inner Victor Frankenstein. Crafting guns are both fun and easy. While you can attach a gun barrel and call it a day, where’s the fun in running around with just a chain gun and flamethrower in either hand?

Connectors, which come in different shapes and sizes, expand your horizons by offering up multiple slots to attach additional barrels or more connectors. Instead of being limited to one chaingun barrel, now you’ve got two, three, or four! Or mix it up a little with a three-way connector that attaches a shotgun, rocket launcher, and a laser beam! One of my favorite guns had a giant rocket barrel and a tri-barrel chain gun with an L-shaped connector causing a shotgun barrel to stick out awkwardly to the side. Mothergunship lets you create some seriously dumb, ridiculous, and impractical weaponry with all the permutations of barrels and connectors to be found inside ships and given as mission rewards. I wish, though, that there was a Dark Cloud 2-style system that lets you “save” gun configurations in the event you create something fun and destructive. It might also be cool to post your builds to the community and see what other people have made.

Building guns is a really fun part of the game, even more so as you strive to make the biggest, dumbest beast of a screen-killing weapon. There are, however, systems in place to keep your guns somewhat grounded. To prevent you from being overpowered, the more barrels attached to your hand, the more energy it consumes with each shot until it empties, forcing you to wait a moment for it to automatically recharge. There are power-ups, both hidden and dropped, that can instantly recharge energy and even health. They don’t appear often so it’s best to properly manage your rate of fire when dropped in a room that’s littered with enemies. One other item you can attach to a weapon is called a cap, a utility-like device that adds special modifiers to your weapon, such as increasing damage, reducing pushback, and even affect energy consumption - they’re basically the tasty cherry atop a second amendment sundae. It’s fun to build wonderfully impractical weapons but you’re going to have to pay attention to any downsides your ten foot long rocket launcher/spike ball launcher/flamethrower/shotgun might have in combat. Higher DPS is great but what good does it do you if a single shot is enough to completely drain the energy and having to wait for a recharge can mean the difference between life and death.

This is because Mothergunship has a tendency to throw you to the wolves. Setting aside the common difficulties typically associated with rogue-likes, the randomly generated rooms that make up the Archivist battleships feature both stationary and moving targets. Like any good shmup, bullets and laser beams come at you from every direction and in intricate, imposing patterns. Making them even more difficult to manage are rooms that have pit traps, environmental hazards, or higher floors that can only be reached by jump pads. There’s an unspoken rule of staying on the move and maintain good situational awareness - sometimes easier said than done! Mothergunship is a fast-paced game where your character’s movement speed and triple-jump ability makes it easy to jet across rooms to avoid enemy fire. To compensate this, later levels will throw a lot tougher enemies with equally twitchy trigger fingers. When you die, you lose everything on your person except for experience points. Any barrels, caps, and components that you brought with you or purchased from shops are gone forever (and that sucks as much, if not more than it sounds). You get to keep experience points, which can be fed into your armor in exchange for more health, increased jumps, and faster movement speed. What makes death suck even more is that there’s no going back to replay a level to find that awesome cap or barrel because the level randomizes everything, from enemy placement to item drops, each time you replay. Some levels, like the main story missions, offer some consistency in design but there’s always a fear that you’ll miss out on some really nifty gear if you don’t stay alive.

Randomization is what makes Mothergunship feel like a new experience each time you play. The makeup of each ship changes with each restart, shuffling the rooms connected by short hallways that feature a scoreboard that tracks the number of bullets fired, enemies, killed, and jumps taken to name a few. Even the location of shops changes with every playthrough, which makes for a nerve-wracking experience as you desperately try to survive with low health long enough to find one that has health items to purchase (and sometimes they don’t!). Maps also contain special rooms that pit you against high-end challenges that reward skillful play and even dice roll rooms that add special features, like adding fire pits and multiplying items dropped by defeated enemies. There is no “right” way to explore the Archivist ships. There are no maps and no wrong way to go. Several rooms offer multiple exists that will take you to different parts of the ship and no matter where you go, you’ll always end up at the starship’s self-destruct console or end boss (which really play up the game’s shmup origins).

As a fast action-oriented shooter, Mothergunship pulls itself in the right direction with great controls and legitimately cool game mechanics. The gun crafting system is awesome and really opens the door for designing some wonderfully bizarre weapons. It’s a solid platform to build the rest of the game on, given that almost everything you do is done in service to finding more parts to make more guns. The game isn’t perfect, though, and the problems I experienced had a tendency to really put a damper on fun and gameplay progress. The difficulty, which cannot be adjusted, can be wildly all over the place. Before you enter a room, a screen indicating its threat level doesn’t quite adequately prepare you for some of the crazier rooms you’ll encounter. Ironically, the guns created can also play a role in your demise. As much fun as it is to build a rocket launcher and spike ball gun that also shoots laser bolts and lightning, you should be mindful to craft guns that can deal both long and short range damage. Otherwise, you’ll get creamed by enemies you can’t really prepare for. I had one run completely ruined because I replaced my perfectly effective gun with something else dumb and silly, and ended up losing everything.

Another problem I had was trying to manage the game’s load times. They’re... not so good. They take up a significant portion of time each time you start the game, reach the hub world, load into a mission, or wait for a room to open up (which drops the frame rate to a crawling stutter). For a game that’s about playing fast and keeping on your toes, it’s easy to lose momentum built up from previous engagements. Room loading is the worst, though. When the loading stops and the frame rate goes back to normal, the force field disappears and you have to wait even longer for the doorstop to open up. Rather than procedurally generate an entire ship before the player even enters the level, it feels like the game builds it one room at a time. Loading can also have a negative effect on gameplay, too. I noticed several instances when everything skids to a brief halt so enemies could warp in and most of the time, things would start back up after I’ve taken a couple hits. I’m not a game developer and I can’t even begin to understand the intricacies of coding and whatnot, but there has to be a better way to play this game without these loading issues. Perhaps this will be addressed in a future patch but right now, it's a superior buzz kill.

Mothergunship is a cool FPS rogue-like shooter with a cool mechanic that’s hurt by technical hiccups. There's enough to like, though; gun crafting is fun and creative, the writing has a good sense of humor, and some of the boss fights are both pretty neat and intense. Building guns will soon be better with friends when a free update launches in August that will let you play with someone else in co-op mode. Though it’s played from the first person perspective, the game does a really good job of giving off that shmup feel with its over the top bullet patterns that look even scarier from your point of view than from a top down perspective. I hope a fix comes out that speeds up the time in between combat zones because it feels weird standing around, forcing yourself not to move the camera and risk watching a sci-fi spaceship slideshow while waiting for the game to let you play.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.