Guns of Icarus PC, Mac Review

You know how we love Far Cry 2, and will use basically any excuse to talk about it? Well, bad news – this is one of those excuses.

There’s an amazing bit in Far Cry 2, see, where you’re on a boat, and have to defend it from enemies as it makes its way to your destination. Enemies appear on either side of the river, and you have to quickly sprint around, manning gun-turrets placed around the boat in order to take them out. If they do a certain amount of damage to the boat, it stops moving, and you have to run over to a maintenance panel to conduct repairs. While you’re still getting shot at.

It was a brilliantly tense and exciting part of the game that was begging to be fleshed out a little. And now, it turns out that the chaps at Muse Games have done pretty much exactly that. Hooray!

Guns of Icarus, then. Amazing title. Try saying it out loud. If nobody else is around, I mean. It sounds a bit like a secret code-word or a brilliant prototype weapon, but it isn’t either of those. No, it’s a video game where you take control of a man aboard a steampunk aircraft – the Icarus – fending off wave after wave of sky pirates. You do this by running around the ship (standard WASD third-person controls, here) and taking control of various gun-turrets to shoot them out of the sky. Of course, while you’re shooting them, they’re also shooting back at you, and that’s something you’ll have to deal with. A number of the ship’s main components will receive damage as the pirates blast the crap out of the Icarus, so you’ll need to run all over the ship and make sure you repair them if you want to make it to the next checkpoint alive. Damage to different components will have different effects – damaged engines will stop the Icarus from progressing through the level, for example, while damage to the cargo hold will restrict the kinds of ship upgrades you unlock at the end of the level. On the other hand, damage to the rigging or zeppelin will destroy the Icarus completely. So, watch out for that.

In single-player, you plot your way across a world map, accessing different stages as you go (with some nice bits of scene-setting text and artwork inbetween them, detailing what your character is getting up to in each port). You unlock upgrades for the ship, and can swap your turrets for different types, each with their own pros and cons. Being a total moron, I tend to stick with the standard gatling guns, but more intrepid gamers can also pick from missile launchers, cannons and tesla guns. There’s a bit of strategy involved, here – basically, you want to put your most powerful guns at the stern and bow of the ship, as it gives them the widest firing arc, and also puts you closest to the rigging and zeppelin, should they need repairs.

All in all, playing Guns of Icarus on your own is pretty exhilarating and a wonderful exercise in learning to shift your priorities every five seconds, as you frantically switch from repairs to manning the turrets to oh god the left engine is on fire to holy shit there’s an enemy zeppelin to FORGET THE ENGINE, THE RIGGING IS ABOUT TO BLOW ANY SECOND. But playing the game in multiplayer is where the fun’s really at.

The multiplayer mode probably doesn’t require much explanation – you and up to three friends on the Icarus, defending it from endless waves of pirates. So, rather than having just yourself running around the ship doing one thing at a time, you’ve got a whole team to work with. Get Skype or Ventrilo on the go, and you’ll quickly find everyone barking orders at everyone else, and throwing themselves into a delightful panic the likes of which I’ve not seen since Left 4 Dead 2. Better yet, the game shows some brief stats for each player at the end of a round, introducing a friendly competitive element.

Muse Games have made it wonderfully easy for friends to play together, too. While a downloadable version of the game is available, it runs in the Unity engine, meaning it can quite happily run in a web browser too. So, whether you’re on the paid or free version, all you need to do is start a private game, and you’re given a link for you to copy and paste to your friends. That link then opens the game in a web browser, and puts recipient straight into your game. Pretty clever stuff, although it does have some drawbacks. For one, I’ve got the Steam version of the game, but if a friend wants to invite me into their game, I’ve got to follow the link and play the free, web version. In all honestly, it makes little difference – but that just leaves you wondering what, exactly, you’ve paid for. Plus it’s not totally clear what happens when someone on the free version joins a paid-up player, and potentially tries to access content they’ve not paid for. Although we certainly didn’t run into any problems, so maybe we should SHUT UP.

Of course, in an ideal world, people would just play the free version, enjoy it, cough up a fiver and be happy that they’ve supported a developer for producing an enjoyable game, but… well, you know what people are like.

Other negatives? Sure. It does look a bit rough, although that’s understandable when you bear in mind most people are playing this in their web-browsers. I mean, everybody went mental over Google having a working version of Pac-Man on their homepage the other day – if they saw Guns of Icarus, they’d probably shit themselves inside out. The main thing that lets the game down, though, is probably the general lack of content – there are plenty of levels to choose from, but they do little to differentiate themselves from one another, and we’ve only counted three different types of enemy in the entire game. That said, this only stings as badly as it does because the core game is so excellent that it’s clearly crying out for just a bit more depth and variation to justify its price-tag.

In any case, it’ll cost you nothing to find out if you like Guns of Icarus or not. Despite its faults, it is definitely worth gathering some friends to play it with at least once, and you can figure out how you feel about it from there. Which kind of makes this review a little bit redundant. But if I’ve convinced just a few of you to check it out, I’ll certainly be able to sleep easier at night.

[Play Guns of Icarus]

7 out of 10