Guns of Icarus Online
The world has moved on. Much of the land is now wilderness, not even grass growing in the barren sands. But civilisation still survives, isolated pockets of humanity clinging together. The only way trade and commerce between these communities can continue is through airships - large dirigibles that sail through the skies like ancient ships on the oceans. But these are dangerous journeys - pirate attacks are frequent. A good airship will only survive by the skill and co-operation of her crew.
Guns of Icarus Online is one of the more unusual concepts we've encountered here at Bytten (and this is from a reviewer that's previously been a sheepdog, a dolphin with a laser cannon and a pirate cactus!). In a nutshell, it's dogfighting with steampunk airships, but it's a bit more complicated than that. For a start, you have a crew - and this can include AI or human players.
Controls are a combination of keyboard and mouse. The mouse is primarily used for looking around, with the left mouse button used to make repairs when you're wandering about and fire your guns when you're at the trigger. There are generally two "modes" to gameplay - walking around the ship, and operating the guns and helm. The guns are used to shoot stuff. The helm flies the ship. Obviously you can't really be in two places at once, which is where your crew comes in. Your AI or human companions can man the guns or make repairs, letting you steer the ship - though the AI will happily let you take over the guns if you so wish.
These screenshots are too small to really do Icarus justice. The 3D world you'll be flying through is highly detailed. I was particularly impressed with the smoke effects - you can very easily become lost in the smoke, making it both a navigational hazard and a useful form of cover from enemy attack. Expect more smoke when your guns get particularly vocal! Even the player characters are detailed and customisable, and the steampunk sailing ship motif is very well realised. I had to turn down the graphical quality somewhat on my now several years old PC as it couldn't cope with the gameplay - and the default settings are not the highest. If you've got the hardware, this could be a very beautiful game.
Sound effects and music are similarly high quality. There are plenty of bangs and booms amongst the former, though I particularly liked the clonk of your mallet as you "repair" damage (one of those situations where hitting something with a hammer apparently DOES make it work). Music is sweeping and quite mournful, and the volume of both music and sound effects can be individually adjusted in the options menu. I'm not entirely sure how the music works - it plays on the menu screens and during my sandbox games, but there was no music while I was spectating other matches.
As the title suggests, Guns of Icarus Online is, well, online. If your internet connection is down, you ain't gonna be playing. There are three game modes - do you want a quick skirmish, a full match or just a bit of practice? The first two are multiplayer events - you'll need at least one other human being to captain another ship, though crew positions can be filled by AI players if humans aren't available. Ships are divided between two teams, red and blue, and teams score points by taking out enemy ships. Practice mode is a sandbox level in which it's just you and a bunch of target balloons - but watch out, as they fire back!
While my sandbox games went on for some time, as I gently drifted through the skies and felt the virtual breeze on my face, I've spectated a few matches between experienced players - and they are fast and brutal. Airships can pull off some remarkably swift maneouvres, and a fully crewed ship can tear enemies to shreds in under a minute. Your best bet if you want to play a match is to find a player at your experience level, or your game will be short. There's a range of ships available to fly and you can take on the role of a gunner, engineer or pilot - this doesn't stop you manning any position, but each profession has its own equipment. There's also a ton of achievements to unlock through continued play, some of which are even possible in practice mode. There is a store that allows you to buy new items - however, none of these items are required and none of them seem to do anything beyond change the look of your characters.
This is a highly professional game and has clearly been the subject of a lot of work, but it's pretty brutal for new players. There's a lack of any single player mode beyond the practice sandbox, so your first encounter with another airship will be one operated by another human, and as there's no easy way to identify the skill of the other player you're likely to get creamed on a regular basis if you pick fights with strangers. There's no real loss if you fall in battle - you don't "own" these airships or need to maintain them. You just pick one and away you go. Spectating matches is quite interesting, or would be if the camera started anywhere near the action. You can move the camera view, but it defaults to a slooooow crawl. You can speed it up, but I had to consult the options to find out how, and a bizarre bug seems to reset your camera to that distant starting point when you enter the menu.
But even at the sandbox level, it's tough on the inexperienced. Crew move around the ship, which allows them to switch to more appropriate guns or repair the various systems when they are damaged, but that also means you need to get the hang of walking (this took longer than I expected). As airships seem to ignore all health and safety advice and have no railings to keep you on the inside, it is very easy to fall off the ship and plunge to the ground - though, thankfully, this is not fatal (!) and merely transports you back to the main cabin. Helpful tutorial text lists controls to use the various guns and the helm (and can be switched off), but it's a case of trial and error to find out how everything works. I don't really mind that, but definitely take advantage of the practice mode until you learn to fly!
Guns of Icarus Online is an unusual and impressive game, oozing quality from every seam, though as it seems to be pretty much entirely PvP it isn't the game for me. If you're looking for something a little different from your standard combat shooters, this certaily qualifies! Ready the cannons, drop the ballast and set a course for the wilderness...
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