Depending on how far you’re willing to stretch the analogy, the gaming industry is strikingly similar to the Wild West: It’s full of drunks, body odor, and a noticeable lack of manners. All jokes aside, the cowboy era is prime material for making great games, and while it’s true that arcade shooters are flooding the VR market, a decent western addition could still stand out and do well for itself. MIROWIN’s Guns ‘n’ Stories: Bulletproof somewhat scratches this itch, but requires a lot more work before it gets to ride off into the sunset.
Guns ‘n’ Stories was released in Early Access and so far consists of the first episode; a series of three levels and an introduction to your run-of-the-mill, spaghetti western plot. Namely, some big boss and his band of cow hustlers stomped into town, drank all the booze, and kidnapped all the working ladies, and it’s your job to get them back. The narrative is provided in a very Princess Bride-esque fashion, with a nasally kid asking his drunk grandfather to relive those trying times, and it all comes together in a fairly predictable fashion. But while the storyline might not have a saving grace in terms of creativity, some of the dialogue is actually pretty funny*, and not so intrusive as to ruin the whole experience.
While the developers chose to label Guns ‘n’ Stories with “Action, Adventure, and Simulation,” this game is clearly another fixed-position arcade shooter. You’re planted square in the middle of a street or canyon, and baddies come in waves to take you out. Just enough cover is provided to facilitate ducking and dodging, but beyond that the only thing to do is shoot. This isn’t to say that I want to do anything else, but that places an immense amount of pressure on the actual combat, since there’s really nothing else for the game to fall back on.
Luckily, MIROWIN seems to know their way around your standard gun-play mechanics, and the whole operation feels downright natural. The controls are simple and easy to master, and the tracking is flawless. While it naturally starts out easy, Guns ‘n’ Stories is not afraid of swamping you with a crowd of ranged and melee enemies, and I found myself getting into a panicked frenzy more than once. With that being said, I ran through (and that’s no joke, it took only 30 minutes to beat Episode 1) the game without dying once. I don’t think I’m that good, but rather the game seems reluctant to let me die.
One of the main issues arcade shooters tend to wear like a scarlet letter is repeition. Guns ‘n’ Stories does a decent enough job with enemy and attack variations to combat this, at least for the first episode. In addition, the variety of totally-not-canon weapons (think Billy the Kid with an underslung RPG) added enough variety to keep things interesting. The only question is how they’ll maintain that momentum in future installments.
Guns ‘n’ Stories is also extremely pretty in its own cartoon style. There’s a goofy edge to the characters and environment, and the color palette does the Western theme justice. The voice acting is slightly above average, and I give props to the writers for integrating fourth wall breaks to explain things like weapon changes and reloads, but the narration beyond that isn’t taking home any prizes. In addition, the actual gameplay sounds will certainly get old as more episodes are released, so I strongly caution recording several different types of bullet ricochet sounds.
In all, Guns ‘n’ Stories is a solid arcade shooter with a Western accent, but so far that isn’t saying much. The first episode is short enough to be considered a demo, and it’s hard to tell how MIROWIN is going to keep things interesting as they develop more content. What they have right now is good, parts of it are even great, but it’s simply not enough, and they need to be wary of backing themselves into any creative corners with how limited the gameplay already is.
*On a side note, the brothel in the first episode is called “Mom’s Shelter”. Sadly there isn’t enough time to touch on that Oedipal can of penises…sorry, I meant worms.*