In MOTHERGUNSHIP you play as a recruit (quite literally, you’re called Recruit) and you’re presumably one of many, fighting against an onslaught of robotic aliens. You’re on a bullet-hell romp through every alien ship you come across to save Earth while shooting everything that moves within their randomly generated walls. Be prepared to take on hordes of enemies and rooms full of fire and bosses, all whilst dodging an incomprehensible number of bullets coming your way.
Thankfully to get rid of all those ungrateful robots, you have access to a mind-boggling huge arsenal made up of modular components. Think of it like LEGO, but with bullets, but also somehow with less pain than stepping on a piece while barefoot. To make these weapons you’ll need three things: a selection of components comprised of connectors, barrels, and caps. These will let you join, fire and modify your weapons. On top of this, you’ll also need a workbench to build your weapons, as letting a recruit build their weapons in the field probably violates several hundred health and safety guidelines. In a remarkably sporting move, the robotic aliens you’re fighting have made the oh so charitable decision to scatter shops and workbenches throughout each of their ships so that you always have a place to build and upgrade. How thoughtful.
It’s easy to get lost in the number of guns you can build, as without much of a thought you can forget about the encroaching alien armada and instead tinker away on your home base with all the possible weapons that you could build. There’s no doubt that it’s both literally and figuratively a blast to see what you can make and its powers of destruction, so it’s a shame that once you’re outside the comforts of your home base, the same blast is more of a weak fizzle as the same heights of destructive weaponry becomes unattainable.
Whilst the aliens play fair in giving you places to upgrade your weapons, they know not to let you have any real fun, since this is a war after all. The disappointment starts to set in when you enter each ship, as you’re only able to take a few weapon parts with you at a time to stop from yourself losing them all when you die. This sadly stops any real creativity in weapon design, as when starting out there’ll rarely be enough slots to choose a component or two from each category. Thankfully there are still shops to upgrade your weapons at, but they are often too few and far between to actually be able to make something magical rather than just an upgrade of what you came in with.
Once your gun is made you can head out into the ship proper, jumping and strafing around the ship’s huge industrial interior as you try and dodge all the incoming bullets and gun down any enemy fodder that comes your way. Thankfully, you wont just be shooting the same few enemies over and over as there’s a huge variety to come up against, each of which can level and upgrade to keep being a fresh opponent. This makes every encounter feel unique and interesting as it’s unlikely you’ll see the same predetermined randomly generated room twice. However, the random generation can often leave you up against enemies your weapons are not suited for. I lost count of the number of times that the weapon I had created didn’t fit the rooms situation, leaving me hopelessly firing huge slow-moving projectiles against floaty airborne enemies which seemed to have incredible dodging capabilities. As more of these rooms reared their ugly heads, I found myself being pushed to use less interesting and far more generic weapon combinations just to simply get through the level which took out much of the fun that a customisable weapon system promised.
Much like with Grip Digital and Terrible Posture Games’ previous game, Tower of Guns, there’s a huge amount of projectiles and bullets, from the huge number of enemies, coming your way that all have your name on them. Its only a matter of time after you enter a room before bullets are flying every which way and its up to you to dodge every single one of them simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, this can quickly become a problem. Whilst each room is technically a huge expansive place to jump around in, the reality is that if you are jumping around the centre of a room looking one way, there’s a whole lot more room that you’re not looking at that’s firing right at you. Because of this fighting the alien menace is best fought whilst crammed up against a wall until the numbers dissipate and you can safely strafe around the last remaining few. That’s not to say it’s all bad though. Some rooms are created just right for a bombastic shooting and strafing adventure where you can fly through the air unloading a full clip before turning back around and doing it again. It’s just a shame that these rooms are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to alien combat.
Strafing around a room and picking the right moment to attack can still be made a thrilling experience with the right soundtrack to accompany you into battle. DOOM’s soundtrack did wonders to the game to make you feel like a badass in every single fight, and MOTHERGUNSHIP seems to be reading from the same hymn sheet with its own pounding metal soundtrack. Unlike DOOM however the soundtrack is not allowed to shine, instead the gunplay takes focus, as the sound of you and the aliens firing becomes the dominant sound in the room, drowning out anything else. Whilst this does make many off the weapons feel powerful and punchy, it leaves the soundscape with no clarity, instead it being a mess of never-ending gunfire.
Whilst the audio design is a mess of conflicting elements, the aesthetic of the ships is a brilliant consistent whole which threatens you with an unnerving feeling that you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be. A room in an alien ship should no doubt feel alien and MOTHERGUNSHIP‘s expansive combat arenas no doubt feels that way even whilst containing jump pads and geometry that only serves the player. So many games choose to, highlight the player and their abilities in combat, rather than highlight the design of the ships and alien’s themselves, these games focus around designing arenas to cater to the combat abilities as to create a flowing game play experience before then thinking about the aesthetic. For MOTHERGUNSHIP that wasn’t good enough as you are in an alien ship after all! Because of this there’s a real sense that the rooms were not designed for you, but instead someone far bigger than you and with mechanical levels of precision. Because of this it’s remarkably easy to get caught on the smallest of ledges or dips in the floor which will leave your momentum shattered and you a sitting duck as you question what made you stop.
When you get stuck in the floor and the bullets start flying all around you, you may be tempted to look around at your surroundings since there’s little else you’ll be able to do before being turned into a bloody paste. At first, the cell shaded Borderlands-esque industrial glossy design feels both familiar and alien, using materials that we know but on a scale far larger than yourself. Over time, however, the charm of this alien environment wears thin. Without any bold and bombastic colours to stick out in the design of each room or your guns, the colours can only start to repeat themselves and blend together into one orange and grey mess.
Whilst MOTHERGUNSHIP certainly has a smattering of problems which dampen the enjoyment of the game, none of them individually ruin the experience. In isolation even, many of the game’s elements are great and bring the game to life in the moments when they can be highlighted. The problem however is when all the parts come to make the whole. Whilst many of the design elements that make up MOTHERGUNSHIP are great amazing on paper, when together they clash and bring out the worst in each other when put together. The gun building for instance should be the defining highlight of the game, and whilst it is at times, they are few and far between the rest of the time where it aggravatingly leaves you unequipped for a situation.
Although MOTHERGUNSHIP is joy to start, and has some amazing moments in it, the charm slowly falls away into a well of mediocrity which leaves the experience feeling unfulfilling when compared to how fresh the game first felt to play. If you liked Tower of Guns or have a real desire to build your own custom weapons, then this might be the game for you. Just don’t come into it expecting the next big roguelike to sink hundreds of hours into.