While not ostensibly marketed as one, Mothergunship is the latest attempt at creating a first person roguelike, something that many other games have failed at.
In the last few years we’ve had Strafe, City of Brass, Immortal Redneck and even more come to mind. While all of them have had various levels of success and critical reception, they’ve all lacked important elements that make this genre so enjoyable in other formats.
The developers of this game have themselves attempted the feat before with their previous title Tower of Guns, and their second attempt is far better, but still lacking.
Mothergunship has a surprisingly fleshed-out story which is a bit more complex than the usual roguelike.
It’s sometime in the future and Earth has been occupied by the titular alien base and its fleet of invaders. You’re part of the resistance sent on missions to destroy smaller ships to find information and resources, hoping to eventually win the day.
The voice acting here is okay, but the writing really lets the characters down. It’s a bit grating and you’ll find yourself skipping it mostly. In the end it’s not important and ends up as very little window dressing for the shooting.
The visual gags, on the other hand, got a few genuine laughs from us. Certain missions will trigger changes in your starting area that stick around between missions, and these were always welcome.
As you’ll see in the first 10 minutes we recorded above: you’re woken up and given a mech. While you’ll start with two metal fists, you’re soon able to attach a variety of guns to both arms using a modular weapon crafting system.
This is Mothergunship’s heart and soul, and the main point of differentiation when it comes to other roguelikes and first person shooters.
With the exceptions that multiple guns cannot occupy the same space, and their barrels must always face forward, you can build whatever you want if you have enough pieces.
Want to akimbo wield five gatling guns on each arm? Go ahead. What about multiple cannons that launch a dozen spikeballs which then activate lava mines? Or, our favourite, the overpowered “barrel barrel” that shoots a rocket bigger than most enemies. It’s slow, but you can add caps – modifiers that apply to the entire gun build – that can make it faster.
While that all sounds great, the key part we mentioned is that you need to have all the pieces. The game wouldn’t be much of a challenge if you could clear every room with a single mouse press.
The first limitation is energy. Every gun runs off of a single pool of energy, with each barrel and cap you add increasing the amount of energy that will be consumed each time you pull the trigger. You could make something monstrous, but you’ll run dry after firing it once, then you’ll need to wait around defenceless as it recharges.
While this feels like a natural check and balance to the system, you’re given very few opportunities to push up against the limit. In the trailers you’ll see some crazy weaponry on display, but building those WMDs is a seldom occurrence, and not the best strategy for winning.
Every mission has a limited inventory to reduce your firepower at the start. As you defeat enemies they will drop money you can exchange in stores for more gun parts so your arsenal grows as the game progresses.
Unfortunately, as this is a roguelike, this is all random. Sometimes there will be too many shops and not enough money to get anything exciting. Sometimes you’ll have all the money you could want, but only a store or two with nothing interesting in them.
But, even when the stars align and there’s a good mix of money and shops, you’ll find that attaching dozens of weapons to each arm isn’t the best way to go. That’s because weapons and caps come in rarities, with the better options costing more money.
When you walk into a shop you could buy two lesser machine guns for a few coins, but the upgraded version for four times the price is, it seems, the objectively better way to go.
Sometimes buying guns isn’t even the best route as you’ll want expensive caps instead.
All of this leads to you doing less gun crafting and more optimising as you hunt for the higher tier components. It feels like this game gives you a really cool system to work with, but parts of the gameplay actively work against getting too crazy.
As you advance in the game you are given more starting slots and you amass a good arsenal of weaponry, but it feels like you’re held back most of the time.
The problem with Mothergunship’s unique weapon system continues on the other end of the barrel too, as the enemies you face off against aren’t that interesting.
Like Tower of Guns, many of the enemy robots you’ll be fighting are stationary turrets that you just need flank and destroy.
The moving mobs are a bit more interesting to fight, requiring some good old circle strafing and kiting, but they make your weaponry feel light and boring.
The guns in this game are exceptionally well animated with lots of moving parts and sound effects, but when they impact enemies they lose all sense of power. All you get in response are those aggressive robots flashing to indicate damage, and sometimes a tiny bit of knock back if it’s a small robot that isn’t anchored to the ground.
Thankfully there are some elements to make up for this: moving is fast and fluid, the upgrades for your mech are boring (more HP, more energy, less damage, etc.) but they do drive you to play more, and the art style is great, especially in the finer mechanical details and the environments.
When you put this all together Mothergunship is a fun game that we do recommend, especially for roguelike fans, there’s just some design decisions that keep it from being exceptional.
The developers have promised updates and more content in the future, with online co-op planned for August. There’s every chance that our complaints could be fixed by then, but we have to review what everyone will be getting at launch.