Gatling Gears – XBLA Review

Gaming

Game Name: Gatling Gears
Platform(s): Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network
Publisher(s): EA
Developer(s): Vanguard Entertainment
Genre(s): Twin-Stick Shooter
Release Date: May 11, 2011 (XBLA) PSN Date TBA
Price: 1200 MS Points ($14.99)
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Gatling Gears is now officially out on the XBLA (and coming soon to the PSN) and has set out to breathe some fresh life into the somewhat niche genre that has flooded the indie scene for quite some time. We could have seen the standard fare with Gatling Gears and I honestly thought I was in for the usual experience that twin-stick shooters typically bring, but Vanguard have molded Gatling Gears into something quite more with an interesting world to explore as well as a well balanced and highly addictive experience. Here is my review for Gatling Gears for the Xbox Live Arcade.

Story
There is a bit of a story in Gatling Gears, but it really isn’t too noticeable. Players take the role of a pilot by the name of Max who has abandoned an evil empire in the world of Mistbound (Which some of you may be familiar with from Greed Corps, a slightly similar title created by the same studio). Soon after, Max has a new mission to take down the Empire and the corrupt forces behind it before they drain the world of it’s resources. The main story plays out with bits of dialogue as well as a few loading screens which set the scene for the next level.

While the cast for Gatling Gears isn’t too well defined, the world is bursting with character around every corner with a steampunk/industrial revolution setting that is very well visually detailed and even more enjoyable to actually see as you guide Max’s mech throughout each area. I probably could have invested in the overall narrative a bit more as it did it’s job fine for this title, but Gatling Gears is all about the action and the plot is just a mild incentive to trek along on this wild ride.

Gameplay
The heart and soul of Gatling Gears is how the game actually plays. Like most twin-stick shooters for the Xbox 360, the left stick moves your character and the right stick auto-fires your trusty gatling gun, with a few of the face and shoulder buttons assigned for special attacks and weaponry in your mech’s arsenal. Max’s standard gatling gun works well and is fluent, but due to the short range of the weapon, you are given a cannon which shoots missiles as well as grenades to provide more of a balance the the loadout. The grenades are used by holding down the left trigger and quickly firing at any self-targeted enemy on the screen while missiles play out a bit more standard as they shoot in just one direction but with a much further range and stronger attack power than the gatling gun. Both of these methods of destruction are limited in a small way though, with a few seconds needed to reload each. Thankfully though ammo is infinite and this brief cool-down period adds a small layer of strategy and timing to take down the much larger foes in the game.

The whole game sits on a top-down camera angle, allowing for a full view of the screen to be seen at all times and is usually pretty effective at giving the player the full scope of what is present on the screen. The only issue I really had with the camera was that at certain points I would just barely miss a power-up or item and the camera’s view would pull away while moving forward. It wasn’t a big deal as nothing is truly mandatory to collect, but it is a tiny bit frustrating to see an item just out of reach if you missed it while traveling onward.

Gatling Gears consists of six chapters, broken up into five areas a piece. As Max moves along, swarms of enemies are ready to destroy him around every corner so the action never really dies down. There is a huge variety of foes as well, with foot soldiers boasting all sorts of weaponry from standard guns to flamethrowers, turrets, large and small tanks, and other mechs equipped with a similar arsenal to your own. This is where things get chaotic though, as enemies come from the air, sea, and land (and usually all at once), with weapons on full blast. It is your job to learn the pattern of the fire, dodge it, and quickly take out every enemy on the screen before they destroy your little mech. At times, enemies firing projectiles can get so intense that the whole screen is filled with bullets and chaos, but after a while learning to fit in-between the openings of fire to get off proper shots becomes second nature and is pretty fulfilling. Power ups can be found scattered throughout the stage as well, enhancing a certain weapon greatly for a short period to better fight off a swarm of enemies. These are all well placed and always seemed to make an appearance when they were most needed, allowing for full utilization.

The first four areas of each chapter all lead to one big boss battle to finish with at the 5th and final area, which usually consists of a huge mech with three life bars to deplete. One thing I loved about boss battles was how varied they truly are as once you deplete the first bar, your strategy must be altered due to the boss changing up his technique, quickly becoming more of a challenge as you go on. This adds a nice unpredictable feel to each battle and lets each chapter end on a rewarding high note of pure accomplishment.

Gatling Gears is a bit repetitive as the gameplay usually stays the same, but to help with that feeling comes an XP system and the ability to upgrade your mech over time. Every time you destroy an enemy, the trademark gears are dropped onto the ground which need to be quickly acquired. As you collect large amounts, your score rises and a multiplier begins to take off, rewarding even more points for the number of gears collected. Once an area is complete, XP is given out based on your performance and score which is then used to upgrade Max’s mech with new skins and add-ons. Another useful upgrading system comes with the gold Max collects. Each area has a set number of gold bars placed throughout, which can be used as currency at shops found in the game where you can fully upgrade your arsenal over time. A pet is also rewarded after so much experience at several points, but honestly all pets really do is run around and tag along on your journey. I even had a swarm of birds that I unlocked that I quickly was mistaking for airborne enemies, so while it is a clever idea for a companion in the game, this addition just felt a bit unnecessary overall.

Level design is yet another ingredient that makes Gatling Gears work so well. Each area has you move throughout several points, stopping to take out huge swarms of mechs and other foes. Levels are varied for the most part and while we do see many of the same type of enemy often, the sheer quantity and positioning of these foes make for a more varied strategy to be applied. With each stage being action-driven until the very last bullet is fired, it is hard to leave the whole experience with a feeling of boredom.

A multiplayer mode is available, which allows you to carry over your mech straight into Xbox Live for co-op or local play. Adding to this, a survival mode which also utilizes multiplayer sets different objectives to perform with an extra level of challenge added in. Gatling Gears is already a long game as it stands with a campaign clocking in at about 5 hours, but this certainly helps add even more replay value into the title and will keep the hardcore that are looking for a challenge coming back for more.

Graphics/Audio
Each chapter in Gatling Gears provides a somewhat different experience due to the changing scenery. From bright green forests, snow covered landscapes, and lively factories, there are quite a few sights to see and each feature high attention to detail to every tree, mech, and building that inhabit the land. In the past, I have seen many titles with the amount of action that Gatling Gears presents having a hard time staying stable with a bit of framerate problems. Thankfully, Vanguard have made the trek through this title nearly flawless and combat comes across as smooth and fluent even during the most chaotic environments. The whole “steampunk” setting fits the game remarkably well and gives Gatling Gears a bit of it’s own stylistic flare which truly sets it apart from other contenders of the genre.

Each chapter also features it’s own soundtrack, which changes as you move throughout each area. Each tune used fits perfectly with the setting presented at the given time, adding in a bit of atmosphere that keeps the combat exciting and engrossing while you do war in the many intense battles within. Small details such as rain pattering onto the soil and roaring rivers and waterfalls also give each level a more distinct feel. The sound effects never miss a beat either and each of the many explosions sound as they should and keep the destruction fun and addictive throughout.

Overall
Before I started Gatling Gears it had been quite some time since I had played a twin-stick shooter as the whole genre usually presents a very indie, low budget feel. After completing this game though, I can easily say this title may be one of the best examples of a high quality exception to that as the combat, XP system, and high presentation value work together cohesively to create one of the most finely detailed twin-stick shooters in recent memory. It may not be a flawless journey, but Vanguard have done a great job in crafting Gatling Gears into one of the most action-packed titles on the Xbox Live Arcade to date.

I Give Gatling Gears
9-0-capsules-out-of-10

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