Guns of Icarus Online: Caitlin’s New Favourite Game

I have a new favourite game.

Muse GamesGuns of Icarus Online is a clever approach to the team-based first person shooter; the teams are ships, and each ship has four crewmembers. Between rounds, you can customize your classes with different skills and your ships with different guns so you’ll be best prepared for whatever the other guy fires at you. Then you pop into a game, grab a crew, and try to kick ass while staying afloat. If you enjoy competitive team-based games or feeling like you’re in a badass Steampunk world, you have to go pick it up. The gameplay is clever and infinitely renewable, the aesthetics are creative and breathtaking, and the friendly, helpful community means that the rush you get for fighting alongside your crew is unbeatable.

The round starts and your crew spawns together on the ship in the middle of nowhere. Everyone runs off to their separate tasks – the Gunners take their places at the guns, the Engineers stand by, waiting for damage that needs repairs, and the Pilot takes his place at the helm. After a little while, an enemy ship is spotted, and all hell breaks loose as the air fills with smoke, explosions, and bullets.

Because the Pilot sails the boat, he has to keep an idea of the whole battle in his head – keep in mind the goal, where your allies and enemies are, and where you need to be. The Gunner is in charge of shooting down the other guys, so his focus is just on the other side of his scope. I generally play Engineer, so my focus is just on our boat and trying to keep it in the sky.

Sure, I get yelled at more for having different priorities than the captain (I know you can’t move unless I repair the engines, but if the hull is destroyed, WE EXPLODE), but I feel pretty damn powerful when we’re the survivors of a particularly nasty dogfight thanks to my quick repairs – especially if I know we’re only held up by band-aids and shoestrings.

You will always hope for a balanced crew, but sometimes you find yourself on a crew with a class or two missing – but that’s not the end of the world. Everyone has at least one skill from each class, so if your engineer disappears, you can still repair parts or put out fires.

While you can switch the skills out between rounds, the classes are otherwise static. However, by completing weapon-, map-, or vessel-specific goals, you can level up each class. Win 10 matches on a Goldfish-class boat, repair 20 parts as a gunner, buff 15 balloons with the engineer’s special hammer, destroy 50 parts with explosive rounds, win 8 matches on the “Dunes” map; basically, as long as you’re playing, you’re working towards levelling up. Right now it doesn’t do anything, but when the next patch comes out each level upgrade will unlock (purely cosmetic) costumes.

Regardless of class choice, though, any player can be the “Captain,” meaning that they will be using their own ship. Between rounds, you can look at each of the 5 different types of ship and customize which guns are used where – this way you can adapt any number of strategies to your purposes.

While the core mechanic is relatively straightforward (steampunk airship battles!), the amount of customization is staggering, making it supremely complex and ever-changing. You get some ships customized for ramming, some for sniping on the sidelines, and some for flamethrower-based-drive-bys. As long as you can play more people, you can see new approaches and techniques that will affect your own play style. I mean, it’s no chess, but I think it can rival any other strategy game for complexity.

 

Even if the gameplay sucked (which it doesn’t), I’d be happy just pulling up the game and spectating for a while. The Steampunk theme pervades the entire game, from the freaking battle airships to the leather/corset/goggle combos in the costumes and even to the skills themselves. For example, a Pilot can take the the “Moonshine” skill, which damages the engines in exchange for a pretty ridiculous speed boost (dammit, Captain, you’re a loose cannon!). Even the way a spyglass warps the scene just right makes it feel old-school.

There is also a plot to Guns of Icarus, but all it does (for now) is explain some of the things you’ll see in the background of your aerial battles. For example, you fight for king-of-the-hill inside the crashed behemoth above so you can scavenge its tech. Otherwise, the huge, empty expanses are interrupted by crashed behemoths or jutting mountains simply serve to give you cover and obstacles around which you must navigate. The time of day varies between maps, so you get lovely sunsets and blazing days, but sometimes you can’t even tell due to the thick clouds or sandstorms.
It is truly a gorgeous game – trying to pick which screenshots to go in this post was tough, because I have so many that are so pretty and interesting. In the end, I picked screenshots in order to show you the huge aesthetic breadth covered by the different ships, locations, and even times of day – and even so, this is just a taste.

 

This game is still being updated pretty much constantly – when I first started writing this review, the game still felt very ‘beta’ with a ton of bugs, ranging from amusing glitches to game-breaking errors. Now, all of those bugs have been fixed, and the feature requests I would have mentioned are coming out in the next patch. It’s still not perfect – sometimes, when your ship explodes, the killcam shows one of your teammates floating where your ship used to be. However, since I started playing, the game has stopped feeling like a beta: I await each patch report with anticipation because a patch means maybe a bugfix here or there, but more often, it’s some cool new map, weapon, or other feature.

Now don’t get me wrong. This game isn’t revolutionizing the way we look at games, and it’s not redefining a genre. It’s a steampunk team-based FPS with a really clever twist. That being said, within half an hour of playing it became one of my favourite games. It relies on teamwork and communication – I’ve never encountered this much friendly cooperation in any other multiplayer game. Everyone on the boat has a role to play and people relying on them to succeed. If someone is doing poorly, it’s in your best interest to help them, rather than whining or calling names. That is why the online community here is one of the friendliest I’ve ever seen (with exceptions, of course – there will always be that guy).

Guns of Icarus Online is a great game – it takes strategy and teamwork, sticks them onto boats in a Steampunk wasteland, and makes them shoot at each other. The teammates are friendly and functional, the Steampunk surroundings are creative and gorgeous, and it’s a good challenge and an even better experience.