What do you get if you take the high-octane gameplay of Doom, the futuristic ambience of Halo, the humorous writing of Comic Jumper and Portal 2, and the voice acting of Captain Quark from Ratchet and Clank?
While this may sound like the best bits of your back catalogue, rolled into one quirky-sounding game, what you’re left with is less than the sum of its parts.
Mothergunship is a first-person roguelike bullet-hell with modular gun crafting at the heart of its gameplay. It’s also a game that tries very hard to be too many things at once, winding up frustrating at the best of times and infuriating at worst. I like fruitcake and peanut butter but ideally separate — a good meal is more than just your favourite things slapped together.
Presumably drawing artistic inspiration from the likes of the Doom remake and Halo 4, Mothergunship looks amazing. It has the polish and lustre that you would hope for a game set in space and focused on taking back Earth from the aliens that have all but dominated our planet.
It also sounds like these two games, with the frenetic metal of Doom interlaced with the ambience of Halo. Unfortunately, while these tracks are excellent in their own rights, the speed of the change between the two would be jarring if it wasn’t so obvious that it was about to happen. Doom 3 was lambasted for its willingness to spawn enemies behind you at every opportunity, so much to the point, it became a joke. With Mothergunship, you can predict when and where enemies are going to spawn — everywhere as you cross the threshold of the room.
Before we go any further, I want to stress that this game is not unplayable. If “first-person roguelike bullet-hell with modular gun crafting” sounds like your perfect night in, then you may be in for a good time. For everyone else, this may not be the game for you.
At the start of the game, you are an unnamed recruit who has just been blasted into the side of a spaceship. You have a suit of power armour and two people — a captain who sounds suspiciously like Captain Quark (and has the intelligence to match), and his subordinate officer — telling you simply that you’ll do for this mission. You must work your way towards to ship’s self-destruct button and escape. So far, so normal — It’s a trope that’s been done several times to varying degrees of success. The fun difference is that Mothergunship ups the ante by giving you triple-jump right off the bat, with the promise that you can upgrade this if you make it out alive. If you’re curious, I managed to max this out at 30 jumps, at which point it’s less jumping and more just having a DIY jetpack.
In this first mission, you get to craft your own gun. You are given some modular parts and free reign on how you put them together. If you want a rocket launcher with a chainsaw bayonet, go nuts — as long as the barrel faces forward, the world is your oyster. The dialogue explaining this feels like a weird mashup of Ratchet and Clank and Portal 2’s Cave Johnson, which certainly makes for amusing exposition. If anything, the writing is probably my favourite part of Mothergunship.
While getting to grips in this tutorial mission, death is inconsequential. You simply respawn and try again. You quickly discover that there are multiple routes through a given ship, but no matter which route you take, you will eventually end up at the exit. In practical terms, this means slogging through procedurally generated rooms of more enemies with rockets, lasers and everything in-between than anyone could deem necessary. Sadly, once you finish the mission and head back to your base, everything starts going downhill. From mission two onwards, you realise that death has very real consequences — as with most roguelikes. While there is no perma-death system, if you die on a mission, you lose the items you brought with you from your base. Since you can only bring a set number of weapon parts with you after a mission — and that’s weapon parts, not weapons — each death sets you back. This presents a question of whether to bring your best gear and pray you don’t die, because if you lose when using your best gear, you’re really going to struggle when you attempt it again, or do you ration out your best gear, and hope to slowly build up an arsenal over the long grind? Normally I would opt for the second choice here, but I can’t honestly recommend a long grind on a game this frustrating.
Weapon parts can be purchased from shops randomly scattered through each ship. Sadly, your currency (coins) is dropped fairly rarely by enemies and can be spent on either refilling your health (potentially allowing you to escape the ship) or buying new parts (potentially allowing you to escape the ship). Health, somehow, is more expensive than most gun parts, and can only be bought in small increments. This leads to gameplay which swings between being simply win-more — when you have a railgun in one hand and machine gun attached to a spike-ball launcher in the other hand, any addition to your arsenal is going to be inconsequential — and desperately scrambling for the exit faster than the hand of a metronome. Do you run for the exit and get no loot, or do you brave the storm of enemies in the hope that you are lucky enough to have the enemies randomly drop enough health pickups for you before you die?
If you fancy braving the latter, be aware that loot disappears on a timer, meaning that by the time you clear the room there will be nothing left to pick up. This is likely intended to raise tension, but it just makes for bad gameplay.
Fortunately, running out of gun parts isn’t a massive threat in Mothergunship, as there are missions you can do that prescribe and provide the items you are allowed to take on certain side-missions. Unfortunately, these missions not only level up in difficulty with the amount of story missions you’ve completed (rather than your XP, which is another loot drop that dissolves into nothing if you don’t pick it up in time), and the number of rooms you’ve completed, meaning that if you lose the majority of your health in the first two rooms, you’re in for a bad time. Also, the weapon parts are entirely random — I wound up taking a circular saw to a rocket launcher fight, and I’m sure you can imagine how well that went. Since it’s entirely possible to get through a mission only picking a handful of coins, or zero if you’re unlucky, there is a good chance that you finish a given mission with whatever you started with. Yes, you can take your spare coins to the base to buy extra weapons, but weapons there cost up to thousands of coins, whereas they are worth less than five while running through an enemy ship. The economy here makes zero sense.
The saving grace of this game is that Mothergunship does not take itself seriously. The writing is self-referential and the characters are all caricatures, with lines like “Feel free to let victory go to your head — I do!” when you win, and “Just blow up the ship! That’s always the main objective” when the game is trying hammer home how repetitive the gameplay is. However, it must be said that when a game is ribbing itself, you know you’re not onto a winner.
The final nail in the coffin for me playing Mothergunship was this tale of woe. I had noticed a strange interaction with the start button — pausing the game doesn’t stop the dialogue, so you can’t pause speech in the middle of a character’s lines. The screen pauses and you see the Start menu, but you still hear the exposition. Sadly, I didn’t realise that this also applies to checking trophies.
So imagine my horror when I’m absolutely nailing a level — multiple rooms in, a good haul of coins and not a single scratch on my armour — and I pop a trophy for killing five enemies at once. Like a fool, I slam that PS button and revel in my victory, as I begin to master the game. I hit the PS button once more to return to the game, greeted only by a screen telling me that I died, lost my best weapons, not getting any XP and that my coins will not be returning to base with my lifeless body.
There are a slew of other things I can talk about with this game, like how XP allows you to unlock permanent upgrades, but a random number of them seem to fall off after most missions and you have to re-equip them if you want to make use of your progress; or like how multiplayer will be coming to the game in August, but I don’t see anyone still playing this game then.
All told, Mothergunship is average at best. Between questionable decisions, such as XP and coins dissolving while you try not to die, and frustrating issues such as low coin-drop rates meaning that sustaining health and buying better weapons is not easy, I cannot recommend this game in good faith to the vast majority of gamers. Instead, this will likely be a very niche game that is enjoyed — not loved — by a small subset of those who enjoy bullet-hells.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
- Aesthetically, Mothergunship is a beautiful, vibrant game
- If you’re after something lighthearted and silly, the writing is likely going to be a selling point
- The voice acting and delivery is reminiscent of the likes of Ratchet and Clank and Portal, which is almost always going to be positive
- Frustrating gameplay based on questionable decisions, such as having XP dissolve on a timer
- Mothergunship tries too hard to be too many things at once, and comes off worse for it
- There is no manual save or difficulty settings, so you’re in for a challenge — if you don’t want a challenge this game is not for you