It’s been a while since a few of us got together for a group impressions piece. The last one we did for Bloodline Champions was, in all honesty, a bastard to organise. The ‘A Weekend With’ feature should have been called ‘A Painful Exercise In Arranging A Group Across Multiple Disparate Time Zones’, but that didn’t quite have the same ring to it. This time however, things have been a lot simpler, mainly because Matthew ‘Steerpike’ Sakey and Max ‘xtal’ Boone are a lot simpler, but also because they both share the same time zone (Center of Universe Time, I’m told).
With the help of our not-so-trusty AI gunner (who Max affectionately named ‘Chesty Larue’), the three of us were intent on conquering the skies in Muse Games’ aeronautical multiplayer shooter Guns of Icarus Online. However, our intent was one thing, the reality was quite another…
Gregg: Okay, so we had difficulties with the Guns of Icarus Online beta because it just so happened that we arranged our get together when some horrendous lag had been introduced by a patch.
Steerpike: Add beta problems to coordinating a game across five time zones and you have madness!
Gregg: Absolutely. The lag wasn’t too bad to start off with but eventually we hit a lagstorm and I’ll not deny it was quite surreal, what with us all jolting and teleporting all over the place.
Max: The lag was a real downer, the beta really didn’t have a chance to shine, at least not during our session.
Steerpike: Which was a pity because in general I felt like the game could shine. They have a few tech issues to work out, to be sure.
Gregg: Since then it has been fixed, thankfully. The last time I looked, the game was at version 0.17 and is due for release in the next couple of days (Ed – it’s out now) so I’m guessing that number is indicative of how much Muse Games intend on growing the franchise. I heard there’s an adventure mode planned as well, similar to that of the original Guns of Icarus (which I reviewed last year).
Max: Hopefully it will come out of the gate strong; there’s such spatial awareness in a game where you’re floating through the air that even the slightest latency problems are frustrating — especially in this game which is quite frankly very novel.
Steerpike: They captured that sort of slow airship/blimp movement very well – not just the need to coordinate with your captain and your gunners, but the chaos on board a damaged airship was very well done.
Gregg: And chaos was pretty much the modus operandi for us. I think our ship (named Guild Wars 2 in a bid to attract my brother) spent most of its time on fire.
Max: That was definitely one of the highlights, when the heat gets turned up — whether its because of enemy fire or a moonshine-guzzling captain — it really becomes frantic, which was great.
Steerpike: There was a point in the middle of our play when we joined a game in progress, and had to settle for whatever roles were available. Gregg had been our captain until that point, but the ship already had one of those. Unfortunately that captain was… not very good at his job. It really goes to show, in a game like this, how much you depend on each person knowing their job and doing it well. We’d have done better in that battle if the captain had paid attention to steering the ship, to altitude, and so on, instead of whatever the hell he spent his time doing.
Gregg: Yeah as a captain there’s a lot to take on board (no pun intended); there’s the ship’s altitude, course, speed, angle and position in relation to other ships and where exactly your guns are mounted so your gunners stand a chance of hitting their mark. Not to mention if one of your engines gets heavily damaged, for instance your left engine, you have difficulty steering right. If the balloon starts losing pressure you start going down. I loved these details. I could genuinely feel my airsh– sorry, our airship, losing its responsiveness. If you’re keen-eyed you might also notice the propellers spinning at different rates depending on your turning speed. It’s very much a case of trusting your team-mates to do their job though, and if they don’t, well, you’re screwed.
Max: To that end, I think we all agreed this may not be the most ideal game for pick-up group type matches. It really benefits the atmosphere to know your crew well.
Steerpike: Xtal as our engineer had to wear a lot of hats too — repair engines, repair guns, buff guns, buff engines, plus we’re all constantly screaming at him that some new part of the ship has caught fire. The learning curve for playing the game is relatively simple, but mastering it, and mastering each of the classes, could take a lot of practice and time. If you don’t know your crew you’re going to have problems; if you don’t know your role you’re going to have problems. I played a Gunner, probably the easiest class to start with since your primary job is to hurry around the ship, man the various guns, and shoot at foes called out by the Captain. Even there, the difference between “knowledge” and “mastery” is quite a gulf. I also see this as a game where you could really get angry at your friends because they’re not doing what you think is most important; usually because there are about nine important things happening at any given time, and you might not be seeing all of them. You see what you’re focused on. I was mostly focused on Captain Gregg’s massive rack (he played a girl. It was hot.)
Max: That was stunning.
Gregg: In first person I saw nothing. Nothing.
Max: Regarding the role of the engineer, it may be the trickiest class to master in terms of working efficiently. I think the game could really improve the feedback the player receives from repairing and buffing the various parts of the ship. There were times I was confused as to when I could slap on another coat of buff.
Steerpike: Agreed. I didn’t fully understand the visual cues.
Max: In its current state all you’re left with is a sort of analogue clock hand winding around to let you know “[X] item is available for repairs again” but it’s not entirely clear.
Gregg: I feel that generally speaking, the game does lack some good ol’ meaty feedback in certain areas. For instance, when you’re changing ammo or reloading, you can see the animations but some beefier articulating sounds as well would really hammer home that ammo is indeed being changed. Numerous times I found myself going ‘Why is my gun not firing…? Ah! It’s reloading!’ Or when you’re fixing or buffing a ship part with your spanner or hammer, there’s this somewhat faint clang with every hit (even with the sound turned up) and a bar/gauge that shifts only slightly. I’d like to hear a spirited clang, similar to that of the pipe wrench, and see perhaps the odd spark or something. When you’re firing at an enemy ship as well there are these little cross-type-things that appear when you hit it but at first it’s hard to tell that these are visual cues for ‘Bullseye!’
Steerpike: I remember, Gregg, when you used the word ‘thumpy’ to describe the combat during our time playing Guild Wars 2 (the game, not the ship). Guns of Icarus Online could benefit from more thumpiness, more use of sound as feedback, and more sense of punch to communicate some things.
Gregg: Yeah, it’s all about feedback and I do feel that there’s potential for more here. I played it again since our laggy session and I did feel the shots I was firing a lot more this time which I attribute to the lag being patched back out. Going back to what you were saying about the ‘analogue clock hand winding’ Max, I’m not sure about the RSI-inducing click-click-click-click-click to hit/buff things. I’d quite happily have a single click and hold style control scheme so you click once and hold it and the hammer or wrench or whatever keeps thwacking away happily, similar to how it was in the original Guns of Icarus.