Greed Corp became a sleeper indie hit when it released last year. Its old school turn-based vibe and destructible landscape turned a lot of heads, but Vanguard Games mainly received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the adorable mechs and slick cartoon world in which the action took place. Vanguard clearly wanted to capitalise on this unique selling point, and the result is Gatling Gears: a twinstick shooter that puts players into the cockpit of cute, devastating walkers and gives us a more personal look at the Greed Corp universe.
We dropped by the latest EA showcase to check out the title in action, and with Vanguard designer Nick Kuppins on point to take our questions, we blasted our way through a couple of levels.
In short: it's shaping up nicely.
Throughout thirty stages split into six colourful themed levels, players will wield a deadly mech as they stroll upscreen and tackle hordes of tanks, aircraft and enemy walkers. The tried-and-tested twinstick mechanics make the action immediately accessible, and Kuppins explained that great pains were taken to ensure that the walker handles responsively without being too twitchy. Poor controls and lumbering characters can ruin a good shooter, and I was delighted to discover that the mech's movement speed provides a perfect balance between precision, speed and heft.
You'll need every little bit of manoeuvrability at your disposal, though, because the enemy onslaught comes thick and fast. While it's technically incorrect to label Gatling Gears as a "bullet hell" shooter, enemy attacks frequently fill the screen with incoming fire and require some serious reflexes and pattern recognition to withstand. Luckily the invulnerable projectiles glow a bright red, making them instantly recognisable amongst the debris and explosions. A health bar also relieves a little pressure and limited lives are reset at the end of each 10-15 minute stage.
In terms of weaponry, players will primarily rely on their default gatling gun that provides unlimited ammunition at the cost of limited damage output and range. A reloadable rocket cannon packs a more precise and devastating punch, and a small number of grenades can be independently aimed and lobbed at mass targets. In keeping with tradition, each player can trigger a screen-clearing "riot shield" smart bomb once per level if the situation demands it.
Persistent upgrades are a key draw that keep gamers plugging away at twinstick shooters. Realising this, Vanguard have implemented a variety of that can be purchased at "pirate shops" with gold bars found throughout the levels. Each weapon - and the smart bomb- can be assigned skill points to beef them up and can be carried between playthroughs or replayed stages. In a considerate twist, you can also respec your mech at any time.
Destructible landscape played a key tactical role in Greed Corp, but sadly it's been relegated to aesthetic eye candy rather than an important gameplay element in Gatling Gears. Luckily, it fulfils the new limited remit very well indeed. Bosses burst out of the ground and shatter the scenery with their attacks, and an enormous airship ploughs a huge swathe into the terrain even as you fight aboard it. There's plenty to look at beyond the incoming firepower.
Graphically, Gatling Gears looks excellent for a downloadable title. The colourful and refreshing art design is complimented by high-resolution models, detailed environments and plenty of ambient weather effects such as rain and dust clouds.
Naturally Gatling Gears will feature 'drop in' two-player couch cooperative shenanigans, but Vanguard have upped the ante by providing drop in online multiplayer as well. Other players can enter your solo campaign at any time (if you approve their request, of course) and bring their own upgraded walkers to the party. This is an exceptionally difficult piece of netcode to create - and something that even triple-A titles usually omit - so we applaud Vangard Games for going the extra mile.
Cooperative sessions play out in much the same way as the singleplayer campaign, and since the game ends if one player runs out of lives, tight communication is required to ensure that health pickups are grabbed by the right person. In a nice touch, cooperative scores are logged as a duo on the leaderboards, giving power couples a reason to stick together and battle their way up the high score tables. Beyond the storyline, "Survival Mode" throws players is essentially a horde-style brawl against increasing enemy numbers for points and the sheer fun of it.
No details on pricing are available at the time of writing, but we'll keep you posted. Gatling Gears is shaping up to be a hectic and satisfying experience, but ultimately, it will be interesting if the project will be remembered as a brave new chapter of an intruiging game universe... or just another twinstick shooter. With Vanguard hinting that the same setting might well be used for future titles, my money's currently on the former.