Developer: Nine Dots Studio
Publisher: Bandai Namco
GoD Factory: Wingmen is the definition of an underdog success story. Nine Dots Studio poured their heart, soul and thousands of Pounds of their own money into creating an extraordinary multiplayer arcade space sim, which then subsequently failed on Kickstarter. However, thanks to a strong prototype, great gameplay and backing from Bandai Namco, the finished product has finally made it onto Steam.
Forget the backstory, though, because we're finally able to take GoD Factory: Wingmen out of the hangar, rev up its engines and listen to her howling roar. Two teams of four pilots leap into the cockpits of painstakingly customised fighters, screaming into what's truthfully billed as 'a mix of Ace Combat, Armored Core, Star Fox, DoTA and more.' Fast-paced, thrilling, visually lavish and pleasingly tactical, it's a very different breed of space shooter.
Before we go any further, let's make one thing perfectly clear: this is an arcade space sim in the same way as Ace Combat is an arcade flight sim.
Whether using a mouse, gamepad or joystick (personally I favour a heavily remapped Xbox 360 controller layout - ask me if you're interested), the controls are smooth, responsive and focused on accessibility over sprawling command lists. Think Hellbender, not I-War. After choosing two ships as a new pilot, you'll quickly learn the ropes through a selection of tutorials before taking to the wild black yonder. Two hulking alien carriers loom out of a deeply pretty starfield, slugging each other to death as its fighter squadrons desperately try to tip the balance.
The basics may be basic -- thrust, roll, pitch, yaw, boost and guns -- but Wingmen packs plenty of clever nuances into its handling. A selection of Starfox-esque manoeuvres can be triggered by tapping the requisite button and flicking the stick, resulting in a 90-180 turn to catch foes unawares. Better yet, holding the button allows you to drift, potentially pouring fire onto pursuers or enabling strafing runs without changing direction. Factor in pacey movement speed, some cooldown-enabled special abilities and a cover-strewn battleground to navigate through, and you've got a seriously solid foundation for some fearsome furballs.
If that sounds straightforward, that's because it absolutely is, but battles are more than simple deathmatches. Both teams have to protect their carrier while making raiding runs on the other, with the objective being to destroy the opponent's capital ship before yours bites the dust. The clock is ticking, since the carriers fire upon each other at preset intervals, knocking off one of seven hull integrity points. Once fully depleted, it's match over. As such, teams can try to lock down a defensive perimeter and vape as many rival pilots as possible, aiming to force a draw and win on a points-based technicality.
Nice idea. It rarely happens.
Instead, most successful teams work together to inflict extra damage on the enemy carrier by destroying a variety of critical ship components. Each capital ship has numerous vulnerabilities that can be destroyed at the cost of an integrity point, but in an interesting twist, their destruction can hobble the enemy war effort in unexpected ways. Crippling a radar, for example, massively reduces effective radar range and HUD callouts. Destroying the comm tower forces your foe to make do with unhelpful and tardy status updates, while taking out a repair station or ammo stockade stops damaged opponents from regaining their full strength if they limp back to the hangar.
Truly intrepid pilots can fly through the interior of the enemy carrier, destroy turret defences, cripple a forcefield generator and then annihilate the power core, bringing the match to an immediate close. It's truly the Golden Snitch of God Factory: Wingmen; devastating, yet incredibly tough to pull off and requiring tight teamwork to avoid being smashed to pieces.
Will you take the initiative and lead an assault? On which component? Hang back and defend? Go for the core? Wingmen thrives on these do-or-die decisions and challenges you to work together with your allies to make it happen, else face an embarrassing disorganised rout. Lone wolves, sadly, will not last long in hard vacuum. Teammates can communicate using an effective radial command wheel and even share ships with one another during repair sequences, placing the focus on being effective... wingmen?
Ah, now that deeply awkward title makes sense. Remember, everyone prefers a Goose to an Iceman. Play nice!
Participation rewards you with persistent credits and experience-esque mastery points, which is where Wingmen reveals its second major gameplay pillar. Ship Customisation. Any virtual pilot knows that the real battles are fought over weight, power and heat, and Wingmen doesn't disappoint with an enormous suite of upgradeable weapons, hulls, wings, computer systems, shield generators, power cores... oh gosh, I need to lie down... throughout four separate races, each of which focuses on a different playstyle and boasts a unique visual hook.
For example, the Ar Blossom's organic ships can teleport short distances to throw opponents off-guard, whereas the gorgeously alien Guantri shift between two separate combat modes to fit the situation at hand (or push opponents into making telling mistakes!). As a fan of all things mecha-related, I naturally favoured the menacing mechanical Chorion, whose enormous armoured bodies can withstand an inordinate amount of punishment, making for durable defenders. I would have appreciated some more lore and backstory to flesh them out, mind, even if I can write my own pithy details into each ship's biography box.
Mastery points unlock new upgrade tiers that allow you to specialise into a particular combat role, boasting handy gadgets such as cloaking generators, remote hacking modules or a grapnel that keeps you tethered on an opponent's six. Numerous primary and secondary weapons provide different engagement ranges and exert an according amount of energy from the power core, which itself can be customised. There's a stonking amount of depth to be found here,
even if, annoyingly, there's no way to test whether your build is viable or fits your playstyle until battle is joined.
UPDATE: Nine Dots developer Guillaume Boucher-Vidal reminds us that you can optionally set up a botmatch to test out your builds, which is a reasonable workaround! However, hopefully they'll add a practice arena directly into the customisation menu in a future update.
I personally feel that a free-for-all gametype would have been a great way to try out new builds in pick up and play sessions, while simultaneously providing extra value for the premium £14.99 buy-in, but most of my gripes with GoD Factory: Wingmen stem from the lobby system. The lack of matchmaking means that players have to manually balance teams using a percentage indicator, relying on goodwill rather than mathematics. AFK hosts can cause entire sessions to collapse in frustration. Oddly there's also no way to set pilot level caps considering that experienced players can afford more powerful and situational ships.
All annoying problems, but all issues that can be avoided by just using a little sportsmanship. The online community is welcoming and usually willing to swap sides to balance things up, and you can always just host your own session if you want to curate the level or add some bots into the mix. Most importantly of all, the focus on teamwork means that a less experienced team on paper can beat a more advanced enemy if they work together and pull off a spectacular coup. If you're interested, now's the time to get on board, since small multiplayer titles thrive on the first few weeks in order to turn their player base into a community.
- Accessible and visceral arcade space dogfighting
- Deep and versatile teamwork blends attack and defence
- Compelling ship customisation and upgrades
- Handsome visuals and unique art design (Oculus-ready)
- Lobbies can be unbalanced and lack options
- Singular gametype and starfield
- More lore, backstory details and carriers/maps would be appreciated
The Short Version: GoD Factory: Wingmen was worth the wait: a hectic and tactical arcade space dogfighter that rewards close teamwork, clever customisation and daring zero-G manoeuvres. You can be my wingman any time.
As always with smaller multiplayer games, though, you'll need to get on it fast, hard and soon.