DieselStormers is billed as "high-octane carnage for 1-4 players featuring customizable motorguns, gas-guzzling knight armour, generated levels and randomized loot" on its Steam Early Access listing, but I much prefer the description that Black Forest games gave me in an interview last summer. It really is "Metal Slug meets Left 4 Dead meets a nuclear pinball machine."
Back then it was known as Project Ravensdale, and following their release of the brilliant Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, Black Forest games were confident in another Kickstarter success. They failed, but a name change and Steam's Early Access scheme finally put DieselStormers on track.
Which leaves us with an unfinished yet very promising cooperative run and gun romp that resembles the legendary action platformers of yesteryear, only in a Dieselpunk fantasy universe with goblin bullet hell death balloons, persistent crafting and electric ninja ropes a go-go.
The premise introduces us to a polluted city powered by a heavy, heavy fuel (no, I will never apologise for tenuous Dire Straits references) called Goop, the discovery of which lead to massive and pleasingly chunky advances in weaponry and armour. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, this miracle fuel has a side effect beyond choking exhaust fumes and environmental destruction. Prolongued exposure has turned most of the city's inhabitants into green-skinned Orcs and Goblins, creating an evil army outfitted with cutting-edge weaponry.
Naturally it's up to strap into Diesel-powered battle armour, fire up a satisfyingly beefy firearm powered by a V12 engine and wipe them out with extreme prejudice.
All the foundations are in place if slightly rough around the edges. After accepting a mission from a small hub zone (most of which involve assassinating specific enemies, reaching a flag or a little sabotage), we find ourselves in a procedurally-generated sidescrolling chunk of city infested with rapid goblins, beefy orc warriors, Goop-powered enemy spawners and ridiculous death balloons that belt out Ikaruga levels of firepower.
Like any Contra-esque sidescroller, what follows is a mix of precision jumping, evasion, exploration, hectic combat and pouring as much brightly coloured death as possible onto the enemy hordes. Who perish in their hundreds, but go down fighting. Expect to face deployable mines, grenade launchers, machine gunners and those thrice-damned Danmaku balloons around every corner and every rooftop.
DieselStormers initially handles much like any latter-day shooter, traditional 2D movement coupled with free dual-stick aiming, but comes with some seriously enjoyable extra mechanics based around cooperation. The Arc Connector is by far my favourite of the lot, as each player are tethered to each other and grapple points placed around the levels by a beam of electricity. Effectively it acts like the Worm's Ninja Rope or a bungie cord, allowing you to violently fling yourself towards your target and gain massive extra height or horizontal distance in the process. It's a surprisingly tactical and versatile addition to the genre that can get you into a firefight, out of a jam or up to an otherwise inaccessible treasure chest so long as you carefully think about when and where to use it effectively.
Plus, again, it's an electric ninja rope. What's not to love?
The Goop-burning Motorguns bring a neat new twist to the familiar sidescroller formula: crafting. Killing enemies, finding treasure chests and completing missions rewards you with various components and blueprints to assemble into a variety of modular boomsticks. Different combinations of engines, frames and barrels can lead to very different results, from a fast-firing machine gun to something akin to a blunderbuss. The interface is absolutely horrible and needs serious attention in a future patch, but once you've got the hang of things, it feels a lot like Mercenary Kings' addictive persistent elements. Black Forest Games promises to add a whole slew of customisable armour sets down the line, allowing us to further customise our Diesel-powered knight.
Which brings us to the THIS GAME IS STILL IN EARLY ACCESS part of the article.
The foundation may be solid, but there's still plenty of work ahead. The raw shooting mechanics could use further refinement, the levels need more variation, we need more customisation options and the game crying out for more enemies, not to mention bosses. Planned features include multiple elements, modular monsters, multi-character siege weapons, an overarching storyline, proper randomised loot, character progression... all good stuff, but all just promises at this stage. As always, you should be very careful about paying any amount of money for Early Access titles, and be aware that there's always a risk of projects folding or turning out nothing like you'd hoped.
Then again, considering how well Giana Sisters turned out, Black Forest Games have already proved that they can deliver on their promises. Here's hoping that they can do it again, and that DieselStormers continues to evolve into an utterly ridiculous cooperative shooter.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have an urgent appointment with six hamburgers, scotch and nicotine before my next Goop-powered Dieselstormers run. If you want to run cool, you got to run on [yes, we get it. -Ed]