Enter The Gungeon is not your typical Roguelike.
Sure, there are procedurally-generated dungeons to explore, full of treasure, enemies, traps and opportunities to permanently die. Yes, it's viewed from a top-down perspective and resembles a retro gem with its detailed faux 16-bit art style. Granted, you'll choose a character and then delve into the depths for fun, profit and eventual death.
What makes Enter The Gungeon different, however, is that it's also a proper shoot 'em up. Going beyond the usual twinstick genre hybrids we've seen over the last few years, it's a hectic no-holds-barred gunfight where every table can be flipped over, every piece of cover is potential safety, bosses turn into bullet hell barrage madness and your only friends are the hundreds of boomsticks at your side. Though still deep in development, what I've played of it is shaping up to be a game of exceptional... calibre.
I apologise for nothing. Let's get stuck in.
Four grizzled gunslingers travel across the universe to the legendary Gungeon, seeking riches and absolution for unnamed crimes. Each has an axe to grind, a unique starting gun to wield and a unique passive skill, whether the convict's grit and home made sawn-off shotgun or the Marine's standard issue assault rifle and life-saving armour. Upon entering, the greeting is surprisingly friendly as a host of ammunition-themed inhabitants teach you the ropes before beckoning you into the procedurally generated depths below.
It's a perfect intergalactic getaway, or at least it would be, were it not for the Cult Of The Gundead (not the first of many ballistic puns, which we love madly). The Gungeon's hallowed halls are patrolled by some hilarious firearm-inspired enemies, from guntoting bullet foot soldiers to shotgun-hefting shells and ghosts wielding outdated Tommy Guns. They'll put up stiff resistance, using cover to advantage while pressing the attack, meaning that you'll have to be quicker on the draw in order to survive.
Initially, Enter The Gungeon feels like a traditional point and squirt twinstick shooter. Using WASD to move and the mouse to aim and fire, you'll circle-strafe through encounters, pop in and out of cover and squeeze off your shots. Dodge Roll have locked down the fundamentals brilliantly; the quick yet not slippery movement speed, the satisfying feel of the weaponry and the randomised rooms adding unpredictable arenas for pitched combat.
However, you'll quickly realise that Enter The Gungeon is made of sterner stuff. Even when playing as the Marine, you'll only be able to take a scant few hits before biting the big one, while foes press fast and hard in huge numbers. You'll therefore need to enter a completely different mindset and think of the game less like a shooter and more like a shootout.
Take interactive cover, for example. Tables can be flipped over onto either side to provide instant cover, which can provide blessed relief from enemy fire. Rather than entering a room and fanning the hammer, you'll move from cover to cover, throwing over tables and strafing behind corners, all as your enemies try to do the same. As you grow in confidence, you'll realise that these cover points can also be pushed around, allowing you to dictate the battle or even set up your own little fort in a pinch. Weapons have limited ammo and have to be reloaded, too, bringing a unique rhythm to the gameplay that you often don't find in garden variety shooters. It adds a welcome layer of tactical thinking that perfectly compliments the hectic action.
The dodge roll (after which the developers named themselves!) also adds a useful safety net, granting a small amount of blessed invincibility when you hammer the right mouse button, throwing you clear of incoming fire or over otherwise lethal pits. Again, you'll approach Enter The Gungeon less like Geometry Wars and more like an adorable 16-bit top-down version of SWAT once you've got a few hours under your belt.
Bosses and hordes add an extra layer of mayhem to the proceedings with projectile patterns that resemble fully-fledged 'bullet hell' or danmaku SHMUPs, encouraging you to dodge and weave through their fire while pumping out your own. Regulars will know that this is one of my favourite genres and I'll delighted to report that Dodge Roll have handled this aspect deftly, inspiring just the right amount of sweat-inducing desperation.
And then we should probably mention the guns. Enter The Gungeon will have hundreds of boomsticks to both find and purchase from shopkeepers, dozens of which are available in the preview build from pistols and literal peashooters to shotguns, rifles and lasers. Each weapon is pleasingly situational and requires you to switch up your strategy, so it's a good thing that you can carry more than one.
It's early days for Enter The Gungeon, but what Dodge Roll have already accomplished is exceptionally promising, mechanically polished, addictive and most importantly fantastic fun. A new-school take on two old-school genres that we'll be keeping a close eye on over the coming months.