Guns Of Icarus Online Doesn’t Fly Too Close To The Sun
I really failed in life by not joining the Air Force, but first inventing time travel and changing history so that Dirigibles and not airplanes became standard. I know this because none of the other journalists who played the Guns of Icarus Online PAX Prime 2012 demo managed to win their battles. Or so I was told. That I managed to carve one after about 45 minutes of play means I’m either the greatest commander in the history of aerial combat, or just extremely susceptible to flattery. Obviously, I’m sticking with “history’s greatest military genius”, so suck it, everyone who isn’t me. I rule the air, and I kind of love this game.
Guns of Icarus Online is the successor to the little-known single player Guns of Icarus, and vaguely continues its predecessor’s setting. Humanity, still recovering from a devastating war that destroyed civilization 300 years earlier, has created a new society based around lighter-than-air technology and snappy, steampunk fashions. Resources, trade, even territorial boundaries are all tied to the skies, and rival militaries battle to control them using elaborate, culturally themed airships as their weapon of choice. The steampunk aesthetic – “somewhere in between High Victorian and almost Diesel Punk”, according to the development team – is intended to evoke the golden age of aviation and does a bang-up job thanks to the excellent work by the artists who created the environments, ships, and characters.
The final version of GOIO will be divided up between two modes. Skirmish mode players in a matchmaking lobby and allows them to join PvP battles in arenas of varying geography. Adventure mode will add open world elements to the game; as described to me, players will be able to engage in random battles with any enemy they come across, but also travel to the various towns and countries within the game, trading in-game resources like food, water, raw materials, and weapons. The mode isn’t anywhere near completion (and wasn’t part of the demo), but the game strongly suggests players may be able to leave their ships and actually walk around these towns.
That’s because though the player’s time on ship is spent attending to their specific duties, they have the ability to walk the ship freely. Each airship – and players can choose from several, all of which are influenced by historical cultures like classical Arabia, Feudal Japan and Industrial-era Europe – is staffed by players who choose from one of three classes: gunner, engineer, captain. Each class then selects three class-specific tools, like special fuel or greater maneuverability available to Captains, one tool each from the other two classes’ skill sets. This allows a player to leave their post and assume other duties. For instance, if the ship is damaged during combat, the captain can race to assit the engineer in repairs, or take one of the ships weapons to help the gunner defend things. Likewise, if for some reason the Captain is unable to pilot the ship, one of the other classes can run up and do a rudimentary job of steering.
My demo lasted 45 minutes, and surprisingly, because as I mentioned I clearly have a knack for command, I spent the entirety playing as a captain, which is (as you’d expect) almost entirely a matter of steering the ship, either evading the physical obstacles, dodging enemy fire, or positioning to ensure your guns can hit their targets. The battle had my team of bigger, heavy hitting ships fighting a group of smaller, faster vessels (think the Royal Navy versus pirates in the 1800s). The arena, a foggy mountain range jutting out of an ocean, was full of enough variety and scale to be challenging. The mountains felt huge, the drops steep, making for a fairly balanced combat system that allowed both groups to fight to their advantage.
Enemy ships appeared on the HUD, but the scale of things made the HUD mostly helpful as a pointer rather than a targeting system. Cooperation between crewmates is subsequently vastly more important than the ship’s radar. During the demo, I played with one of the developers manning the guns, and his telling me where he needed to be pointed while also pointing out damage to the ship I might have missed made it far easier to fight effectively. That was especially useful due to the control system, which might have been the only thing I hated about the demo. It’s a fairly standard hotkeys system, however some of the command keys were a bit too close together and thanks to my fat fingers, I managed to disconnect myself from the steering wheel more than once. Yes, obviously this is solvable by mapping your own preferences, an option I was told will be included, so you may feel free to mock me. Still, combat and travel in a game like GOIC would probably be best enjoyed with a controller compatible with a standard flight simulator.
Guns of Icarus Online is also gorgeous, with a look of having been painstakingly painted, with gorgeous sunsets, aesthetically distinct ships and a Steampunk look that seems practical as well as seriously cool. Despite my lack of general interest in flight sim/vehicle combat games, I had a blast. It’s a fun mix of strategic combat and flight simulation, the RPG elements are promising, and if my experience is any guide, it should prove to be easy, fun, and satisfyingly addictive.
A few additional thoughts:
* The game will launch with only Skirmish mode. Adventure mode elements are being developed at a slower pace, and will be added later, either as a patch, or as purchaseable DLC. They haven’t yet decided how it’s going to happen, and the final form is as I said nowhere near complete. This won’t be a fantasy-style MMO, though it’s possible it will share elements in common with them. Naturally, we’ll know more months after initial release.
* Players will have the option of playing a training version of Skirmish mode against AI opponents. However aside from this the game will always take place online. There is no single player version.
* When playing as a Captain, you’ll be able to set parameters for the creation of your crew, opening it up to all players, restricting it only to your friends, or choosing AI crewmates.
* The game runs on Windows 7, or Mac OS X 10.6 and higher.
It launches on September 30 via Steam.
Game Front was on-site at PAX Prime all weekend (Aug 31-Sep 2), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!