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The latest roguelike FPS from Terrible Posture Games feels destined to be a cult classic.
Let it never be said that Terrible Posture Games won’t commit to an idea.
Mothergunship, the Tower of Guns creator’s latest (developed in tandem with Grip Digital), imagines a world where bullets are the answer to every problem. An intense first-person shooter with obvious roots in Doom and Halo: Combat Evolved, the game doesn’t wear its influence on its sleeves as much as it crafts a patchwork coat out of everything that came before.
You play as a nameless soldier in an unspecified resistance. There’s talk of an invasion, an inciting incident, and communications from commanding officers. All this is literal background noise to the calamitous bullet-hell segments that occupy each of the self-contained levels making up the overall structure. Following an explosive intro, players pick up from a command ship in deep space. Your mission is to infiltrate and take down a series of orbiting enemy vessels, culminating in attack on, you guessed it, the Mothergunship.
On each of those ships, you’ll need to survive a wave of connected rooms with elements that have been procedurally generated to keep you on your toes. Some come equipped with platforming puzzles, others offer run-and-gun strafe challenges, but most simply ask you to open fire on anything you can see. Straightforward gunplay is the biggest mechanic at work in the game, and it feels great. With a triple jump at the player’s disposal, Mothergunship preserves the verticality of its level design with a good mix of moving targets and oddly shaped obstacles. Enemy behavior is appropriately advanced as well, making it hard to find success by standing in one spot and holding down a trigger.
As you rush through narrow corridors and soar in open chambers, you collect resources to upgrade your loadout. Here we find the most important ingredient in Mothergunship’s formula—its modular crafting system.
Where some games would only let you swap the stock, barrel, or sight on your weapon, Mothergunship encourages players to think from the ground up. Nearly every piece of your weapon can be altered or added to. The crafting benches used to play mad scientist with these various components are easy to come across and will quickly become familiar to any player. The user interface can seem overwhelming at first, with a variety of tabs and stats to keep track of for each individual creation.
But as you progress, the possibilities become more apparent.
Each barrel first requires an open socket, and you need to be thinking about space management. Those parts can’t collide with each other and need to be facing forward. As you build up with differently-shaped connectors, you can occupy those empty slots with caps that attribute added damage or health modifications. In the first tutorial, Gungineer Wilkinson advises you that you could make something with 40-barrel gun if you really wanted to, but it would eat up your energy charge in one shot.
Learning to rotate and investigate each individual piece comes with time, as the pieces you collect get more and more advanced. However, it won’t be long after the first few missions when you can rush in armed with a rapid-fire laser rifle on top of a flamethrower in one hand and a massive rocket launcher that shoots a bowling ball the size of a Bullet Bill on the other.
While it sounds juvenile, Mothergunship isn’t all about gleefully violent wish fulfillment. There isn’t any biting social commentary to be found, but it is more about personal achievement than perverse destruction. Everything you do is framed in the context of smashing your own records.
You aren’t rewarded for how much you can kill, but rather the creative lengths you go to in order to do so. It’s a simple framing shift but it makes the act of seemingly endless shooting less mindless. Rushing through corridors, taking down enemy robots, and approaching a workbench to swap out modifications sets a different objective than arming the player to the teeth and sending them into a target range. You can be as explosive as you want, as efficient as you see fit, and only as active as you decide to be.
The variety of enemies you go up against helps the game stay fresh. There are smaller wave-based robots to blast through, as well as more advanced support-class foes that float around and heal other enemies. The light strategizing required upon entering every room makes it hard to recommend one proven path to success and further randomizes the experience of every player.
Design-wise, Mothergunship achieves everything it sets out to do. The core gameplay loop is irresistible and easy to grasp. Movement is fast, fluid, and maintains a distinct personality. There’s an impressive number of components to play with, so much so that even replaying the same mission for an hour straight might never feel taxing. The game’s flaws are, unfortunately, mired in performance issues at the moment. The game struggles with loading screens and chugs nearly every time the player moves from chamber to chamber. But the developer is already promising a multiplayer patch in August, and hopefully some quality-of-life improvements will follow.
For fans of frantic, intense shooters with a layer of customization and random elements, it would be hard not to recommend Mothergunship. With a story that feels like a cross between StarFox and Starship Troopers, it never takes itself too seriously but never feels grating. The sheer number of variables at play could make the game a hit in more creative speedrunning communities. I won’t deny that I’m excited to see what Mothergunship looks like in a month, but the base game is more than good enough for now.
Mothergunship is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. This review was based on an Xbox One copy of the game provided by the publisher.
AJ Moser is a Brooklyn-based reporter who focuses on video games, movies, and internet culture. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Game Informer, and Big Spaceship.