Gatling Gears is precisely the kind of game which couldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the download-only game services that are XBLA and PSN. A shoot-em-up straight from the old-school which delivers the kind of action that SNES shooters used to, but with a visual makeover to bring the whole format square into the modern day.
In the cockpit of a Mechwarrior-styled walking war machine, you’ll assume the role of Max Brawley as he protects himself and his land from the mighty (and evil) Empire. The aesthetic is very much of the steampunk Western style to pull a description out of the air – think Wild Wild West giant retro-robots and you won’t be far off the mark.
Brawley’s walker might not be the biggest machine out there but it’s certainly the most adaptable, fast, tough and able to fire bullets, missiles and grenades – all at the same time if necessary – as you go toe-to-toe with soldiers, tanks, gliders, planes, submarines and the metal behemoths which comprise the game’s bosses.
Controls are of the Smash TV variety, with movement mapped to the left stick and directional fire mapped to the right. Tapping the right shoulder buttons launches missiles, while holding the left shoulder buttons triggers a target reticule to appear which dictates where your grenades will land – perfect for hitting any foes on raised terrain for example.
The sheer variety in the hostiles you’ll face is really rather refreshing, with even the soldier class for example coming in a huge number of states, from those equipped with bog-standard rocket launches, to those which rush you with flamethrowers. They won’t stand up to fire for long, but are large enough in number to prove bothersome; particularly when accompanied by vehicle support as they frequently are.
In fact the numbers of hostile contraptions on screen at any one time is bewildering, with avoiding all incoming fire more-or-less impossible. Luckily health is distributed at fairly regular intervals so at least the developer has played fair – on those easier difficulty levels at any rate. Easing progress through levels is also made easier by the fact your walker has an energy bar and so capable of absorbing more than just the one hit.
Toughness and the devastation of you various weapons is also upgradable using gold collected along the way. Once you’ve got a few upgrades installed you’ll be good to go and cooler still, upgrades are visible, both on your walker itself and in terms of their effect on the battlefield. In fact, the bright, colourful and bold visuals keep the action constantly interesting with explosions frequent and the way in which certain environments crumble around you keeping you on your toes.
It’s a double-edged sword however as at times there’s too much going on, there has to be certain cut-off and sometimes you’ll get hit as a direct consequence of your brain failing to process what your eyes are seeing quick enough which can prove somewhat irritating. Bosses too are somewhat on the overpowered side of things, often taking a few goes before patterns are learned and digested. That’s ubiquitous shoot-em-up territory though so we can forgive it, particularly as boss levels are separate stages so if you die you don’t have to start all the way as the level’s origin.
It’s worth pointing out that there’s a two-player mode in there too, playable either locally or over XBLA. It means there’s even more going on of course but the fact your mate is inevitable going to absorb some of the incoming fire for you means that everything just about balances up.
Gatling Gears goes straight in amongst the XBLA big guns and demands attention, at 1200 points it a little on the pricey side but if you’re a fan of the genre – even if only in passing – you’d be well advised to give a slot on your hard drive.