Review: GUNS OF ICARUS ONLINE puts pirates in the sky, but is its plunder worth pillaging?
As sales pitches go, “Flying, steam-punk pirate ships” is a pretty good one. Guns of Icarus Online offers you the chance to be a scallywag of the sky, helping to crew an airship alongside a team of players, fighting against the opposing team who are doing exactly the same thing.
There are three main crew roles to choose between: pilot, gunner, or engineer, and you play each from a first-person perspective. Pilot is the most taxing of the three: commanding and steering your huge vessel as it slowly clambers through the air, attempting to line up your manned guns with the side of an enemy ship so your crew can get a clean shot away. Gunners are self-explanatory, manning the various weaponry that adorns the side of your ship, while engineers are equipped with wrenches and fire extinguishers – their job being to run around repairing whatever damage is sustained during battles.
Each ship has a crew of four people, and battles are usually comprised of two ships versus two, or three versus three: the aim being to knock the enemy ships out of the sky as many times as you can. Communication is vital, as gunners need to be firing from the right guns, pilots need to be heading in the right direction and supporting other ships, and engineers need to be repairing things as soon as they’re broken.
This means going into a battle with a pre-assembled team is the best way to play – teamwork is vital, and you can’t always get it when playing with a random team. Unfortunately, there’s no split between random teams and pre-arranged teams, meaning matches are often unbalanced, with those who are organised simply steamrolling over the individuals scampering to find order.
New players also aren’t helped. There’s a tutorial hints system, but the hints are largely useless, telling you what to press to perform an action, but not why you’re pressing it. You need to do a fair bit of poking around yourself to figure out how the different guns behave and what the different ammo does, with nothing clearly explained to you.
It’s this lack of support that could cost Guns of Icarus Online a playerbase, as it’s hard to see too many people persevering. However, the benefit of that is that those who have stayed know what they’re doing, and also seem willing to help and support newcomers. If you do something wrong you won’t get abuse screamed at you, but it’s more like Natural Selection 2, where the experienced players are genuinely concerned with helping newbies learn and with cultivating a community. It’s unfortunate that developer Muse have left this up to the players, though, as a bit of light hand-holding would be very helpful.
Too close to the sun
Once you’ve got the hang of it, it becomes better, with occasional glimpses of excitement, while never truly excelling. Engineers are vitally important, but just not fun to play – all you do is run between fires and broken mechanics, repeatedly clicking until they’re repaired. Occasionally there is a sense of urgency to the role – knowing you’re the one person who’s right now responsible for keeping this ship afloat – but the basic action of how you do that is just too mind-numbing.
It’s also a game that requires patience, with pay-offs – in the form of two ships going head-to-head in a closely fought battle – few and far between. Ships move slowly, and guns move slowly, making everything feel very cumbersome: that’s how it should feel if you’re aiming for realism, but the slow pace takes adjusting to, and patience is a must . Gunplay is also somewhat hampered by the fact it’s not always clear how much damage you’re doing – when you fire there’s a lot of clout, but by the time your projectile reaches the enemy ship, it’s hard to tell exactly how much damage you’ve done.
When you do get that pay-off though, and your experienced, well-oiled team is working in unison to not only keep your ship in the air, but simultaneously take down the enemy ship, it’s exhilarating, and you’ll be frantically shouting orders over voice chat as you dig your heels in and help the team however you can.
Guns of Icarus Online shows potential, and Muse are promising to offer continued support, with plans to add a persistent world so you’re not just entering random match after random match with no real sense of progression. In the future it might be something worth playing, but right now, it just doesn’t have what it takes to keep you sailing over the horizon.
Guns of Icarus, from Muse Games, is available now for PC.