Guns. Lots of guns.
What would happen if you took a first-person shooter, a rogue-like, and a bullet-hell game and put ‘em in a blender? You’d probably get something like Mothergunship from Grip Digital, which serves a spiritual successor to their earlier game Tower of Guns. Mothergunship mixes this melding of genres with a number of homages to ‘90s action titles, and the game that results is an often clever action title built around some excellent trips through alien ships, shooting everything in your path while dodging thousands of projectiles.
The game doesn’t waste time getting started. You’re immediately dropped into the power armor of a member of the Resistance, a group of tight-knit humans led by The Colonel (yes, most of the cast is a proper noun). Who are they resisting? The Mothergunship, who is leading an alien invasion of Earth. The main plot is pretty throwaway, to be honest. It’s most there to give you an excuse to get on alien ships and blow any hundreds of nasty robots.
What the plot and characters do offer, however, is a way to poke fun at video game tropes and the cheesy voice acting and video game humor is both surprisingly self-aware – there’s a particularly annoying anthropomorphic frog who clearly there at the expense of Star Fox’s Slippy toad – and fairly funny, at least most of the time. Some jokes land better than others – I never like being told how much I suck after failing a mission, personally, and some of the video game humor is too cute for its own good – but The Colonel and the crew provide some entertaining background chatter as you murder your way across various aliens ships.
"The core gameplay loop is pretty simple. You choose either a story or side mission – story missions advance the plot, while side missions give you parts for crafting guns – then you’re dropped into a series of randomly generated rooms where you’ll fight through hordes of alien robots."
The core gameplay loop is pretty simple. You choose either a story or side mission – story missions advance the plot, while side missions give you parts for crafting guns – then you’re dropped into a series of randomly generated rooms where you’ll fight through hordes of alien robots, gaining experience that can be used to upgrade your power suit and cold hard cash that you can spend on gun parts – more on that later. Like any good rogue-like, this system means that no two levels are ever the same, which gives the game an air of excitement and replayability it wouldn’t otherwise have.
There are some flaws with the game’s level design, however. While the overall layout of a mission will never be the same, the layout of specific rooms never changes, which means things will start to look repetitive after a while. In addition, the levels only come in three visuals style, so things can get very familiar very quickly. The game compensates by making sure the order of the rooms is different every time, and that the contents of any individual room, from the enemies spawned within it to the rewards they’ll drop, change, too.
There are also challenge rooms for you to enter, which feature special twists like a jump pad, a poisoned floor, or require you to survive for a certain amount of time, and offer enhanced rewards. The opportunity for more stuff is good because when you die – and you will, a lot – you’ll lose not only the items you chose to bring with you, but anything you may have found or purchased in that level, too, aside from experience. Die enough, and you might find yourself poorly equipped to attempt another run. That’s when side missions start to look really appealing.
"You can keep things simple and efficient by rolling with a modified machine gun that shoots really fast, but you can also do something insane, like making a twelve part gun that features a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, and a railgun. And did I mention you can dual-wield?"
That’s where the ability to build your own utterly ridiculous weapons comes in. Mothergunship runs at a very fast pace (think DOOM or Quake) and age-old techniques like strafing are essential, but you only start off with your absurdly powerful hydraulic fists and a triple jump (which can be upgraded up to 40 jumps because staying on the ground is for losers). It’s up to you to build your own weapons. You do this with parts, which can be carried into a level with you or purchased at in-mission stores with cash dropped by enemies.
You have three core parts at your disposal: connecting parts allow you to mount other parts to them, modifiers alter the various aspects of your gun, and barrels determine what kind of gun it is. You can build and alter your guns at crafting stations mid-mission, and the level of freedom available is impressive. You can keep things simple and efficient by rolling with a modified machine gun that shoots really fast, but you can also do something insane, like making a twelve part gun that features a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, and a railgun. And did I mention you can dual-wield? Imagine one of these bad boys – or one of your own creation – on each arm. Those robots don’t stand a chance.
The best part is that, just when you think you can’t make your guns any more ridiculous, you’ll find a part or rotate a piece of the weapon in such a way that will allow you to add to it. This allows you to make some pretty absurd guns that add fun effects, like pushback or gravity, forcing you to switch up your movement styles. The catch is that the more parts you add to a gun, the more ammo it consumes to fire. You can’t run out of ammo in Mothergunship – it’s a renewable resource for each weapon that recharges fairly quickly – but there’s nothing worse than waiting for your gun to recharge while you’re being swarmed by enemies.
" Mothergunship’s sound design is great, but my game had a bug that prevented me from ever hearing all of it at once. Everything worked fine when I was standing still, but the audio started skipping badly whenever I moved."
If there’s one disappointing thing about the weapons system it’s that the game doesn’t give you many opportunities to experiment outside of your HQ’s firing range. You’ll learn what works together fairly quickly, but the urge to experiment inside a mission is small since the costs of dying are so high. Another shortcoming is that missions can start to feel fairly samey after a while, despite Grip Digital’s clear attempts to keep things fresh. The endgame helps alleviate this, as it features a number of special missions that challenge you to run through them without dying, but it’s easy to become bored during long play sessions, especially if you’re having trouble progressing.
The game also suffers from a number of bugs. Enemies will sometimes get stuck in the environments, unable to move but perfectly able to attack. That, however, is a minor issue compared to the problems I had with the game’s audio. Mothergunship’s sound design is great, but my game had a bug that prevented me from ever hearing all of it at once. Everything worked fine when I was standing still, but the audio started skipping badly whenever I moved. I managed to fix this by turning the effects volume off completely in the main menu, but that meant that I couldn’t hear sound effects from enemies, my character walking, or what it sounded like when things took damage. This error persists despite numerous efforts to correct it on my part, and as of this writing, it still hasn’t been patched. It’s a huge flaw in an otherwise enjoying game.
When Mothergunship is firing from both (or all) its barrels, it’s a very good time. The action is fast and enjoyable and the gun crafting system is an absolute joy to use. Unfortunately, however, the game can be repetitive and frustrating in long stretches – this is especially true when you fail and lose good gun parts – and the bugs I experienced detracted from the game in meaningful ways. With some fixes, changes, and additional content, Mothergunship could be something special. Right now, it’s merely competent. It’s a shame, too. There’s a great core here; it just needs a little love, and maybe a few extra parts.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent gun crafting system. Random levels that are different every time. Largely entertaining characters. Shooting and movement feel good.
The limited visual palette means levels can feel the same after a while. Dying means you lose resources, so progression can be frustrating. Limited opportunities to experiment with guns outside of the firing range. Audio and gameplay bugs. Some of the humor falls flat.
Mothergunship is a fusion of good ideas and good mechanics let down by some poor design choices and inexcusable bugs, but what's here is a good foundation for Grip Digital to build and improve upon.