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MMO Burnout: Quality time with Guns of Icarus Online

Jef Reahard
Jef Reahard|December 21, 2012 9:00 AM
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Pardon me for being a fanboy, but I need to get this out of the way up front: Guns of Icarus Online is funking awesome. If you're OK with the fact that I couldn't make it past the 24th word of a 1000-word impressions piece without sharing that little nugget, keep reading and I'll tell you why this indie gem is in fact funking awesome... and why you should give it a whirl.%Gallery-173501%
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Let's start with a brief clarification. There's Guns of Icarus, and then there's Guns of Icarus Online. The former served as something of a prototype for the latter, and while both games are all about running around the deck of your airship fending off merciless pirates and firing giant steampunk guns into the wild blue yonder, the original GoI was a smallish affair with a campaign that was long on geekery and short on replay value. It's still a fun diversion, though, and you can pick it up on the cheap from Steam if you're so inclined (seriously, it's like five bucks).

Guns of Icarus Online, on the other hand, eschews the rail shooter mechanics for a team-based crew combat model set in various free-fly zones. It gives each airship Captain space for three additional crew members and also drapes the proceedings in some addictive class- and progression-based gameplay.

The player takes on the role of a Captain, a Gunner, or an Engineer, but you can also switch between these classes as well as equip various outfits that buff role-specific skills. Each role allows players to pilot an airship, man a gun turret, or make repairs, so you may be barking out orders and spotting enemies with your spyglass one moment and firing a tesla cannon and wrenching on an unresponsive engine the next.

Guns of Icarus Online - scrap metal
Just as you can upgrade your character ranks and roles, so too can you upgrade your airship with the latest in dieselpunk badassery. There are guns, shells, rockets, and cannons aplenty, each of them falling into one of five basic damage types that have a rock, paper, scissors relationship with the various parts of an enemy vessel. If you want to take out an opponent's balloon, for example, you might want to equip some sort of flechette weapon.

Gunnery strategy also comes into play due to the game's firing mechanics. Some weapons have shell arcs, others recoil, and in my experience, it takes a bit of practice to be a competent marksman. The Captain's role is similarly meaty in that you'll be prioritizing targets for your crew in addition to actually maneuvering the ship around the game's beautiful maps. The airship controls are pretty simple; W and S control altitude, while A and D are used to steer. R and F throttle up and down, respectively, but don't let the lack of input complexity fool you.

Flying a ship can be tricky, as you'll need to account for momentum (these things don't stop on a dime, yo) and eccentricities like turn rate and speed that vary depending on what type of hull you're flying as well as how she's equipped. You'll also need to master the art of backing up and otherwise keeping your floating fortress out of harm's way as much as possible. Engineer crew members can help with this, as they are fantastic at repairing armor in the midst of a fight. They can't patch your hull, though, and once it's gone, it's game over.

Guns of Icarus Online - wingmen
In terms of game modes, Guns of Icarus Online currently features a single PvP arena-style option. Players log in to a standard multiplayer lobby and may join four-man crews or create their own. There are the usual shooter modes like deathmatch and control point available across a variety of interesting maps including wreckage-strewn deserts, magic hour coastal areas, and a sandbox practice level that gives you a crew of bots to work with. Muse calls all this its Skirmish Mode, and it's quite a bit of fun (though it can be a challenge to field a full crew depending on what day and time you play).

Guns of Icarus Online - desert combatThe devs are also working on something called Adventure Mode, which according to the official website is a "persistent world roleplaying/adventure mode." It will feature "an expansive world map and deep player progression, including towns, trading, crafting, and factions." The site says that Adventure Mode will be rolled out via future expansions, and I guess this is as good a time as any to mention Guns of Icarus Online's business model.

It's basically buy-to-play, as once you pay the $19.99 client fee (again, courtesy of Steam) you can play it indefinitely for no extra charge. There is a cash shop that sells cosmetic items for both your ship and your avatar, and I'm assuming that Muse will follow the Guild Wars model and charge a nominal fee for the Adventure Mode as well as any future expansions.

I haven't talked much about aesthetics yet, and it's a crying shame that I'm almost out of words because gorgeous, slick, and sexy are three that spring immediately to mind when I think about Guns of Icarus' general ambiance. The production design is heavy on steampunk and dieselpunk elements, of course, but there's also a curious, almost timeless vibe given off by the perpetual haze, smoke, and constant clouds of flak popping uncomfortably close to your rickety deck. Oh, and two thumbs way up for the subtle film grain effect.

The avatars aren't the prettiest things I've ever seen, but they're serviceable because the real stars of the show are the game's airships and their greasy, grimy, lived-in look. These babies are more Millennium Falcon than starship Enterprise, and I spent more than one play session this past week snapping screenshots all over my newbie Goldfish and living vicariously through other Captains via the game's awesome free-camera spectator mode.

All of this is underscored by a nifty soundtrack that mixes heroic orchestra-style themes with grim melancholy to create an atmosphere that's easy to love if you're even slightly pre-disposed to air pirates, the golden age of aviation, steampunk, or all three. As I mentioned earlier, Guns of Icarus Online has what appears to be a small population, and that's really the only bad thing I can say about the game after dabbling in it for a week and thoroughly enjoying every moment.

As with most of the titles I'll be covering in this column, it's definitely not a "massively" multiplayer title by any stretch of the definition, but it certainly is worth your time.

Guns of Icarus Online - magic hour
Burned out on MMOs? That's OK; there are tons of other titles out there featuring MMOish open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, or a combination of all three. Massively's MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems, not to mention a healthy dose of the best mods.
MMO Burnout: Quality time with Guns of Icarus Online