Every memorable first-person shooter has a memorable arsenal to match. From DOOM's BFG to Halo's Needler to Turok's Cerebral Bore, these are tools of the trade with a defined purpose and lethal efficiency. More often than not, these are the "characters" you care about, hogging screen time like an RPG party member. The main selling point of Mothergunship is to let players craft their own memorable arsenals in a randomized space dungeon where tools of destruction mold to your liking. This should be an amazing combination, but something feels off along the way. While it's possible to create an amazing firearm with Mothergunship's systems, you won't be using it for long.
You play as a new recruit to a military operation currently suffering from the sting of defeat. A race of robotic aliens are out to catalog the universe, and Earth has fallen to their clutches. With the questionable guidance of your commanding officer, it's up to you and your giant mech to infiltrate alien ships, blast up the place, and return home with valuable datacores. This classic setup is a step above the vague motivations of Tower of Guns. The cast of characters egging you forward is well-written, with rapid-fire jokes that land more often than not. There are great visual gags, especially when you arrive home from a successful story mission.
Unfortunately, it's also in the home base where the world of Mothergunship begins to fall apart. It starts with little things. You're supposedly stomping around in a huge robot suit when you're out on a mission. If that's the case, why does it feel exactly the same to walk around before a mission? It's possible that you're always in the mech, but I don't know for sure. You never see HUD elements that would indicate this, and you go to a docking bay with several other suits for upgrades. A change in movement speed or a suit up sequence would have gone a long way to helping players feel like the badass on the title screen.
This isn't the only place where playing Mothergunship falls short of expectations. The range of weaponry at your disposal is impressive, and I love some of the more creative options. Spikeball launchers and lava bombs join the expected miniguns and rocket launchers to great effect. That range just isn't expressed when it comes to gameplay.
Everything from a tiny laser blaster to a cannon that shoots explosive barrels feels pretty much the same. Sure, some of the guns knock you back a bit, and there are slight differences in stopping power. However, once you strap it on your mech, it's just another source of damage, something to pump the numbers up. The complexity of combining these different guns strips each barrel of their unique atributes, and you never get the power synergies that make other roguelikes pop.
When laid out as a pure shooter, Mothergunship fares a bit better. Sure, you get the same style of arena battles you get from Tower of Guns, but things have improved. The variety you get in both weapons and enemies makes things much more palatable, and the health drops are plentiful. It's more than possible to run past groups of enemies you can't handle since most exits don't lock automatically. Shops are closed off unless you clear the room, which provides the perfect incentive to keep shooting. The entire drive of the game is to see just how crazy your guns can get.
With that in mind, you'd think that you'd be able to hang onto a few favorite firearms and upgrade as you go. Watch an assault rifle morph into an explosive spewing beast over the course of ten hours. This is what I think of when it comes to weapon customization, but Mothergunship's structure opposes this idea. Every level splits into a handful of battle arenas filled with turrets and floating hazards. As you defeat enemies, you collect coins for purchasing weapons parts from shops and XP for upgrading your suit.
The weapon parts you purchase during a successful run begin to pile up on your ship as you move forward. Sadly, for balance reasons the game lampshades, you can only bring a few at a time for each mission. If you fail, you lose everything you've purchased on said mission and everything you brought in with you.
This is an issue for multiple reasons. Instead of having a constant treadmill of momentum, Mothergunship halts you at every turn. You have to consider whether you're willing to risk losing your best parts, and you saddle yourself with underwhelming options due to a fear of losing progress. This also makes it nonsensical to have any sort of system where'd you save loadouts of guns, since each part is single-use and vulnerable. You can't get attached to your loot, and there are even occasions where grinding side missions for new gear is required.
A gameplay structure with this setup requires a pretty fine-tuned RNG to make it all work. Most roguelikes have a method to their madness. Each level of a dungeon might have a guaranteed shop or a certain number of treasure rooms. This lets players get a grip on the procedurally generated levels and plan things even as they step into the unknown.
Mothergunship lays out none of it. Coin drop rates, shop placements, bonus rooms, enemy layouts—they're all up to the whims of the machine. It's possible to accrue thirty or more coins in a level that doesn't have shops, then load into a new level with plentiful shops and no currency. Instead of encouraging learning the ropes over hours and hours, this type of level generation encourages rushing through stages for survival. The game even lets you bypass rooms you don't like the look of by rushing the exit. When one of the best quality of life features of your shooter is "ignore all the enemies and run," you've got a real problem.
Mothergunship Review | Final Thoughts
In a game where everything is random, the player experience will follow suit. I have no doubt that there will be plenty who enjoy their time with Mothergunship. The tone of the story and dialogue is perfectly over the top. The shooting is frantic, and getting a good collection of gun barrels can be exhilarating. Still, there's no guarantee that the next level will produce similarly entertaining results, and that's too hard for me to ignore.
Tilting the scales towards chaos can work, but not in the type of game that Terrible Posture Games is crafting. Not in a story campaign that makes players want to move forward. Not in a game based around loot and memorable weaponry. Whey they fail, players are punished by repeated dialogue and stripped of their weapons parts, and it's often not their fault. That's the difference between playing hundreds of hours of blissful repetition and a twenty-hour grind to the finish.
Mothergunship was reviewed on Xbox One and PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4.
- Lots of Character
- Gun Crafting System
- Exceptional Battles
- RNG Everywhere
- Lackluster Progression
- Guns All Feel The Same