World builders are the hot and happening trend these days. From Minecraft and Starbound, to Little Big Planet and Super Mario Maker, indies and AAA’s are all about user-driven content and communities. These games provide a creation suite and allow their players to go wild, meaning that the developers can sit back and watch the public create content, thus perpetuating their own popularity. For these games to succeed, devs need court their player bases, keep them interested, and nurture them into the budding level designers that they are. Did you know that you’re so hot right now? You and those creative ideas in your head.
In that vein, Gunscape tries to fill the gap between world builder and first person shooter. The game intersects Minecraft and Quake 3: Arena, and promises the opportunity of building your very own 90’s style first-person shooter maps. It takes the modern world-building trend but gives it a nostalgic coat of paint. But in 2016, is that an appealing prospect?
At first glance, Gunscape puts its worst foot forward. For new players, one of their first experiences with Gunscape will likely be the inbuilt levels that come packaged with the game. These levels are meant to serve as showcases for what the Gunscape editor is capable of, but in all honesty, these are possibly the worst maps ever created since Sir Walter Raleigh got pissed in the Orinoco River and charted a path to El Dorado. These levels consist of dead ends, blind corners and awkward platforming. There are a lot of rough edges to be found, from awkward animations, ugly assets (even considering the time period that it is trying to emulate), and boring AI that will either run straight at you or stand perfectly still.
The inbuilt levels also attempt to provide a loose story in which an AI is guiding you through a series of test labs; test labs that happen to be filled with Nazis, flying robots and pyramid-headed dogs. Gunscape doesn’t really need to provide a serious narrative, but for some reason, it still feels compelled to tell some sort of story, forcing you to read text on in-game terminals in order to proceed. This might be the developer’s way of providing a tutorial, but it doesn’t really teach you anything about the game or how to play. Plus, the text on the terminals doesn’t quite fit the screen, which is symptomatic of the lack of care and polish put into this game.
As fitting for a game titled Gunscape, the game features a variety of guns. Unfortunately for a game titled Gunscape, none of the guns are really that fun to use. The shotgun feels like a peppered fart, pebble-dashing enemies without providing any meaningful feedback. The machinegun has no recoil and feels as toothless as an elderly snail trying to eat a toffee apple. There is a laser/lightning gun which is an improvement, but even though your character seems to dual-wield it, there is no option to fire the left one separately. Instead, the game just fires them in turn, but not without a short delay. The only weapon that is fun to use is the circular saw, as the accompanying sound effect is coarse and rusty, plus it is a formidable weapon at short range.
So out of the blocks, Gunscape immediately stumbles and looks like it may be destined for the glue factory. However, the unique selling point of the game lies in its level design tools. If the creation aspect offers a powerful, intuitive suite of tools, then it’s easy to overlook a bunch of generic stock levels. Fortunately, this is where the meat of the game can be found.
The map editor feels very natural and provides an understandable base to build from, even on consoles. While testing the PS4 version, I was instantly reminded of the ship editor from Resogun, only with a much wider breadth of functions and content. Everything is based around cubes, so designing in three dimensions is made easier by the cursor that automatically snaps to flat surfaces. Within 30-45 minutes I was able to create a functional map with a beginning and an end point, several weapon and health powerups, enemies that dropped keys, and a host of decorations. There seems to be plenty of space available to build in as my first map only filled up 18% of the total allowed map size. While this was a short test level that would only take a few minutes playtime to finish, I added large expanses and decorated liberally with trees and rocks. If you are more sparing with your ornamentation, you’ll no doubt be able to create large, intricate levels.
Gunscape also offers a wide range of pre-made assets that are categorised into various themes. You can create jungle landscapes, futuristic environments and gothic castles to name just a few, all of which have unique items, decorations and enemies. My second map attempt involved building a narrow corridor through a jungle full of dinosaurs, which then allowed the player to enter an ancient pyramid. The only weapon I offered was a bow, which is more fun to use than most of the guns. While my idea is not especially imaginative, it does give you an idea as to what’s possible.
For all its positives, there are a few notable limitations to the editor. The blocky design means that true diagonals are impossible, meaning that any walls you build have to intersect at right angles, contrasting with the fully-3D movement of the player. The map editor could really use a more in-depth tutorial as well, rather than relying on a handful of tooltips to guide the player. While the interface is functional and fairly easy to grasp, better tooltips or a tutorial system would have helped players get stuck in straight away.
For those looking for inspiration, the game has a map browser that allows you to view other user-created maps. There are a number of filters to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in terms of content and player modes. You can even join a server and build a map simultaneously with other players. At the time of writing, there is’t a huge amount of content out there, but some of the maps that are available are rather creative. Given time, this aspect could really take off, and it’s not difficult to imagine some of the possibilities that Gunscape could offer.
The game sorely needs a decent community to flesh it out, however, which is worrisome, as Gunscape will live or die on attracting creators. Its potential is intriguing, but the base game currently lacks anything for players to really get their teeth into. Plus, the act of creating levels is definitely more fun than actually playing them, another hurdle that Gunscape must overcome. With the gameplay in the state that it is, it will be difficult to find an audience for your beautifully constructed levels.
Like the metric system outside of Europe, Gunscape is a good idea with poor execution. The basics are all here, but the hooks that are designed to bring you in are blunted and unlikely to keep you hanging around.
Good idea, poor execution
Fantastic creation tools, but your creations are unlikely to meet a wide, accepting audience.