In the 19th century, Halley's Comet passed Earth, heading back out towards outer space on it's 76 year journey. During the year 1835, Halley's Comet passed Earth, leaving behind something' else. Called Halley Core material, this amazing substance was discovered by one Dr. Hebble Gate, a pioneer who went on to revolutionize the modern world. Dr. Hebble Gate was the first of a select group of people known only as Halley's Chosen, those special people who can approach and harness the power of the Halley Cores without significant genetic mutation and damage. Superhuman, Hebble gathered many of these people together to form the GUNVALKYRIE organization. Over the next few decades, his technological advancements made a drastic impact on the world.
The year is now 1906, and the British Empire is a space power. Backed by technology created as a part of Dr. Hebble Gate's experiments, there are many colonies of humanity living in the local space, and Dr. Hebble Gate has left the Earth to live in one of the off-planet colonies. Leaving the world confused in his absence, he's traveled to the colony of Tir na Nog, to continue his strange experiments, which some rumor to involve genetic modification of human beings. Now, the colony has gone silent, and all the colonists, Dr. Gate included, have disappeared, leaving behind only strange insect like creatures.
You play the part of one of two GUNVALKYRIE operatives, Kelly O'Lenmey (a young girl from Ireland), or Saburouta Mishima (a Samurai of the Meiji Restoration), who are dispatched to Tir na Nog and ordered retrieve Dr. Gate, and find out what happened to the colonists. As members of the GUNVALKYRIE organization, Kelly and Saburouta are members of Halley's Chosen, and capable of wielding the Gearskin, a powerful piece of battle armor with advanced flight and weapon technology. Guided by the advice of Dr. Meridian Poe, the child of Dr. Hebble Gate, Poe is on her own quest to find Gate, as her father left her five years previously by decapitating her, using her head as the core for a new technological computer/life-support system, and then stealing her body for his own uses.
With the firepower of the Gearskin suits, it's up to you to track down Dr. Gate and bring him to justice, and uncover what happened to the colony at Tir na Nog.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
To begin with, in simplest terms, this game is a first person shooter, with a 3rd person perspective, and a few twists. You've got three different weapon choices (well, once you've completed the first mission, to retrieve a gun), the ability to boost into the air, or in any of the four cardinal directions, and a quick turbo assist to give you extra speed. Boosting is accomplished with the left trigger, and firing your weapon with the right. The B, X, and Y buttons let you change weapons, and the left thumb-pad lets you turn left and right, or move forward and back. Click on the left thumb-pad, while pressing a direction and you'll boost in that direction, very quickly. Unfortunately, the right thumb-pad lets you look around, left or right, up or down. No strafing.
Some might call this a feature. I call it annoying. I like a game that gives me a unique gameplay that I've got to wrap my brain around. But when someone takes a tested, tried, and true play style like the FPS model, and tweaks it like this, I can't help but feel cheated. Boosting itself is a bit of a chore, as your jetpack only has a certain amount of energy, expended quickly, and you've got to manage it exactly to make many jumps.
Don't actually purchase this game if you want to play it, as that's not really what you're doing. Purchase this game if you want to get into a wrestling match with the person that designed the Xbox controller, as, metaphorically speaking, that's all you're doing. Given how much effort it takes to fly and handle your look controls, without having the screen jump back and forth like a spastic weasel, I can't see that 'feature' as anything other than an annoying design flaw.
First of all, the fact that you look left and right with the left and right analog sticks means that you'll be playing a long while before you stop your thumbs from bickering with one another. Second, the lack of a strafing feature is designed to make you rely on the boosting capabilities of your suit. To me, doing that translates to 'we're using jumping puzzles!' and anyone who played Mega Man should remember just how annoying those were. Their design would've benefited from letting the left stick control strafing, so at least the player had the option of using it, and then, on top of it, letting you use the A button to control the quick boost, so that you didn't have to click the left analog stick so much. Later in the game, you get a good look at how unforgiving these controls are when the slightest misstep puts you back at square one during a mission, forcing you to repeat a long, annoying sequence of boosts.
Whew. Now that I'm done bitching about that, let me tell you about the rest of the game. The game plays out through a series of missions, wherein you'll need to complete objective like recovering weapons, killing all the monsters within a certain amount of time, and investigating an unusual occurrence. Each of these missions plays out in a particular part of Tir na Nog, all of which is designed in this strange sort of Wily E. Coyote Painted Desert meets low budget anime aliens style. The levels move over a fairly wide stretch of terrain that features any number of strange insectoid creatures, jumping puzzles, lava pits, and thermals, allowing you to glide above the terrain without wasting precious jump pack energy.
As you complete the missions, you'll get awarded points on your performance, which let you purchase new components for your Gearskin. Later on, you'll face a few boss fights, and eventually, find out what really happened in the colony. Still, although the gameplay is challenging, especially with the control scheme the designers have set up, there's only a few hours worth of play here, as there's only something like 10 missions.
Like most Xbox titles, the graphics were gorgeous. Graphics were well rendered, with lots of good lighting, and intricate detail on the suit, enemies, and terrain. The only thing I can say is that most of the levels seemed uninspired, as they just appeared to be wildly colorful copies of games we've seen before with long trench runs, obligatory sci-fi base raids, and long and labored jump puzzles.
The only part of the game that was worth mentioning is the music. Not only is it slightly weird and uplifiting, appropriately capturing the steampunk style that the designers of GUNVALKYRIE wanted but couldn't catch, but it does get pretty creepy at points, especially when, in one of the later missions, all the background music consists of is a single person talking very quietly, in a muffled voice.
Steampunk is an excellent little literary genre that takes a very Victorian look on technology and the future, inspired by the works of people like Jules Verne. Although GUNVALKYRIE tries to be Steampunk, it isn't, with a weak story that sounds just like every other bad anime plotline.
I've never seen a shooter that I could really consider a linear game before, but rather than let you destroy monsters your way, GUNVALKYRIE has too many movement puzzles that can only be solved one way that the designers anticipated. With poor controls, and only decent graphics and gameplay, this definitely isn't one I could ever recommend someone getting. Still, there's been a lot of buzz around it, and many people seem to have taken to it like bees to honey. If you really think it'll be something you can like, rent it, prepare yourself for insanity, and struggle through the controls long enough to get a good feel for the game.
This is one of the most frustrating games I have ever considered snapping in two...and I like it anyway. Perhaps my notes will help explain this schizo analysis: [one hour in] Ugh. How can such a stylish and gorgeous game control so horribly? Left stick to move, push in to "boost" dash (big deal), right stick to look around--but why can't I turn as I look (like Halo)? [two hours] Argh! Tired of constantly checking map to hunt down every single stupid enemy and complete levels. Boosting is starting to make sense, but still, these controls...why does the crosshair re-center after every shot? Didn't anyone play-test this game? Can't beat the third level. I wanna quit, [four hours] Damnit! Naglfar's Pit stage is insane! Shooting and precise platform jumping, all while under attack? With these controls? [six hours] SCREW THIS GAME! Still on Naglfar's Pit. Please...kill me. [nine hours] I'm finally mastering these flawed controls--combo-ing boosts to move around quickly...cool. Bought shield and weapon upgrades. Hmm. [11 hours] Yes! I can boost, flip and zoom in any direction at will--I never touch the ground! And I like these tough boss battles. People stop by just to watch me play. I am god here! [end] So will I argue with most gamers who, tired of lame level objectives and overwhelming controls, throw down the Xbox pad? No. But for the niche of hardcore types with the patience and the willpower, a prize lies at the bottom of GunValkyrie.
GV is so visually imaginative, it's hard to give it a low score and not come out looking like the enemy of art. But no amount of graphical frosting can save GV from its terrible, overly complex controls. If you just want to fly around, take in the scenery, blow stuff away, and look cool doing it, GV will frustrate the hell out of you with its unbelievably steep learning curve. It takes hours just to learn how to fly efficiently, and then once you do, mastering the jetpack means constantly pushing in on the analog sticks (as if they were buttons) to boost around. My thumbs were practically raw halfway through the game. All this incredible potential spoiled by rotten controls.
Some games are easy to pick up, hard to master. This ain't one of them. GunValkyrie's convoluted control scheme means newbies'll have a tough time just scooting in a straight line, let alone dealing death to the insectile swarms. And wait until you zip through platform-filled areas, where false steps lead to spastic dashes to avoid the void below. To get your money's worth, you gotta learn to boost with scientific precision, never letting your feet touch soil. Persist and ye shall find a satisfying in-the-zone feeling (clearly Smilebit's intention), although I just as often zigged when I shoulda zagged and wondered, "Uh, so this is supposed to be fun?"