Release Date: November 9, 2023
In a sea of games that are getting larger and more complex, sometimes the doctor orders something simple. Enter Gunhead, a game that never leads you too far from the core combat and gameplay loop of its roguelikes runs, and you probably won’t expect more than a dozen hours with the game to have seen it all. Its combat is not something you will not have seen before, but it is still a fun experience weaving through derelict spaceships, looting them to get money and upgrade your mechs. However, some of the design choices detract from the experience and stop it from being a great little package.
Gunhead offers a small tidbit context, which is really to its benefit. You are a pirate who is raiding derelict spaceships for the goods inside and selling them to a client for money. What else do you need to know? Use this money to purchase upgrades to be found or a new mech offering a slightly altered play style. Over fifty different weapon and item choices are available to purchase and give you access immediately whilst unlocking them to be found inside the ships. Some fun weirdo alien characters will pop up to highlight something about the next ship you are facing or at the end of a failed run to trash talk about your failed performance, which adds to the mood, but the story, writing and characters are not really the reason to be playing Gunhead.
Each new run or after clearing a ship, you are presented with a choice of 3 ships to tackle next, in a way that has become commonplace in the roguelike space—several different themes of ships to choose from influence some of how the ship is presented to you. However, this did not really matter to me, and I decided, based on the three objectives of each ship so I get some sweet extra cash.
Once you have chosen a ship, you are presented with a map of the ship’s facilities, showing all the rooms and defences awaiting. Each ship has an increasing number of systems in place that you can take out before taking on the boss. These systems influence things throughout the ship; taking them out can make your path easier to manage. For example, the door system controls some locked doors throughout the ship, and taking it out means you can travel through freely without finding and using keys, or the factory system continually spawns in new units wherever you are, and taking this out decreases the pressure you are under. Being shown the ship’s map and giving multiple entry points to the ship is one of the best features of Gunhead, as strategically planning your way through and how you will be taking out the more pesky systems first whilst meeting the extra objectives was a great hook.
This planned navigation hook, however, is somewhat diminished by the actual navigation in Gunhead. Navigation is clunky, to say the least. The maps of the derelict ships are 2D, whilst the spaces are quite 3D with a lot of verticality. This results in you often getting turned around trying to find the door or power-ups that you know are around here but require some process of elimination to find. The spaces are usually relatively narrow, which I felt runs contrary to the fact that you are piloting a mech. Of course, this fact is not inherently negative, but to me, it consistently roadblocks your ability to get into a good flow of movement and combat. It was also compounded by the few large open combat arenas that felt great to fight and fly in.
The actual combat in Gunhead was, for the most part, quite fun. Gunhead is a mech FPS that allows you to have four weapons equipped at once, each bound to a different key, and yes, you can fire all four at once. The feel of most of the weapons I came across was also on point, making blasting away at enemies constantly feel good, even if the enemies you faced were a tad lacklustre in offering you different challenges.
You get the idea that there are half a dozen varieties of weapons, which all seem on par for a mech game – energy weapons, machine guns, rockets. There were no imposed limits on what kind of weapons you could equip, so if you have found four different rocket weapons across your run, you are more than welcome to equip them all. Of course, balance is key, but this underlines a small combat philosophy of Gunhead that it is fearless in letting you become incredibly strong. Some of the bosses and systems I faced were defeated in seconds in some of my runs. Each weapon has an ammo limit, but Gunhead is also generous in how often you find new weapons and lets you save them for later if you are still working on your current loadout.