A few months back a game called Bedlam attempted to both celebrate and mock the history of first-person shooters. It’s fair to say that it fell flat in its pursuit of nostalgia-baiting hilarity by virtue of being a bit dull and wonky, but here we have Gunscape, taking a different, potentially more exciting approach to the same subject. Gunscape asks the question ‘do you want to make your own 90’s shooter?’, but will the answer be yes?
There is a lazy, but entirely relevant comparison to make for Gunscape. Minecraft for shooters. There’s a ‘campaign’ which pays homage to those shooters of a golden age, full of low-polygon Nazi’s, aliens, dinosaurs, cyborgs and robot spiders to blast with a pick n’ mix selection of FPS weaponry of that era (trusty shotguns to absurd alien rocket launchers are present). It’s patched together with a passable, if flimsy plot and merely serves as an extended example for the real reason to show interest in Gunscape, which is making a game/map of your own.
Gunscape gives you a set of simple tools to create levels/arenas from scratch, block by block. It does this with a selection of skins ‘inspired’ by some of gaming’s finest first-person shooters (guess what games are homaged with titles like ‘Too Rockin’ and ‘Bathysphere’), and various weaponry, props and enemies from within them. The interface and application of this creation system is simple and effective. The true test of any such mode is how well you can recreate other games, and already there are maps and levels from the likes of Unreal Tournament 99 and Doom that almost nail their respective styles perfectly. It’s a most impressive mode, bolstered by a social side that grants you the ability to have other players help build your maps. It’s all set up for a community to be grown from it, the menus make sure to let you know that with several tiles dedicated to telling you who’s playing and building what right this moment.
None of this would matter one bit if the game’s mechanics weren’t wonkier than Sly Stallone’s nose. They’re not exactly all that accessible for modern players, with a control scheme rooted firmly in the golden years of first person shooting, albeit with the odd modern flourish. Strafing and speed is key to survival here, while accuracy is harder to manage on a controller so it loses something in translation from the PC version. Still, everybody is inconvenienced in the same way so there’s no disadvantages, just decent, if slightly disappointing, shooting. There’s something else, however, that could well make all the good intentions in the world irrelevant and kill Gunscape off permanently with next to no chance of a respawn – the community.
Gunscape has some enjoyment for the solo player, mostly through building levels and maps (you’re not going to return to the campaign that’s for sure), but multiplayer is obviously what the game strives to provide its player base with, and already there’s a major concern that Gunscape won’t be able to build a reasonably-sized community, let alone sustain one. I had to wait until the game officially released on PS4 in order to play any Free For All, Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch and all the rest with actual people, and to see just how many people were playing it from day one. The early signs weren’t promising. On launch day there was barely a dozen different people playing or creating. Most of which showed up in just one Team Deathmatch map (which was a genuinely good user-created one at that). During that time it was immensely enjoyable to play without ever being quite as compelling as the very best shooters, but if nobody is contributing to the community, then this well of potential is going to dry up faster than a born-again Christian who’s just come out of rehab.
It’s a real sickener that it hasn’t got any better another day removed from launch, and word of mouth would undoubtedly be the way to sell Gunscape’s qualities to a larger audience, yet most of those mouths are found on a different format so the uphill struggle for recognition becomes almost vertical. Throw in the snobbery many console players have concerning visuals and you might as well be trying to get into space by jumping on a trampoline. The killer blow comes with the realization that Gunscape would have to be a pretty spectacular package to begin with as well. As documented earlier, it is fairly good as a shooter, but could you pick its mechanics out of a lineup? No, it’s a little too generic and lacking in impact to stand out as its own thing. Perhaps this is because Gunscape is too wrapped up in being an approximation of several classic titles, and subsequently means it suffers a lack of identity; the irony of this being that it needs a stylistic approximation in order to compliment player’s original creations. With time, the game could feasibly branch out and add more depth and scope for originality, but again, this is with the assumption that there will be a community to make such tweaks and changes for.
It’s frustrating to see such ambition struggle to be fulfilled. Gunscape is a pretty good base version of a game creation platform that has masses of potential. It’s not a particularly special shooter, but a game like this is one that could be refined over time and that is the gamble you take, you, as a developer, can only do your best to drive home your plan and hope that it sticks. Of course, not every game can be Minecraft and blow up to such grand proportions, but the swell of games aping that formula make it incredibly hard to get noticed without advertising and anything less than a captivating hook. Gunscape is almost there, but almost might not be enough to survive.