What a strange beast Gunshine is. Created by a Supercell, a studio that includes former employees of both Remedy and Digital Chocolate, you can see the influence of these respective companies back catalogues as soon as you log in to the game. While one of these companies made addictive, well presented mobile titles, the other made the Max Payne games. The fusion of the two creates a bright, well designed game set in a dystopian police state with gritty subject matter all wrapped up in a charmingly retro visual style. Before we dive into the gameplay though, we need to look at the strange technology and the innovative use of social media that underlies the games foundations.
Gunshine runs in a browser window. Currently in Beta, the game requires nothing more than a precious Beat key to begin playing. Character set up is simple and quick and you’ll have created a basic avatar and started exploring the game world before you know it. On that first log in screen though, you’ll see an option to link with Facebook (or Twitter). By doing this, the game will pull through your Facebook contacts and if you’re lucky, provide you with a few additional beta keys that you can send to your friends. You’ll see those Facebook friends profile pictures along the bottom of your screen. You’ll even have a Facebook status update box available as part of the game interface that will periodically have game-related suggestions appear inside it (e.g. “I just levelled up in Gunshine”). Thankfully these are not automatically posted, just subtle suggestions that you are free to ignore if you don’t want to annoy your friends.
As the game runs in a browser window it will run on almost any machine. The main strength of this approach is the sheer speed that you can be into the game and start adding friends to go on missions together. As you’ll probably be logged into Facebook already there’s no need to type a password and username. There’s no long loading times or large updates like traditional MMORPG’s and you can invite friends to join you online in a single click. The infrastructure of the game is polished and streamlined which is impressive for a game still in Beta.
Once you begin playing it’s easy to see the appeal of the simplistic but compulsive gameplay. You inhabit an isometric style of world reminiscent of classic games like Syndicate or Chaos Engine. Your avatar is chunky but well animated and reminiscent of a classic PC turn based strategy game. Despite the similarities in appearance to something like UFO, the action is real time with skills available to use which have cool-down periods and numbers flying off enemies with each hit as you chip away at their energy bars.
The interface will be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s played a contemporary RPG. There’s a customisable skill bar along the bottom of the screen and pop up windows for character information, inventory and chat available by pressing the relevant key. Equipping items, assigning skills and levelling up is all made extremely simple and movement attacking and interacting with NPC’s is all handled with the left mouse button. In many ways the slow pace of the action coupled with the fact that the game is largely controlled with the mouse make the whole thing a relatively stress free experience. Best enjoyed with the mouse in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, it’s easy to play Gunshine while doing something else. The game exhibits a quick play, short burst gameplay style that will make it a popular choice to jump into while you’re waiting on a progress bar of some description to load or alt-tabbing quickly during a boring moment at work when your boss isn’t looking. Perhaps this is where the developers pedigree with mobile gaming shines through as you can make progress in Gunshine if you play for thirty minutes or thirty seconds (guess what I’m doing while writing this article).
There are challenges for Supercell ahead though. While far more appealing to hardcore gamers than something like Mafia Wars or Farmville due to its retro charm, it’s not clear if Gunshine has enough going for it to keep those gamers hooked long term. At the same time, while it’s unfair to compare it to full price, monthly subscritpion MMORPG’s, its gameplay is so similar that it’s difficult to avoid. Hardcore gamers with a free afternoon enjoying a session of World of Warcraft won’t be cancelling their raids to log on to Gunshine instead.
It’s in the middle ground that Supercell will find success. The boss battles which require teams are tough and engaging enough to win over hardcore gamers who can’t get into their MMORPGS because they can’t afford subscriptions, are using a netbook or are sneaking a game at work. Meanwhile, casual gamers growing bored with the lack of immediacy or action in Farmville or Mafia Wars will find Gunshine to be an inviting experience that’s easy to get into. The fact that its effectively free-to-play (barring micro transactions) and runs on most hardware while providing an MMORPG-lite experience means that it represents a significant threat to companies like Zynga if not Blizzard.
Most exciting of all though is that Gunshine is a proper game. A proper game, free-to-play, running in a browser and leveraging social networking. There are no turnips to grow and you don’t need to add friends you don’t know for extra items. You simply load it up, invite some friends and go shoot some dudes.
Gunshine then. It’s in beta and it’s got a long way to go, but it might just be huge.
We are proud to provide a Beta key which will provide access to Gunshine for our first 200 lucky readers who register.
*Courtesy of Nicklas Renqvist and Ilkka Paananen from Supercell. If you are unlucky and miss this offer, check back for another round of codes soon.*
Read our interview with Mikko Kodisoja, Founder & Creative Director of Supercell and get more beta codes here.