Guns of Icarus: Alliance Brings Together PvP and PvE to Soar to New Heights on the PS4
I want to say first and foremost that this is going to be a deeply personal review – both because I couldn’t write it any other way, and because it needs to be to reflect the kind of game this is. Guns of Icarus Alliance is a game about airship combat in a fantasy steampunk setting, but it is also much MUCH more than that. The upgrade from the original Guns of Icarus Online to Alliance was the culmination of years of hard work from Muse Games, where a faction system and PvE gameplay has been combined with the PvP content in the base game. Not only that, but the release of Guns of Icarus: Alliance for the Playstation 4, after well over a year of backbreaking porting and optimization work from a humble group of passionate indie developers, will now bring their unique vision to a whole new group of gamers, with cross-platform play bringing the old playerbase together with the new.
Guns of Icarus Alliance casts you in the role of an engineer, gunner or pilot as part of a fleet of up to four airships. Each role provides a vital function on each four person ship. Engineers can use a limited pool of stamina to dash across the deck quickly, and carry three special tools for repair, rebuild, buff and extinguish components on the ship. Gunners can speed up their reload times at crucial moments, and have three different ammo types to load into a vessel’s bristling arsenal of weaponry. Pilots have three different piloting tools, using their stamina to provide a crucial bit of extra speed or turning power in clutch moments.
Though the basic mechanics are easy to learn and handily summarized through interactive tutorials, the amount of complex tactical decision making in battles can be absolutely huge, especially for pilots. For example, the hydrogen ability causes your ship to rapidly gain altitude, which can be the difference between life and death when used to “jump” over an incoming ram or escape enemy gun arcs, but it drains the health of the balloon, ultimately causing it to break if you use it too recklessly. Innovative use of your many skills and risk/reward decision making comes into play at every step of Guns of Icarus Alliance, which is why it seldom feels grindy or repetitive.
Betrayals Happen on the Ground. Friendships are Forged in the Skies
Guns of Icarus Alliance doesn’t just encourage the forming of friendships – it’s a core mechanic of the game. Every ship needs an almost symbiotic understanding and trust between the crew to function at peak efficiency and synergize the various tools and abilities available. Engineers need to know their positions so they don’t stumble over eachother to repair the same damaged gun on one side of the ship while the balloon is on fire on the other. The pilot has to trust a gunner to have weapons reloaded and to hit his shots when the crucial moment arrives, just as engineers have to trust the pilot not to burn out the engines faster than they can be repaired by using too much kerosene in a tight spot. Likewise, the strategizing co-pilots have to do between eachother is perhaps the most intense of all. On-the-spot co-ordinating of what combination of ships to take to a match, which target to focus on or when to retreat from a bad position, often leads to heightened drama and raised voices. But when you fly together closely enough, it can ultimately result in a wingman bromance that would put Maverick and Goose from Top Gun to shame!
Though voice chat is ideal for the communication needed to keep the ship running smoothly, there are shortcut commands for those without a mic where you can ask your crew to repair certain parts of the ship that are looking a bit dead!
Quite simply: the better you are at working with people, the better you’ll be at Guns of Icarus Alliance. Those who bicker and blame others will fail while calm heads who talk to eachother like reasonable people will succeed. Just as Guns of Icarus Alliance punishes those who don’t work together, it greatly rewards those who do. There are countless intricate ways a crew can work together to attain victory.
Using clever strategies with your crew like timing the use of an engineer’s buff tool to have all the key components buffed right as the pilot is ready to initiate combat, can turn the tide of a battle, and it feels hugely satisfying to make plans come together as a group. As you grow more familiar with a certain group of people, the more beautifully synchronized your operation will become, with engineers moving in cycles, using the chem spray to keep components immune from fire. I used to call out “trifecta” whilst captaining my beautifully ragged looking Junker, and I would know instantly that my crew would leap to their posts as I lined them up at an angle to fire three Artemis rocket launchers, disabling enemy components at range, before moving seamlessly into a short range broadside to finish off our foes.
There have been other titles, such as Blackwake, that tried their hand at the emerging multi-crew ship genre. Still, I’ve never played another title that represents the inter-reliance of a ship’s crew in such a perfectly coherent way as Guns of Icarus Alliance. Since the original Guns of Icarus Online practically innovated the genre by itself back in 2012, the fact it continues to soar so high amongst its contemporaries through the years is a testament to its greatness.
A Wonderful World Above and Below
On top of being its incredibly well rounded gameplay, Guns of Icarus Alliance is also a breathtakingly atmospheric depiction of airship combat. In PvP, ambient drums act as a type of sonar, increasing their volume and tempo to a fever pitch as opposing ships pass close to eachother under the cover of clouds or ruined buildings, ratcheting up the tension. You’ll soar through a vast variety visually distinctive maps, from the temples poised atop waterbourne stone spires in Water Hazard to the twisted metal husks, orange clouds and adobe cliffs of Canyon Ambush. You really get the sense that this is a rich, unique world with a lot of thought of how to immerse you in it at every level of design.
Truly, the amount of content on offer for an indie title is absolutely astounding, with a whopping 13 airships on offer, 30 maps, over 200 costume items and 31 different guns. And while even some triple A studios choose to sell their multiplayer titles character-by-character, Guns of Icarus Alliance‘s ships are all completely flyable either right from the start, or through attaining glory for your chosen faction. Every ship provides a different experience. Those who want the feeling of piloting a grand airship with big powerful guns will enjoy the galleon, with two devastating heavy guns on each side (equipping it with a pair of Hwacha rocket launchers is a thing of awesome beauty when forty plus small Chinese style rockets consume whole ships with little explosions, wrecking every single component). Those who want a nippy ship that almost handles like a fighter jet will enjoy the squid: a nippy little vessel which uses its terrifying speed to get on your six (especially devastating when equipped with a balloon popping cannonade that can disable a enemy vessel and slowly grind it into the ground, laying better armed ships low with the element of surprise).
Anywhere you want to go: There you are
Beyond the basic deathmatch mode, there are plenty of other modes on offer for PvP, such as traditional capture point mode: King of the Hill. This mode is especially fun on the Desert Scrap map where you’re fighting inside the giant husk of a downed supership, with the screeching metallic sounds of airships smashing into eachother and the presence of airborne mines creating a wonderfully explosive and chaotic experience! There’s also the wild ride of the Crazy King mode, where fleets of up to four airships on each side dash between capture points, fighting high speed battles alongside eachother like a aerial version of a cinematic car chase!
Guns of Icarus Alliance also bundles in an extensive amount of PvE content. In these modes you can team up with other players to fight waves of computerized no-good-niks. Infiltration mode has you defending a VIP airship, which “infiltrates” a series of control points, you’ll be working hard to shoot down waves of fighter planes or ram away opposing airships that threaten your VIP. Defense mode allows you to defend a fortified base from oncoming waves of enemy airships, and you can even tow floating balloon-equipped cargo crates back to base to repair it!
Like in such classic team-based titles as Left 4 Dead, an AI director carefully balances the challenge of each map. Just as things seem to be going a little too swimmingly, the weather will change, storm clouds appear on the horizon and a massive enemy “boss” juggernaut hovers into view, raining down fire upon you and ramping up the challenge.
Through playing PvE, you can win also glory for your clan and help support your faction in the overworld war, though difficulty is adjustable for what level of challenge you want. Over the years Guns of Icarus Alliance has become the incredibly diverse game it always aspired to be, catering for any type of player: casual player or competitive, PvP or PvE lovers, and can give you a way to fit into a team perfectly, no matter what type of gamer you are!
A Life Lived in the Air
Before Guns of Icarus Online, I never saw myself as a competitive gamer, or one who’d care enough to get deeply involved in a any one game’s community. I generally play through games till the story is finished or I’ve had my fill. But there’s something incredibly unique and special about Guns of Icarus Alliance that brings people together in its steampunk dream. Through the trials and tribulations of forming a clan to compete in community tournaments, I met many of my best friends, and I was able to form far deeper bonds of companionship with them than I’ve been able to do playing any other game. The developers are intensely passionate about the community, finding time to play matches with players every week, always listening to feedback about balancing the various ships and guns (even when that feedback isn’t always phrased in the most genteel way!) The passion of the developers has been returned by the fanbase, with community members even creating a visual novel fan game set in the Guns of Icarus world.
Having played the PC version of Guns of Icarus Alliance for over 1200 hours, I was pleasantly surprised just how seamlessly it translated onto the Playstation 4. Though some of the graphical options are not quite at the same level due to the limitations of the PS4’s hardware, the experience has otherwise been ported across flawlessly. Whether parkouring over railings to get to a damaged component, ramming into hapless foes with my mighty pyramidion or shooting down fighter planes with the gatling gun, I never felt in any way hampered by the console controls. I even did some cross-platform play with PC players, but I didn’t once feel at a disadvantage towards them using anologue sticks instead of a mouse and keyboard. Muse had to work extra hard to get voice chat working between the platforms as well, but having used a headset to talk to desktop companions (sharing their bemusement on the occasions I’d accidentally ram into a cliff) I can confirm it works just fine!
Into Glittering Horizons
Guns of Icarus Alliance is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, but it’s not for everyone. It’s not for lone wolf gamers who like it to go it alone – it’s fundamentally a game as much about building relationships as it is about fixing machinery.
This is a game for those who long to forge bonds of brotherhood or sisterhood in the fire of adversity. It is for those whose hearts yearn to soar through the skies on a creaking airship, feel the wind on their face and see adventure on the glimmering horizon. It is for daredevils who crave the intensity of knowing that a few hearty mates fixing a fragile balloon are the only ones keeping you from plummeting to the ground hundreds of feet below.
No game has ever consumed my life like this one did, and no game ever will again. If you’re intrigued by the boundlessly ambitious project of Muse Games and the passion they’ve inspired in others, then pick up a wrench and spyglass, and join us in the friendly skies!
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Muse Games ; Developer: Muse Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 30th, 2018
Full disclosure: This PS4 version of Guns of Icarus Alliance was provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher. The reviewer has, over the years, formed friendships with those who now work at Muse Games but only after playing Guns of Icarus Online for hundreds of hours. The reviewer was also a kickstarter backer for Guns of Icarus Alliance because of his love of Guns of Icarus Online that he started playing in 2012.