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Gunscape / 10th of March 2016

Blowfish Studios’ Gunscape is a pretty rare thing in the world of videogames, it’s by no means an exceptional gaming experience by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something that, like Minecraft before it, is sure to ignite the fires of creativity. It is still as much a game as it is a set of tools with which to create though, so to lazily pigeonhole it as either is surely to miss the point, because beneath its functional toolsets, there still lies at its core a first-person shooter, and that – to me – is what truly differentiates it from the competition.

Gunscape, you see, is akin to a love letter to the FPS titles of the nineties, particularly those on PC that offered the possibility of creating your own maps – as a die-hard console gamer, this isn’t really something that I have had much experience with, but I can undoubtedly see its appeal. Blowfish Studios have made it their mission to bring this experience to consoles and it certainly appears to work well enough, the tools may be fairly primitive, but usable maps can certainly be crafted quickly, shared and played on by the burgeoning community, but does it really offer enough to have a chance at capturing truly widespread appeal? Probably not.

When booting up the game, the team at Blowfish have thoughtfully included a story mode of sorts to introduce the basic elements of the game to its players, on the whole, however, it’s not really worth the effort, but then it is little more than a tutorial, which is perhaps the problem. You see, beyond map creation, or trying out other users’ designs, there isn’t really a heck of a lot to do here, which means that those simply looking for a solid, old fashioned FPS title will likely be better off just holding out for the spectacular looking Doom 4. What this mode does do, however, is highlight some of the creative potential that the game can afford players, and the range of environments that its tools allows for, which, ultimately, does serve to showcase the core purpose of the game.

Now, map building is something that can go rather horribly wrong very quickly as the natural impulse is simply to throw as much stuff at the game as is humanly possible, but this simply descends into chaos, so a much more measured approach is necessary here. In fact, the sheer wealth of tools that are available to players will only come across as being rather daunting should one go diving blindly in, instead – rather obviously – it is perhaps best to approach the task of level design with a clear and concise goal, whether it’s an entirely new area, or one based on a map off of a more professional product. There are so many different types of blocks available and with them, so many possibilities, yet the core reason as to why this particular brand of world building seems more appealing to me, is that everything has a purpose, it feels practical and not in some abstract term either.

As I said, Gunscape is a first-person shooter, and it offers a variety of game modes (co-op, capture the flag, team deathmatch and such like), so when setting out to create a map, it is built from the ground up to meet the criteria of one of these modes of play. You may also be pleased to know that Gunscape, thankfully, can be enjoyed over Xbox Live or in split-screen. Maps can be built in co-operation with other players, but essentially, they are all built to be played on with others, and yeah sure, Minecraft offers this too, but to me, it’s not quite as tangible or as all-encompassing as this homage to one of gaming’s greatest eras. But then, perhaps it’s just my old age?

It may go without saying really, but just don’t expect Gunscape to blow your socks off with mind boggling visuals, it’s just as primitive as Minecraft is, so from a graphical perspective, it’s certainly functional, though little more. Likewise, however, it does also offer a pretty interesting soundtrack which, whilst not a collection of Boards of Canada-like ambient tracks, are still a veritable selection of chiptune and techno that fits perfectly with its frantic gameplay and pixelated visuals. This was definitely the highlight of the whole package for me, and it is undoubtedly an area of the game that could be easily expanded through additional content packs, which does mean that over a long enough timeline, Gunscape could very well be a game that will continue to keep on giving, assuming that Blowfish remain in a position to keep the experience fresh going forward.

Gunscape, then, despite its many positive features, is still a rather tough game to recommend, it feels overly reliant on its community to provide the game with sufficient content, which really means that this will likely just be a game for those who are looking for something to chill out with as they while away the hours creating their own unique maps. Those looking for a decent first-person shooter are only going to be disappointed, it may very well ape the classics such as Doom, Quake and Unreal Tournament, but ultimately its gameplay is too shallow and can’t emulate the strengths of any of these titles. Still, for £16 you can certainly find a lot worse, so if the creative aspects seem appealing to you, then it might just be worth investigating.
James Paton
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