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Gunshine: Open Beta and Impressions

Featured post His gun isn't *that* shiny

Social networked Diablo-with-guns thinger Gunshine was a closed beta, and now it is an open beta. NEWS. Good news, however, as it means you no longer have to beg, borrow, steal or create a complicated algorithm to illegally generate a key to get in. It’s open to any and all, so long as they’ve got a browser which supports Flash. I’ve had a quick look at it and… well, it’s not horrible. I say this with some surprise, because I’ve become accustomed to games made for the Book of Faces being pretty horrible for traditional gamers like you and I (even if they are better-suited to non-gamers). Gunshine appears, so far, to be doing the right thing – making the addition of friends and spending give you better stuff and extra clout, rather than essentially locking you out unless you cough up or wait around.

As far as I can work it out from a brief blast, you can progress simply by shooting your way through and trying to improve your gear from random loot and affording stuff in the shop, or you can short-cut to mega-wow stuff by spending real-world money on in-game diamonds. Gunshine does immediately lose a little favour in my eyes by offering a $99 diamond package for those who want to go nuts off the cuff – sure, a lot of players may spend that anyway over time, but when you make such comically large purchases so visible doesn’t it rather reveal just how mercenary the game is?

Of course, Gunshine is scarcely alone in this, and more importantly it seems happy to let me play and do my own thing, rather than finding every way it can to stop me from playing until I meet one of its demands. As a free browser game, it’s pretty decent stuff – semi-3D graphics with plenty of explosions, and real-time movement and combat. As a standalone indie thing it would probably attract a fair amount of affection, so don’t rule it out because it bears the taint of Facebook. I’m only a short way in however, so can’t promise it doesn’t devolve into restrictions and vertical difficulty spikes which all but require cash or mass friend-spamming to defeat.

What is there is a similar system to Dragon Age: Legends, wherein you need to recruit NPC companions from a roster comprised of pre-fab types and characters earned by recruiting chums to the game, but so far I haven’t found myself grinding to halt, unable to do anything unless I have (or buy) the resources to recruit more mercs. Sure, it’s tougher played solo, while you’re waiting for the mercs’ cooldowns to end and bring them back into the fray, but at least there’s a range of abilities and grenades and shuriken and whatnot to dabble in and attempt to turn things to your advantage with, rather than banging your head against a brick wall of ludicrous difficulty. Again, it’s broadly similar to DA:L but it just seems that much more forgiving, and that much more interested in being game first, moneyspinner second.

This is not to say it’s a fabulous game, but it’s the first time (outside of Bejewelled) I’ve put a reasonable amount of time into a Facebook title and not wound up feeling dirty and conned, and wishing both myself and everyone involved it in its creation would walk into a fire. It’s a reasonable transplantation of the Diablo model into tongue-in-cheek contemporary gang war, replete with quests and loot, semi-open areas and just the teensiest touch of Fallout. The combat’s perhaps a little more automated than I’d like but the look and sound is such that there’s a satisfaction from felling a hulking goon or making a dynamite-laden pig explode from afar. There’s some manner of real-time co-op and PvP in there too, though none of my usual suspects have been online to try that with as yet.

I’ll have to give this more time yet to make my mind up, but right now I’m feeling as though someone is actively seeking to make social network games into game-games, rather than simply shoving wait/spam/pay mechanics into whatever theme and structure they can lay hands on. Hopefully plenty of other devs are thinking similarly, and these Facebook games we’ve so sneered at for the last couple of years could begin to leave a better taste on our refined palates. Would I buy an upgrade item/ability in Gunshine for real cash? Now, steady on. One step at a time. I can always go back to Torchlight if this gets a bit too much. I don’t feel offended that the option’s there, though: it doesn’t nag me much, the upgrades look enticing rather than simply options to continue playing, and most of all it seems to have found a surer balance between play and revenue-making, rather than made the game itself seem like merely a facade in front of a business model.

The open beta is available here, runs in a browser via Flash, and in fact you don’t have to use Facebook to get in, if you’re one of those folks who avoids or it or recently deleted your account to prove that you’ve got a principle or think you’re too good for it or whatever. You can play the basic elements solo, no social networking required.

Anyone spent much time with the closed beta? How’s it work out over time?

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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