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Steambirds Alliance barrel-rolls into free open beta

The other kind of Gunbird

Who here remembers Realm Of The Mad God, the free-to-play shmup MMO? Well, co-developers Spry Fox (Alphabear, Triple Town, etc) just launched their next shot at the genre - Steambirds Alliance - into open beta today, with servers running until Monday. Take your common-or-garden variety twin-stick shooter, cram sixty players into each battlefield and commence the looting and shooting. There's some light RPG elements, but mostly a lot of bullet dodging, and perma-death for your fighter (but not pilot, who levels up) if you catch too many shots. Jump into the beta here, and see my initial thoughts (plus a trailer) below.

My first impression is that Steambirds Alliance feels more solid and more coherent than Realm Of The Mad God. As all the units in the game are flying, polygonal objects, they've got distinct facings, which means larger enemy ships can have blind spots, weak points, shielded areas and gun turrets. Enemy bullet patterns are surprisingly intricate right off the bat, too - I especially like the flying trains that leave laser-tracks behind them, possibly fencing off your escape route. Players control little dieselpunk (despite the title) planes and mechs, piloted by cartoon birds, and they stand out well enough amidst the gunfire. It's still easy to die, though.

All it takes is one bad turn and a foolish dash into a bullet pattern to ruin you in this game. You'll gradually gain perks and unlocks from long-term play, but the fastest way to gain access to new plane types is just to not die. Hit level twenty with one type of fighter and you'll likely unlock a whole set more to play as. Looting and levelling is very simple, too - enemies drop gear, but you don't have to stop to fiddle around with it. If an item picked up is a direct upgrade over something you already have, it'll equip it. If it isn't, then it'll just go into your inventory. A good call.

Right now the only problem I've encountered is that the initial crush of players means that you may have to wait a couple minutes to get into the post-tutorial instance, thanks to it being jam-packed. Beyond that, it seems nicely polished, some beta watermarking on the screen aside. I have been playing the game with my Xbox One controller, but mouse and keyboard seems perfectly valid. I do feel like once the intensity ratchets up a bit, analogue movement to get you through bullets will be helpful, though.

You can grab the free beta version here on Steam and play until Monday. Keep track of the final game's release on this page here. The final game will be free-to-play.

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