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This spaceship shoot 'em up is kinda like Vampire Survivors

In Gunlocked, your guns control themselves

If you've enjoyed murdering monsters and gathering gems in Vampire Survivors, you might fancy a go on Gunlocked. It's an arcade shoot 'em up where you gather random weapons and upgrades (and so many gems) across a run but attacking is kinda out of your hands. I'm not much of a shmupper but Gunlocked has started scratching that Vampire Survivors itch for me, and it's less than £3.

Gunlocked is a vertical-scrolling shmup in the classic arcade style, not a bullet hell. You start with a basic loadout, determined by your pick of pilot, then set about smashing spaceships to grab their XP gems. Each level-up lets you pick a new weapon or ability (or upgrade for a current one) from a random selection of three, helping you blast bigger and deadlier ships as you whoosh towards the final boss. In Gunlocked's initial early access state, a winning run is 15-20 minutes. But like in Vampire Survivors, your weapons fire by themselves, and each has a distinct attack pattern you need to factor into your movement if you're to explode anyone.

The mid-game of a run where I scored big on beams and beam synergies, bouncing blasts all over.

No weapon fires your usual constant barrage of lasers, with even the most straightforward being a Railgun that pauses to lock on before firing. The eponymous Gunlock, for example, sweeps a radar tracking beam around your ship in a circle before launching homing missiles at targets it hits, requiring you to dance around to touch targets. Others fire in moving patterns, or blast beams to a random spot, or alternate blasts between two points fixed in front of your ship, or fire more frequently if you're moving, and so on. Then upgrades might synergise by making beams bounce or adding even more homing missiles, or offer new abilities like spawning random healing zones. With good positioning (and a little good RNG), you can fill the screen with lasers and explosions, which is my primary interest.

Spaceships, lasers, explosions, and gems in a Gunlocked screenshot.
It really only has one boss right now, re-used several times, but the battles get more intense across a run.

I played Gunlocked when it first launched into early access in April, and it was fine. It had familiar and fun elements of blasting baddies to grabbing gems to build a run, but runs were rarely exciting or extravagant. Too often I was dragging my spaceheels through asteroid fields with slow single-target attacks. While it showed promise, I wasn't sure it would realise it. This changed with a new update yesterday. It's made an unexpectedly large difference with new beam weapons and synergies, a new enemy type, plus some power-ups and balancing and bits. Now I'm bouncing burning beams all over, clearing the screen while dancing through colourful chaos. Yes, this is what I'm looking for.

I still feel runs start too slow and meek. And bad luck with the random level-up offerings can foist a bad or boring run upon you. And extras zones and weapons will be most welcome. But I've now seen a glimpse of Gunlocked's direction and I'm well up for it.

Gunlocked is available now on Steam Early Access for £2.89/€3.29/$3.99. The plan is for a full launch to follow after 5-7 months of early access, during which developer Steven Lefcourt plans to add persistent unlocks, more zones, more enemies, more bosses, more characters, more weapons, more upgrades, and more other stuff.

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