Online-only but no PvP? How does that work?
Real-time strategy games used to be created solely for core gamers, but casual versions for cellphones and tablets have become unexpectedly popular as of late. Now a free-to-play, side-scrolling 3D strategy game called Guns Up! has crashed onto the PS4, and I have mixed feelings about the final product. On one hand there's barely enough content for it to be considered a game, but on the other hand, it keeps me coming back for short bursts of explosive fun.
I usually like to insert a paragraph describing the storyline near the start of game reviews, but this game has none. Not only is there no canon, but there are also no cannons. Apparently, all players need to know is that they're a General in command of an old-school army that is constantly attacking and defending.
Players spend the majority of their time creating their own base using a variety of useful offensive and defensive items. Each starting area uses the same layout with the only variety coming from randomly-generated rocks, bushes, and trees. It's up to players to figure out which natural impediments to keep and which to remove, and then it's time to decide upon an effective base layout that stresses defense. I've found that using walls and rocks to funnel enemies into a narrow path seems to work pretty well, as does placing offensive items close together to create a “killing zone.” These seem to be the basic strategies, and the advantage of player-created bases is that everything from basic structures to well-thought-out bases to ingenious strongholds will be encountered.
Players go on the offensive when they're not crafting their home base and/or updating it with new items and upgrades. This basically consists of attacking other player's bases via a moving munitions truck armed with a mounted machine gun. Players begin each match with a finite amount of the game's currency, known as munitions, and spawn soldiers out of the truck. Killing enemies and blowing up structures net more munitions that can be used to spawn more soldiers. Speaking of which, only grunts and assault troops are available at the beginning, but gaining higher levels will add more effective soldiers like medics and flamethrowers. These higher level soldiers can really turn the tide of battle. Believe me, I hate defending against rocket launchers!
Adding some much-needed variety is the addition of powerful attack cards. Depending on their level, players can go into each offensive match with up to five, and more are randomly obtained during matches. I like to go into each match using at least one passive card, like increased firepower or higher rate of fire, and then adding deadly attack cards like the missile or fire bomb. These offensive cards are one-use items, so it's best to save them for defeating powerful soldiers or groups of enemies. Cards are awarded to players after each successful attack mission, and random card packs can be purchased with a shitload of munitions or with real money. Players can also purchase XP boosts and cosmetic items, but thankfully, they can't directly purchase munitions or any “pay to win” items.
One of the things I find odd about Guns Up! is that it's an online-only game, but there's no PvP. When players are attacking bases or having their own bases attacked (which occurs at any time, even when offline), there are no real-life defenders. Players must rely on the strength of their defensive setup to emerge victorious. This asynchronous multiplayer works fine, but I think it would be much more fun to have some sort of PvP option. At least there's a defensive mode with endlessly-spawning enemies that can help players test out the defensive capabilities of their base. Sadly, this game's framerate takes a dirt nap every time there's a lot of activity onscreen. I can't understand why this happens on a current-gen console because the visuals aren't particularly impressive.
This game wasn't even remotely interesting at the beginning, mostly due to the ease of defeating other bases coupled with the fact that each attack mission lasted an average of only 90 seconds. I felt like I was constantly grinding, as if I were playing an MMO. Then something odd happened… my interest was piqued because I started losing. This hardened my resolve to craft the perfect defensive base and also made me want to obtain better soldiers and defeat other people's creations. It's amazing how something so simple could make me go from not wanting to play at all to spending as long as it takes to create a base that makes me proud. This is an ongoing process with no end in sight, and I see myself coming back to update my base from time to time.
I find it ironic that the PS Vita version of Guns Up! was canceled because that's the ideal platform for this military title. It's a fun game for short bursts, but there's nothing here that will make anyone long to play it, or even think of it for that matter, when they're not home. Hopefully, the developers will add more content to increase the variety and keep it interesting.