DieselStormers review (Early Access)

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Review by Tom Marks

When I was getting ready to play local co-op in DieselStormers, I didn’t expect that I would need to refer back to the Steam store page for instructions, but I soon found out that this wasn’t the only thing absent from the $19/£14 game. The latest Kickstarter-funded project from Black Forest Games, creators of Gianna Sisters: Twisted Dreams, is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up that plays like a Metal Slug/Diablo hybrid. And while it has a unique gun-crafting mechanic and some great looking art, the current Early Access version falls short on everything else.

DieselStormers is entirely playable, but there isn’t much to play. I saw everything the game had to offer in under two hours of playtime, and the last hour felt identical to the first. I select a mission from one of the three options currently in the game—go right then touch a flag, go right then kill a bunch of Orks, or go right then kill one big, robot Ork—and load into the procedurally generated landscape to fight the procedurally generated enemies and then be rewarded with a procedurally generated part to customize my gun.

At this stage in the game’s production, the randomness of the enemies and levels just makes every mission feel identical. It’s easy to see that the graphics team at Black Forest Games is top notch, but the randomly generated levels in DieselStormers currently don’t give me the impression of a living world that I got from the hand-crafted environments of Gianna Sisters. They’ve made the switch from distinct, unique landscapes to cookie-cutter ones, and I quickly started recognizing the set pieces that were spawned in front of me time and time again.

The 'Help' button explains this screen in two thoroughly daunting walls of text.

One of DieselStormers’ key draws, the custom gun crafting, looks promising but isn’t anywhere near its final form yet. Guns are broken down into three parts; engines and barrels differ in appearance and stat values, but only very slightly. The frame can change the way your gun fires to one of only three options currently implemented—single shot, machine gun, and shotgun spread—with more to be added. There is currently no progression in the game, meaning the strengths and variety of parts I received had no relation to the missions I chose, though switching around gun frames did shake up the gameplay a bit. Or it would have, if the dash attack wasn’t so massively overpowered.

In a game about building and customizing guns, the dash attack is all I ever want to use. It is significantly faster than normal movement, can kill the most common type of enemy quicker than any possible gun build, is immune to the enemy’s slowing effects, is the only way to break through destructible environment pieces, and can be used almost infinitely. It’s fantastic, and I feel dirty for using it. All this, combined with the fact that killing the hordes of Orks does not benefit me in any way and isn’t recorded anywhere, means that the optimal way to play the game is spamming dash and running to the end of the level. In fact, regular movement is so sluggish and the guns feel so impotent that dashing is the only way I can play DieselStormers without getting massively frustrated.

In the land of tiny Orks, the dashing man is king.

To its credit, DieselStormers has plug-and-play controller support, online co-op, and the beginnings of couch co-op already implemented. The local co-op is, however, incredibly limited. The other players can’t change their guns, and the explanation of how other players join can only be found on the Steam store page. Playing with friends is slightly more enjoyable, but there is hardly any interaction between players and nothing about the game changes or gets harder. The main difference is in the Arc Connector, a spark ball that normally hovers above the player’s head that now stays roughly between all the players. You can fling yourself towards the spark and your super move, a blue beam of death, fires outward from it, but the Arc Connector’s positioning is incredibly hard to predict, so it’s hard to use effectively.

Black Forest Games is active on the Steam forums and says it will be releasing updates every 3-4 weeks, which gives me hope that a lot of the shortcomings of DieselStormers can be solved. But after seeing the list of what’s going to be added, I fear the updates will focus too much on new content. There are some fundamentally unsatisfying aspects of the game that can’t be fixed with more variation. The jump button which drops you like a brick the moment you let go of the key, the claustrophobic environments, the way I can kill a boss by standing next to it and activating my super, and the downright confusing—albeit unique—Arc Connector mechanics all need a stern talking to before this game comes out of Early Access.

DieselStormers doesn’t provide any sort of depth at its current stage of development. It has some beautifully designed environments and characters paired with some interesting ideas, but there just isn’t any significant gameplay. I get a strong sense of the mechanics that Black Forest Games wants to show off, but it hasn’t yet built an experience around those mechanics.

The current backdrops are nice, but get used to them.

Verdict

You really shouldn’t buy DieselStormers right now. It’s very expensive for what feels more like a beautifully animated tech demo than an alpha.

Outlook

Probably good. Black Forest Games has promised a lot by Q2 of next year and DieselStormers has a long way to go, but the developer is active enough in the Steam forums to give me confidence that it's in it for the long haul. More than adding new content, though, I expect it will have to start making fundamental design changes before DieselStormers is ready for consumption.

Details
Version reviewed: “Build 2 July 2014”
Reviewed on: 2.4 GHz Intel Core i7-4700, GeForce GTX 880M, 32GB RAM
Recommended: 2.5 GHz Quad Core CPU, 3GB RAM, nVidia Geforce 500 or AMD Radeon HD 5000
Price: $19/£14
Publisher/Developer: Black Forest Games
Multiplayer: 4 Player Online and Local Co-Op
Link:Steam store page