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How the hell did I miss this great $12 roguelite shooter?

(Image credit: Duoyi (Hong Kong) Interactive Entertainment Limited)

OK, that's a lie. I know exactly how I missed Gunfire Reborn, an early access FPS roguelite that's taken some big swigs of Borderlands. As soon as I see the word or variations of "roguelike", my brain sags. "Early access" spins up the Ignore This klaxon. And Borderlands just hasn't aged well to me, both in flavor and structure. I found Borderlands 3 to be one of the least funny things I've played in years, and its bloated, repetitive structure didn't help.

But Gunfire Reborn, even in its early state, feels like a smooth distillation of all those pungent ingredients. This is a roguelite I can stomach, an early access game that's fun to play now and not six months from now, and that dabbles in the best bits of looter shooters like Borderlands: guns and stats.

Little game, big guns 

This isn't to say Gunfire Reborn does anything particularly new, but it does feel like a smart, deliberately slight game with the unstated goal of making you feel headstrong and powerful without wasting too much time getting there. 

Things are kept simple and familiar, too. Enter a room, shoot all the enemies, repeat. Chests are strewn about, withholding weapons, currency, and the occasional Occult Scroll stat modifiers that stack up new passive abilities as a way to steer playstyles and change up the action. Preemptive Strike makes the first shot from a fresh mag do more damage, Ammo Recoverer gifts one round of a random ammo type for every meter traveled—there are 106 scrolls and a lot to play with here. And like Risk of Rain, as you hit certain milestones, new scrolls will enter the item pool. 

The same stat-heavy principles carry over to the weapons, a simple array of pistols, SMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles made even more complex and diverse with their own modifiers and behavioral characteristics, many of which are randomly assigned.

I really dig the Argus shock pistol with its wide projectile pattern, especially paired with the Ninja Invincibility scroll, which slowly stacks a damage buff the longer you withhold from shooting. So I'd ease off the trigger, kite enemies into groups, and fire a long horizontal blade of supercharged electric energy, ruining everything in its path. A nice feeling, theorycrafting that simple tactic from only skimming the item descriptions. (Numbers make me sleepy.)

I'm still working on my scroll collection.  (Image credit: Developer: Duoyi (Hong Kong) Interactive Entertainment Limited )

Combat recalls Borderlands too. You have a floaty jump, a short dash (not a Borderlands thing), and enemies are pretty dumb by design, either rushing you or picking at you from afar. There's a lot of dancing around the arena to dodge grenades and melee attacks, while constantly changing weapons to conserve ammo or manage enemies at varying distances. 

The challenge primarily comes from maneuvering around big crowds without getting clipped and switching weapons to exploit enemy weaknesses. Electric weapons melt blue shields, fire weapons do well against armor—it's a classic lock and key system that takes the emphasis off perfect mouse aim. Enemies have huge heads anyway, a nice mask for my awful precision. Smoke grenades and a special orb toss ability, both of which can change in big ways depending on what scrolls you collect, help out with AoE damage or by freezing enemies in place. 

The guns themselves won't beat out ARMA for any SFX or animation awards, but they still have plenty of character. SMGs rattle and pulse, pistols let out a satisfying plink when the mag empties, and shotguns cloud out the sound and visual mix with extra everything. I'm partial to the Wild Hunt shotgun, which fires a shot both when you press and release the trigger. It's a mess maker. Gunfire Reborn feels like an FPS made by people that play a lot of them, even if they're not masters of the art quite yet. It certainly helps that you can play as a cat or a dual-wielding dog. 

Merchants present you with tough financial decisions along the way. Do I spend my money on a weapon upgrade or a health refill? Do I buy a movement buff scroll or extra ammo? I don't have the answers. I'm the kind of person that drinks three beers and buys a toaster oven for the adrenaline rush. 

Hardcore min-maxers will no doubt pore through stats and ecomomy to better optimize builds every run, and I'm sure that's way more helpful on higher difficulties, but the average dope like myself can make progress with pure attrition. This is where the lite in roguelite kicks in: as you play, you'll accumulate Soul Essence, and at the end of every run you'll get the option to spend those points on permanent stat upgrades. The nice risk-reward built in here is that when you die, you can also spend a chunk of Soul Essence to respawn on the spot. 

As your instincts improve naturally, so too will your stats, which gives Gunfire Reborn a fairly accelerated power curve. It means I'll probably leave it behind long before something like Risk of Rain 2, but I'm cool with that. It's only $12 too, a snackable, light, cozy shooter with a surprising amount of depth. If you're looking for something that goes down smooth with a complex finish, Gunfire Reborn is an easy recommendation.

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.