Gimbal is an indie title that is currently passing through Steam’s GreenLight service. GreenLight is a way for users of Steam to sift through the reams of titles that want to be published through the services, and vote up ones that they have an interest in, Gimbal being one such title. It’s easy to see why it has attracted so much attention already, it involves designing spaceships from tiny modular parts and then going to war in an eye-catching, if not stunning, 2D environment. But does the (already released outside Steam) finished title hold up to expectations?
The basic gameplay involves selecting a ship from a roster of pre-built models and your own creations, and then taking part in a variety of multiplayer matches, with a simple kind of team-deathmatch being by far the most popular. At the time of writing there is usually only one populated server, so you don’t get much say in what is being played. The game controls as you would expect with some weapons being assigned to the mouse pointer and some only firing straight on, missiles often locking on to enemies and the arrow or WASD keys being used to pilot your ship around. Each ship has very different manoeuvring capabilities and they feel substantially different to fight as and against.
Combat is fairly exciting as you try and work out the best way to approach your enemies, whether it be from the sides or a hit and run attack before they can turn and get you in their sights. Some battles end up like the naval combat you’d expect from Star Trek, while many contain elements of Top Gun style dogfighting, with tiny fast craft zipping around each other trying to out turn their opponent. The battles also look decent for an indie title with an array of effects for different kinds of weapons instantly distinguishable helping you to make better decisions. This is not a particularly light-hearted game, those who know how to use weapons and avoid certain types of attacks will win each fight, there’s very little in terms of random outcomes that play any kind of effect. Ships can be destroyed in an instant with some weapons, although you can at any time return to your home carrier to resupply with ammo and health. If this carrier is destroyed though it’s game over. I’ve yet to see this happen as they’re incredibly well fortified, but you have to keep it in mind as I imagine a well orchestrated team attack could probably manage it.
Due to the skill requirements to succeed, the game can begin to drag after a while. With only one server and no matchmaking (due to a lack of players) if you come on and people are beating you, you’re going to have a hard time having any fun. Matches go on for a long time and if you’re outclassed you’ll find yourself respawning more often than anything. Each time you respawn you are brought in with some kind of transport ship, then released. It’s a nice effect but takes quite a long time if it’s happening frequently and you’re eager to get back into the fight.
The way to redress your shortcomings if you are losing a lot is to take part in the customisation side of the game. You can build a ship on a simple grid interface where you choose which body to use and then you can add what you’d like. There’s all manner of different struts and platforms so you’re not tied down to the outline of the original body, and you can even select how the engines are used for steering to give yourself different handling characteristics. You might want the turning engines at the front if you’re going to be travelling in arcs, or you could put them all at the rear to give yourself better aim while you turn on a dime. Each weapon can be placed onto a turret platform (by you) and then given a computer to make it follow the mouse pointer. Weapons can be grouped and placed in different directions, there is no end of possibilities and I’ve seen some outlandish designs (my personal favourite being a slow battering ram style ship with a massive hammerhead front section covered in a shotgun-style laser; if it crept up on you there’s no escape but when it fires it starts travelling backwards due to the recoil). You get a weight limit so you can’t put all you’d like onto the ships, you have to decide.
This weight limit is a major problem when you first start out. You increase your weight limit and unlock new parts by ranking up, and therefore people with more experience can have dramatically better ships than you. At least in Call of Duty there are some pre-sets with the higher level unlocks available. In this for the first few matches you’ll be scavenging kills wherever you can find them after other people have fought because there’s no way you’re taking on some of the high level ships. This can be frustrating and feels dramatically unfair. While I can understand the reasoning, it’s exciting to unlock new parts or be able to create a larger ship, it doesn’t feel much fun when you’re outgunned and there’s nothing you can do about it. The larger ships are even faster and more agile so you can’t have that advantage either.
Overall Gimbal has one brilliant feature ( the ship creator) but very little game elsewhere to stand behind it. I’ve heard comparisons of the game to SubSpace, but SubSpace was sprawling and vast. An entire universe with hundreds of other players and things to do, Gimbal is basically an arena based 2D shooter with customisable weapons. In some kind of tournament setting it could be a real hit, but if you’re planning on going it on your own, it’s going be hard to have much fun. Matches get repetitive quickly and for the $14.99 they’re asking you can get a lot more gameplay out of a plethora of other indie titles. There is however a demo at http://www.gimbalgame.com if you’re still interested.