Gatling Gears

Ratchet and tank.

Don't let its twin-stick control scheme or whimsical steampunk charm fool you. Gatling Gears, the latest from Greed Corp developer Vanguard Games, fancies itself as a manic, eye-watering, bullet-hell 'shmup'.

Sure, it's slightly more restrained and approachable than anything you'd find in an average Japanese arcade hall, but the meandering rockets, distinctive bullet patterns and screen-flooding ordnance all tread familiar ground.

Elsewhere, the game borrows its ideas from the litany of top-down, twin-stick blasters that have cropped up since Geometry Wars exploded into a glitzy neon hit. You've got schizophrenic analogue sticks, a butt-saving smart bomb that wipes the screen of foes and a handful of different weapons to choose from.

Amidst this chaos, you play as Max Brawley, a moustachioed war veteran with his own personal mech, an infinite supply of machine gun bullets and a colourful history with a nasty bunch of industrialists.

When these Earth-spoiling cads pop up to wreak havoc with the environment - ripping up trees, causing earthquakes and spoiling the lush countryside with unsightly power stations - Max hops in his walker and starts to fight back. What follows are 30 levels of endless shoot-outs, split into six distinct locations, and broken up by the odd ingenious boss battle.

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You can customise your walker's paint job and choose a pet to follow you around.

While it mostly succeeds in emulating those masochistic eastern shmups, Gatling Gears doesn't really have any of the hooks or gimmicks that make those games so compulsive. The latest DoDonPachi on iPhone amped up the scoring system with a smart mix of defence and offence, for example, while Ikaruga toyed with duality and colour to keep you on your toes.

Gatling Gears definitely doesn't have a cool concept like that to fall back on. The combat is basic and predictable, the buyable upgrades just add more power and range and its score system is preschool stuff: a multiplier that rockets up when you collect scattered cogs, left behind from downed foes.

You can mix up the constant rata-tat-tat of the Gatling gun with the odd rocket or grenade, but it quickly falls into near-tortuous repetition. As you endlessly dodge bullets, kill the same few enemies and cumbersomely stomp on to the next predictable battlefield, Gatling Gears' one-note gameplay wears out its welcome before its lengthy campaign is even close to finishing.

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Gears takes place in the same universe as Greed Corp, but this is a far cry from that game's sharp strategy.

From minute to minute, it's enjoyable enough. It's got that cathartic fun that somehow rises from chewing up nuisance enemies with a torrent of bullets. This is demonstrated best when you pick up a rare booster power-up which transforms your spluttering Gatling gun into a showerhead of sparky death, your limp rockets into staccato barrages of death and your bouncy grenades into, well, you get the picture. Death, basically.

Gatling Gears also encourages zesty, upfront play. Your machine gun has a meagre range of fire so you'll need to get into the action to actually hit anything. It's more aggressive and intimate than hanging around the baseline like most space shooters. Plus, having a tight grasp of the game's three different weapons leads to some satisfying brawls: lobbing a grenade so it explodes just as a wave of enemies pass over is pretty darn gleeful.

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