With a bit more content and development time, Gunfire Reborn could join the ranks of the best early access success stories.

I tend to ignore new releases on Steam’s early access platform. Tons of good games have eventually made their way out of there, the operative word being “eventually”. That said, every once in a while a studio will release a game into EA that comes out swinging day one. Gunfire Reborn is one of those. I’m calling this a review, but it’s early access so everything mentioned here is subject to change. On the other hand, is 20 hours of play really a “first impression”? I don’t think so. Let’s compromise: we’re going to go with review but I’ll keep it succinct.

What Duoyi Interactive has built here is an amalgam of genres, mechanisms, and systems, many of which are transparently inspired by specific games. The guns and elemental system are straight out of Borderlands. The run structure is pretty standard roguelike fare, with set worlds but procedurally generated levels keeping you on your toes each play. The enemy designs and scrolls are reminiscent of Risk of Rain. The progression system that persists from run to run is a non-refundable skill tree similar to the ones seen in Rogue Legacy and Dead Cells. I could go on but I think the point is made: what elevates GR is how it combines these elements in such a way that it not only feels distinct from all of the above, but more importantly feels right.

The single word I’d use to describe GR is “satisfying”. Combat moves at a rapid pace as rooms eventually flood with high damage enemies demanding your attention. Critical hits are determined by your accuracy in hitting enemy weak points, which means good play makes big numbers fly out of enemies like candy from a pinata. The guns look great and vary to the point that unlocking a new one is just as exciting as finding an old favorite on a fresh run. The upgrades range from wacky and niche to straight up broken with the right combinations; I’ve had builds that gave me nigh invulnerability, infinite ammo, ludicrous glass cannon stats, you name it. The game offers a significant challenge but the leveling system helps compensate for that, and particularly hardcore players have an elite difficulty to enjoy after their first clear that bumps things up just a bit. Losing a run is never heartbreaking because it always ends with making tangible, permanent progress in your tech tree. The game delivers on pure FPS/roguelike satisfaction time and time again without fail.

What’s equally surprising is how smooth all of this plays out. Early access has a reputation for bugs and unfinished features but my experience with GR has been more polished than plenty of “finished” games I’ve covered. Aside from the occasional issue inviting people to a multiplayer game I’ve yet to run into a single notable bug. There are some quality of life changes and translation issues that I could rattle off, but Duoyi has been remarkably responsive in giving people what they want. When the folks in the forums asked for a quick weapon switch button so they could make optimal use of perks that trigger on swap they almost immediately added the keybind into the options. No fuss, just, “here ya go.” That kind of community involvement and speed is incredibly rare and it’s reassuring when so many early access titles’ issues often sit ignored despite loads of feedback.

Am I saying GR feels finished, then? Yes and no. While there are loads of guns, upgrades, and skills to play with the actual levels themselves can feel a bit samey. At time of writing there are only three areas with runs ending as soon as the third boss is finished. Once you clear the game on elite you’ve essentially seen all there is to see. As I mentioned up top I’ve put 20 hours into this, and while it’s been an excellent 20 hours I’m not sure how much more solo play I’ll be putting in until more content comes along in the updates. That said, bringing along friends who haven’t made it as far yet and seeing their reactions to how far off the rails the game can go has been a blast. I’m by no means done playing and look forward to where development will take things, but it is something to consider, especially if you’re already good at games like this and will likely clear it quickly.

Recommending an early access game can come with a lot of provisos. My criteria is simple: in a worst case scenario where the dev studio disbanded tomorrow and the game received no more updates, would I still recommend it? Most don’t make the cut. Gunfire Reborn does. If you enjoy any of the games or genres I named as its inspirations I’d be shocked if you didn’t enjoy this just as much, if not more. It doesn’t just rehash the ideas it borrows; it uses them to create something entirely its own while simultaneously existing as a love letter to its predecessors. Moreover, it delivers on punchy gratifying combat every time while varying each run up enough to keep you on your toes. I knew this was a winner when I sat down to write this review and couldn’t think of any critique beyond “I want more of it”, and I look forward to adding its name to the list of early access success stories down the road.

Reviewed on Steam.