Skeleton Band

I do love me some rhythm games but I’m not the best at FPS’s, so any time I can combine the two together and use my love for rhythm to help combat my slowly deteriorating hand-eye coordination I’m all for it.  Rhythm FPS’s have been cropping up at a higher rate in recent years with the likes of BPM and Metal: Hellsinger gracing PCs, so seeing studios’ iterations of the genre is just more music to my ears.  After seeing Gun Jam put out solid ideas and presentation through its demo, its 1.0 release has come and gone and, well, fans are not pleased.  Gun Jam is currently Mixed on Steam, which always piques my interest, so I dove in to see what kind of flavor this particular jam is.

Gun Jam plops itself into the “what if Audiosurf but with Guns” seat at the Rhythm FPS table. The game slots in 10 original tracks to blast to in 3 arenas and a checkpoint-based stage.  Each character has 4 weapons that are beat-specific: the harder the beat, the bigger the weapon.  The OST ranges from Metal to EDM and sticks within those genres throughout, which is where the custom OSTs come in to butter the bread, but we’ll talk about those later.  Your goal in each arena is to hit the highest score you can before time runs out, which is marked by the end of the song.

Controls are pretty simple and easy to pick up.  Your normal attack/dash/melee are available via each character having an Overdrive activation, think like your Ultimate.  Attacks are performed differently than other titles within the genre. Instead of firing on each downbeat they are done based on specific instruments and pieces of each song.  These pieces and instruments also dictate which weapons you’ll use throughout the song: smaller beats and cymbal hits will use the purple machine gun, normal selected downbeats will use the yellow shotgun, quicker selected half-beats will use the blue railgun, and big booming bass notes or selected finishing four-beats will use the red grenade launcher.  Your dash is also attached to these weapons, as bigger weapons provide a bigger dash with the trade-off of losing your power on that beat.

I said “selected” a lot back there. This is because Gun Jam picks which beats you can actually do things on.  This makes positioning absolutely key, as big dashes needed to escape getting hit remove your big damage attacks needed to kill enemies, and damage is the only way the enemies will leave you alone.  Proper positioning is doubly needed as some songs will have pockets where no actions can be performed, so you’re left walking and/or jumping with limited movement which will have you getting hit and your heart meter emptied quickly.

I can respect the duality of having to choose between movement and damage because it makes smart play a key factor in maintaining a high combo, but not being able to dash/attack on every downbeat really slows the tempo of Gun Jam to a crawl sometimes, and it’s a real mood killer.  If you’re given 3 blue half-beats followed by a triplet or two of purple machinegun hits, your dashing is limited, and if you’re in a newly populated area (enemies will spawn in waves pretty much right on top of you when it’s time for them to spawn), having no movement is a guaranteed hit against you and you just have to deal with it.  Getting hit in games like these without the manual feel of human error makes taking damage deflating and off-putting: two emotions you never want in your up-beat, high intensity title.

These two adjectives are at odds with the game’s soundtrack.  Gun Jam comes pre-loaded with 10 tracks and they’re…okay.  Genres ranging from EDM to Trap Hop and Metal fill out the selections, and…look.  I understand licensed tracks are expensive and it can feel more in-house and special when a game provides its own jams to run its own courses.  But most of these tracks just aren’t good.  There’s one Metal track talking about one’s blood sugar that is more hysterical than riveting, and not because I’m diabetic.  There’s where the previously mentioned Custom OST comes to do what it can to help.

There’s no limitations to which songs you can add to your game, so long as they’re .mp3’s.  Since stages go as long as the song plays most custom songs will be shorter experiences than the provided songs, but playing whatever song you want is pretty dope.  But we can’t have nice things as the beatmaps are automatically made and most songs do not have coherent beatmaps to coordinate a fruitful campaign against your enemies.  So while we are out here playing whatever songs sound dope, be ready for a coin flip of whether they actually work.  Custom Beatmaps are currently in development but were not available on release.

Let’s address the elephant in the room here: this needed more time and funds.  Despite a fleshed out and promising demo Gun Jam 1.0’d to what feels like a skeleton of what it wanted to accomplish. Only 4 stages? Characters hardlocked to those stages?? No online leaderboards???  Gun Jam is desperate to stand out against a stout lineup of Rhythm FPS’ of the past few years, but its attempts to shake the genre’s foundations misfire in almost every regard.  There’s a chance this game could show its true colors months down the road but the entire band needs a tuneup before you buy a ticket.