Matches in Lemnis Gate send you through a 25-second time loop to undo your mistakes and ravage your opponents, but it's less about twitch skills than four-dimensional thinking.
For some competitive first-person shooter players, there's a hill you can never seem to surmount. You might excel at planning and have an excellent sense of the game; you know how your opponents think and where they'll be, and you know how to outsmart them. You carefully plan your ambush, lying in wait with a superior plan--but when you get your opponent in your sights, they overpower you with superior aim and twitch shooting skills. You might have superior planning, but in many FPS scenarios, fast reactions can and often do win the day.
In Lemnis Gate, though, your tactics are often much more important than your twitch skills. The competitive FPS combines the planning and execution of real-time strategy games with the on-the-ground play of a character-based shooter, creating a sort of turn-based FPS that values out-of-the-box planning and preparation.
Winning is all about timing in Lemnis Gate, which we quickly learned in our recent hour-long hands-on session with the game. The idea is that Lemnis Gate's matches take place as a series of time loops, each spanning 25 seconds. When you take your turn, you dispatch a character onto the map to complete an objective--say, to grab an item and return it to a teleporter on your side of the map. You have 25 seconds to do that, and your turn ends. Your opponent then takes their turn, dropping a character into the same 25 seconds you just played; they see your character run out and do whatever it is you did on your turn, but they have the opportunity to grab the resource first or shoot your character, stopping them from accomplishing their goal. The 25-second time loop changes thanks to their actions, and then it's your turn again. You might kill their character so that your character survives and grabs the objective, for example, changing the loop again.
In a one-on-one game, that process continues until each player has dispatched five characters into the loop, and the winner is whoever nabs the most objectives when the 25-second time loop finally is completed. (When your opponent is taking their turn, you can fly around in a drone to survey the map and see everything that's happening during the time loop.) So Lemnis Gate isn't about playing against another player like in Call of Duty or Apex Legends--it's about playing against the recording of another player. Since you're not fighting an active player but instead reacting to what they already did, you don't usually need those super-tight aiming skills that might define high-level play in other FPS games.
"We specifically designed the game to be strategic and skillful at the same time," game director James Anderson explained in an interview with GameSpot. "We wanted players to be able to win by outsmarting or out-thinking their opponents. We reward creative thinking and outlandish setups and stuff like that."
Those potential setups come from another aspect of Lemnis Gate: its characters. Each time you run through the time loop on one of your turns, you send in a different character from your squad of five. Each one has a different set of weapons and special abilities--one character can engage a brief speed boost, another can drop turrets every few seconds, another sprays toxic waste that damages enemies that walk over it. There's a sniper, a character sporting a rocket launcher, and a gunner with your standard assault rifle-and-grenade loadout.
"Because the whole game's set in a time loop, you can actually use causality as a gameplay mechanic and defeat your opponent just by setting things up in a way that they didn't expect or positioning your operatives and your abilities, placing mines and turrets and stuff like that," Anderson said. "If you can find a great strategy, then the mental aspect of the game can actually support and, in some cases, outweigh your twitch aim skills, right? Obviously, the best players in the world are going to have both of those things, a cunning mind and great twitch skills, but we wanted to kind of even the playing field and provide a shooter where you don't need to be 100% accurate with every pixel-perfect headshot to win. You can actually rely on your mental skills a little more than perhaps a regular shooter."
Our hands-on session included two game types: a one-on-one competition in which your goal is to grab four floating resource orbs and return them to the aforementioned teleporter, and a two-on-two mode, where players shoot at several free-standing generators scattered around the map to capture them and score points. In both cases, things got hectic in a hurry, highlighting how much you need to have battlefield awareness and solid planning in order to be victorious. By the end of a one-on-one match, 10 characters are running around the relatively tight maps. You not only need to have a plan in place for what you want to do with each turn, but you have to be aware of what you've already done--fire a rocket in the wrong place or step through another character's line of fire, and you could be taking out your own team thanks to friendly fire, damaging your ideal time loop.
"...We wanted to kind of even the playing field and provide a shooter where you don't need to be 100% accurate with every pixel-perfect headshot to win."
In the two-on-two mode, things get even more complex. There, players have teammates backing them up, bringing the total number of characters who appear in the 25-second time loop up to 20. It's easy for the match to become a confusion of turrets, mines, rockets, and characters scuttling around, but your goal is to shoot at several stationary towers to capture them. The team with the most captured stations at the end of the loop wins, and like in King of the Hill modes in other games, a captured tower won't stay captured if the other team shoots it, allowing for things to swing drastically.
The map we played had several tight lanes characters could move down, and the possibility of having two characters on each team dropping mines and turrets meant that map control became much more important--and difficult to manage. There's also the matter of when you bring out certain characters; you don't want to lead with your sniper, for example, because they won't have any targets to hit. And since you only have 25 seconds to make your moves, you still need to be quick, careful, and on-point; if you miss your shots and the timer runs out, you'll essentially waste a turn.
"The thing that gives us the most freedom is the fact that in our game, you don't play one character, you play all characters," Anderson said. "So whatever the player does on the other end, you have the equivalent to throw back at them, right? If, for example, take the guy with the rocket launcher, Death Blow. If your opponent takes him and blows up all your guys with Death Blow, it's like, 'Oh, man, that devastated me.' Well, then on your round, you can actually just do the same back to them. We've found that because you can play multiple characters, it kind of stabilizes and equalizes the playing field quite well."
While we only got a short look at Lemnis Gate, taking on a few matches of each game type, expect there to be even more strategy at play over time. The preview build we played gave a glimpse of how meta progression will work--you earn experience points over time when you play, and that progression will unlock new items over time. Most of them will be cosmetic, Anderson said, but you'll also earn some new equipment as you develop expertise and gain XP with specific weapons and characters.
That equipment, like new weapons or different kinds of secondary gear, will allow you to further customize your team, Anderson said. You might get a different version of the sniper rifle with slightly different stats, maybe increasing the size of its magazine at the cost of its accuracy. The idea is that these customizations will be tradeoffs, so it won't be that players who put in more time have more dominant weapons. Instead, over time, you'll create a team that's tuned more to how you play and your needs on the battlefield.
And ultimately, that's the kind of thinking developer Ratloop Games Canada wants you to be doing--considering your FPS battles in a different way. Anderson said the studio is looking back to the early days of the FPS genre, when its ideas were first solidifying.
"I grew up on stuff like Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, Descent, these kind of early first person shooters where they were really just being invented, right?" Anderson said. "And every new game that came out back then, there weren't really rules about what was supposed to be in them and what wasn't. The concept of the modern genre didn't really exist back then, so every time you played a new game was, 'Okay, what's this game about?' And it was kind of a lot less strict in terms of thinking or design. So we wanted to kind of do a throwback to those kind of days. where really the rules about what a shooter is and what a PvP online game is. They didn't exist back then, and I think there's a lot of areas which are still unexplored."
Lemnis Gate is slated to release sometime this year on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Thanks to backward compatibility, it'll also be available on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S.