Close your eyes and imagine a steampunk future in which giant airships roam the skies and old cannons lie rusting in abandoned settlements awash with light. Now open them and take in the hard truth: You've already imagined something more spectacular than Guns of Icarus can offer. This third-person action game's midbattle story panels may hint at such a time and place, but the game itself is a one-note diversion that tips its full hand within minutes of starting your first play-through. As it stands, there is a bare-bones version of the game you can already play for free within your Web browser. The full downloadable version throws in additional weapons, weather effects, and enemy attack patterns (don't let the misleading promise of extra "levels" on the developer's Web site fool you), but these additions provide little value. If you can find three others to join you in Guns of Icarus' online co-op play, you might have a bit of fun, but not so much as to make this trifle worth a purchase.
The first battle and every subsequent battle, for that matter, plays out in much the same way. You spawn onto an airship speeding toward the next destination on its trade route. There are six turrets on this ship: one fore, one aft, and two on each side. Swarms of screaming aircraft descend upon your ship, and you must man these turrets, firing at the squadrons bombarding you with bullets.As different locations of your ship take damage, you must not only cope with the buzzing hordes, but also repair the damage before you take a fiery nosedive toward terra firma. Should your engines take damage, you move more slowly toward your destination, which prolongs the battle. Should your cargo take damage, you will receive lesser rewards when you finally arrive at your port of call. These rewards are armor upgrades and more effective weapons that you can use to replace the less powerful Gatling guns with which you started.
You eventually use cannons, rocket launchers, and even a Tesla gun, which fires a stream of electricity at far-off targets. But even with more powerful weapons at your disposal, Guns of Icarus never deepens or broadens. Every battle involves scampering about, repairing your zeppelin and other parts of your ship between turret-manning sessions. This can get challenging--you need to manage your time wisely and choose to man the right turrets at the right time. But on your own, it gets old incredibly fast. You'll encounter different attack patterns, a few opposing airships, and various weather effects that affect your visibility as you move through the campaign, but these slim modifications can't make up for the lack of variety. There is only one airship design, so you run (though it feels more like float) about the same small level in each battle. You eventually reach a final campaign confrontation, though it's hardly a climax; it's simply an endless battle in which fighters inundate you until you inevitably crash and burn.
You can grab up to three friends and share the tedium, but co-op matches are stand-alone affairs, without even the minimal progression the single-player campaign offers. It's nice to share the gunning and repairing responsibilities with others, but it ultimately feels all but pointless. The game summarizes the battle and provides a point total, as well as a synopsis of how many aircraft each player shot down and how many seconds he or she spent repairing the ship. But there are no persistent rewards to earn, nor is there in-game chat. (If you purchase the game via Steam, you can use that program's chat system, though it's an imperfect solution.) The production values also contribute to the sense that Guns of Icarus is a mere shadow of the game it should have been. The discordant soundtrack sets a futuristic tone and a textural overlay of horizontal lines give the game a coarse but interesting look. But that thick texturing doesn't hide the plain-looking guns, poor fire effects, crude animations, and simple airship design.
The drawbacks would be easier to stomach if Guns of Icarus remained a simple browser game, but the whole enchilada costs $8 if you purchase it from the developer's Web site and $9.99 on Steam. With so many imaginative games from independent developers to choose from, spending this much money on one that harbors no surprises after the first five minutes of play just doesn't make sense. If you want to support the indie-game development scene, spend your funds on a game with more creative energy and lasting value.