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  • Writer's pictureRoberto Nieves

Review: GUNHEAD


Within the black gulfs of space, there are treasures and nightmares. Much like the pirates and privateers of our oceans, there are untold riches to be had in the deadliest parts of the Galaxy. Cryptark introduced us to a world of gritty spacepunk privateering when it launched in June 2017. Inspired by the works of Ridley Scott’s Alien and H.R. Giger, Cryptark quickly became an extraordinary game and one of the best roguelikes in the genre.


Seven years have passed since Cryptark released, and now developer Alientrap is back to send us into dangerous derelicts again with Gunhead. The sequel has been in development for some time, but now it has arrived to give players an incredibly action-packed sequel. Gunhead is an excellent roguelike and a great follow-up to Cryptark.



Booty in Space


The story is simple. On the fringes of space, there are privateers. These small crews of contractors take on jobs for a good payday. They scavenge destroyed or derelict ships for salvage and profit. However, for one crew, there is a payday that can't be refused. A mysterious organization has approached one specific crew with an earth-shattering contract. A cluster of derelict alien ships has been discovered, but their defense systems are unmatched. The ships appear to be from a long-extinct extraterrestrial race that was brimming with cutting-edge advances in robotics and cybernetics. Many have tried to enter, but all have failed.


Within the ships lay advanced technologies unlike anything ever seen. The ships are almost alive in how they repel invaders with a mammoth cybernetic A.I. brain controlling all defensive systems. With a dedicated crew at your request, you are offered the Gunhead, an advanced exosuit that has the ability to penetrate each ship, engage enemy hostiles, and destroy the A.I. governing the defensive systems. It's a battle for loot at the edges of outer space.



Go Hard, Go Rogue


Gunhead is a roguelike first-person shooter. The gunhead can equip four weapons, as well as special perks and items. Players will begin their early runs with a basic assortment of firepower. A Gatling gun, rocket launcher, and pneumatic spike act as the early range and melee weapons, respectively. Over time, the arsenal will build with each run. Within the ships lie weapon programs that can be purchased and later equipped. Gunhead goes through great strides to introduce players to the basics but also encourages players to tailor their combat preferences.


Weapon loadout consists of basic rockets, machine guns, and melee weapons. Over time, players can access tactical nukes, laser gatlines, digital buzzsaws, etc. Additionally, gaining enough money lends itself to buying new gunheads. Each gunhead has its own abilities. One is more like a tank with heavy armor but not a jet pack, meaning players rely on jumping and zero gravity. There are plenty of combinations for players to tailor to find that sweet spot.



Be Smart with Your Gunhead


Before deploying, players select their target and then study it. There are many derelict ships out in this sector of space. Some ships are more militaristic, with various defenses, while others were designed for exploration or experimental research. Each ship has its own set of secondary objectives for players to challenge themselves. Despite the multitude of objectives, each mission remains the same: Breach the defense and destroy the computer A.I. Brain of the ship.


Gunhead plays almost exactly like the excellently well-done side-scrolling roguelike, except now in the first-person viewpoint. It's the same kind of action but from a new perspective, providing its own intensity flavor. The gameplay experience can be compared to Tower of Guns or its successor, Mother Gunship. While it may be similar, this new interpretation of Cryptark has unique experiences and surprises.



Missiles, Lasers, and Nukes, Oh My!


Playing in the first-person viewpoint has its familiarities. Enemies are aggressive and will stop at nothing to defend their derelict vessel. However, with the Gunhead's maneuverability in a 3D space, the combat is more heated and chaotic. In a way, I was reminded of Sublevel Zero or Overload when playing Gunhead. Players move in all directions but must account for speed, skill, and awareness. The ships are huge, with various enemies and systems. Losing one's way is a quick path to defeat.


Like its predecessor, each ship has its own systems, which can introduce its own set of challenges and unexpected surprises. Each system has a role to play in the enemy vessel. Shield generators naturally protect the A.I. Brain. Other systems involve controlling combat drones determined to destroy you or keeping doors locked. One system, the randomizer, changes these systems on the fly and can be a nuisance when trying to survive a dangerous run.



Get Away From Her, You Witch


Exploring each ship is a risk vs reward. Focusing on the mission may be a better chance at survival, but missed opportunities in finding weapons and gaining extra cash. Exploring each vessel yields other helpful items like health pickups, keys for doors, and weapon pickups. The first few vessels are easier to get through, but as players peer deeper into the cosmic boneyard, more dangerous defenses need to be dealt with.


A new addition to the experience is boss fights. These fights come as a surprise and in various forms. Some ships contain them, which are easily some of the more difficult enemies to contend with in the game. These otherworldly machinations require skill, speed, aggression, and a little luck to destroy. In one run, I encountered a giant mechanical snake-like machine that launched volleys of enemy projectiles. Through being fast and the skin of my teeth, the enemy was downed. These bosses are big risks on the run, but the rewards and data collected are well worth the time.



Gunhead challenges players to pursue secondary objectives. These objectives might make a level considerably more difficult, but the rewards are hard to say no to. One objective might mean leaving a dangerous defense system online for research purposes. While the reward payout is nice, this can also lead to a quick death. Objectives and how you approach them are entirely up to the players.


When everything comes together, Gunhead is an exciting roguelike and a worthy successor. Fighting giant alien bosses and maneuvering through the remnants of a derelict ship don't get old. It's a tremendous time that is both exciting and delightfully unnerving. There's always a constant sense of mystery and ambition when encountering the unknown in each run.



Though Gunhead mostly succeeds, there is the ambition of wishing more was brought into the game. New Gunheads or weapons or enemies. The bosses are a nice touch from its predecessor, but I feel more could have been added. I could have easily imagined using gun pods or drones to accompany you in combat or receiving fire support from your crew.


You Got the Makings of Greatness in Ya


Gunhead is a blast and compliments its predecessor well. The visual style and first-person combat get the job done, and the unpredictability of runs keeps players returning for more. There are many roguelikes out there, but I'd recommend this one for its atmosphere and gameplay. There's loot to be made out there. Go and get it.


Gunhead was reviewed on the Steamdeck thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up.

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