What would a Roguelike version of Borderlands be like? Chinese developer Duoyi Games have answered that question with Gunfire Reborn, a first-person shooter Roguelike that challenges players to team up and progress through increasingly tough levels, strengthening their characters with each run and unlocking new features along the way. Gunfire Reborn isn’t the most polished Roguelike, but the challenging FPS gameplay and a fair level of depth make for a solid time in both solo and co-op games.
Gunfire Reborn begins with a mandatory single-player tutorial that lasts about 20 minutes or so. Afterwards, the starting protagonist arrives in a tavern from which players can launch new runs and daily challenges (if unlocked), form parties of up to 4 online players (matchmaking unlocks at player level 10), or view various data about unlocked heroes, equipment, and enemies.
At present, Gunfire Reborn offers six playable heroes, though it will take plenty of playtime to unlock them all. Initially, only the cat guy is available. If playing in a party with other beginners, everybody will be the cat. The game doesn’t offer selectable colors or skins, so the whole team looks identical in this type of scenario. However, after reaching a certain level, players will unlock a dog with dreads. Other characters will unlock after either reaching level milestones or by collecting enough soul essence, the game’s currency that carries over between runs.
Each hero differs in grenade type and special skill. The cat, for instance, fires a magical orb that deals explosion damage and can freeze foes. The dog, meanwhile, gets to dual wield weapons for a brief time, multiplying his damage and other abilities exponentially. The main metagame of this Roguelike comes from buying permanent upgrades for the individual heroes using the soul essence that has been collected during runs. Some upgrades are shared between different heroes while others are individualized, nudging players towards building up one character at a time rather than hopping between heroes on a whim.
An individual run in Gunfire Reborn consists of 3-4 distinct acts (different environments with unique enemies) that are broken up into 3-4 smaller stages and a boss fight. The individual stages are comprised of random rooms, hallways, etc., each with various NPCs and items that are also randomized. Players will always receive an upgrade chest for clearing specific sections of a stage, but the chest will usually offer a selection of different upgrades that can make a run easier or harder. NPCs that sell consumable items or weapon upgrades appear now and then; their services cost copper that can be found by defeating enemies or breaking objects.
Guns are where Gunfire Reborn most resembles Borderlands. Players start a run with a weak gun that has unlimited ammunition. New weapons can be found at the beginning of a run (if the right upgrade has been bought), dropped by enemies, from chests, or NPCs. They come in 8 categories and many shapes and sizes, but they all use one of three ammo types. Players can only carry and swap between two guns at a time (other than the starting weapon), so picking up weapons that use different ammo types is key. Weapons come with numerous elemental effects, modifiers, and stats, just like in Borderlands. Finding weapons that fit your play style and have good effects (such as life steal) can greatly increase your chance of success.
At the end of each act, the hero or team must face off against a huge boss. Some acts have two different bosses that can be encountered, further keeping players on their toes. Two of the better bosses include a sand lion-like monster that burrows under the sand before emerging to attack, and a ghost ship that fires cannons at the pier on which players stand. While these fights can be epic at times, they also tend to be annoyingly tough. The golem boss at the end of the first act, for instance, deals way too much damage in multiplayer games and takes forever to kill. If the team isn’t wielding highly effective weapons (always a matter of chance), these fights tend to go on forever, alternating between frustrating and boring in equal measure. Roguelikes are supposed to be hard, but the bosses here often act more as anti-fun obstructions than as enjoyable parts of the game. Boss life and damage seems to scale with team size as well, so they take longer in co-op than when playing solo, in my experience.
Playing with friends can still make for a good time, though. Taking on rooms full of tough enemies or challenging vaults (optional areas with good rewards) feels a lot less lonely with a few pals along for the ride. While the game lacks a formal trade system, players can drop weapons for each other, so you can still pass good weapons along when needed. Health pickups are individualized, though, so pointing out a health drop for a weakened player isn’t a thing.
As in many co-op shooters, teammates can revive each other when downed. The timer before bleeding out is short, though, discouraging heroes from straying too far from the group. If the timer expires, the player remains dead until either the next act is reached or a surviving player gets the chance to buy a resurrection from a shopkeeper. NPCs don’t appear all that often, so the dead player could be looking at a long, boring wait while the rest of the team continues the adventure.
Roguelike first-person shooters aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, so Gunfire Reborn really stands out from the crowd. The game has a pleasing visual style, interesting guns to find, and a fair variety of enemies. Building up characters between runs and playing with friends also add longevity. Downsides include generally boring level construction with no meaningful interactivity, annoyingly hard multiplayer boss encounters, and long waits for revivals after death when playing co-op. While it never reaches the addictive fun of the best single-player Roguelikes (such as Rogue Legacy 2 and Dead Cells), Gunfire Reborn still grew on me the more I played it. With sufficiently stout friends to bring along, this one can make for a fine addition to the co-op team's rotation.
An Xbox code was provided by the publisher for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: Up to four players can team up to attempt a run. Players can drop weapons for each other and revive each other when downed. If a player bleeds out, he or she can be revived later by purchasing a resurrection from a shopkeeper or by reaching a new act.
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