Imagine Mad Max on airships; giant dirigibles made of scrap and sloppily cut planks, boilers sticking out at odd angles and gushing steam like blood. Now imagine it is a game centered on team-based PvP. That's probably the quickest and easiest way to describe Guns of Icarus, a game that tries its damnedest to avoid classification and ends up being one of the most fun experiences I've had this year.
In Guns of Icarus, you work to pilot an airship with three other people in order to kill airships run by other groups. Fights range from two airships on each side to nasty 4v4 brawls. There are three different classes you can choose from: The Pilot, The Engineer, and The Gunner. The primary difference between these classes are the cosmetics you can buy and the number of tools of a certain type they can take. For example, an engineer can take three different engineering tools, one piloting tool, and one special ammo type. On the same note, everyone has access to the same tools, no matter if they've been playing for five hours or fifty. The only differences between vets and newbies are experience and cosmetics.
The emphasis on the teamplay is strong to the point where I would compare it to Dota 2 or League of Legends. Guns tend to have narrow arcs and deal specialized types of damage that do very little to anything but their intended targets, which forces you to communicate with the people mounted on the turrets. There is an incredible deal of skill involved in dealing with various emergencies while your engines are shot to hell and your hull has more holes in it then Ray Lewis's alibi. Shaving off seconds by finding new ways to get around your ship with risky parkour will save your life, make you a hero, and let you imagine how Scotty must have felt in classic Star Trek.
However, the best place to be in Guns of Icarus - by far - is at the helm. The tools and the basics of piloting are easy to pick up, but the physics engine and wide variety of ways to fit and fly ships means there's never a stale match. A truly memorable match will push your skills to the limit and make you feel like Starbuck. A game can go any way you want it to, from a brutal ten minute furball where airship parts and shell casings fall like rain, to a calculated slow half hour affair where teams navigate misty narrow canyons hunting one another.
The community is pretty small - there are maybe 18 full games and 150 empty ones at any one time - which means you'll only see a few hundred people around at a time. You'll end up playing with the same people a lot if you enjoy the game. They won't be faceless mooks in random matchmaking, but friends and enemies you have a history with; people who know you and remember how you play. Your reputation matters, and people who show superb skill in piloting and engineering attract an entourage that will magically appear to crew ships when their leader logs in. On the same note, bad pilots and ragers tend to be ostracized quickly. This also means that it can be frustrating to get a challenging match if you're a really gifted player with a lot of experience .
It's really something that eight people with only $30k from Kickstarter and no publisher managed to make a game with such compelling PvP, but their budget is painfully obvious at times. The game is extremely buggy; it's not unusual to get caught on strange geometry or simply fall through your ship, or worse, get lodged in a gun you just dismounted and spend precious seconds trying to jump out of it. The game crashes quite often, though the blow is softened by the game's incredibly fast load times and ability to hop back into a match you dropped out of. Though the sound design for weapons is quite superb, there are only two or three musical tracks and they grow stale quickly. The servers creak under the weight of the playerbase, making lag a problem every match.
However, all these problems pale before the quality of the gameplay. You'll never have the same match twice, and you're always in for a challenge, especially in the pilot's seat. Guns of Icarus is already a strong contender for favorite game I've picked up in 2013, and I strongly encourage you to try it out if you're into team-based PvP experiences. Muse Studios, the game's developers, are running another Kickstarter to try and improve the intelligence of AI shipmates, add a piloting AI incase your pilot crashes or disconnects, fix many bugs, and most ambitiously use the combat system and aforementioned AI piloting system for the basis for a separate MMO/Arena game hybrid. Muse has already delivered a good product, and I've got faith in their ability to do something amazing with some more money.