Gimbal is an arcade shooter set in space. Not the most original of concepts, its the lowly breakfast tea on the back shelf of a herbal store. However, it does what it does with enough of a unique flare that it sets itself apart from other games in the genre. Almost.
Allow, if you will, to digress for a moment. The people I socialize with at university (and indeed, I myself) could be characterized by some as ‘nerds’. While some join the football, basketball and of course, the pole dancing societies, I joined the Comic Book, Sci Fi & Fantasy society, and naturally, The Gaming society. Whilst at the gaming society, I met many like minded individuals whom shared my passion for gaming, and took it one step further by studying computer game design, programming, and other courses relating to the production of video games. At one of the first socials, there was a duo testing out a game they had designed called, Space Salvager. This game was an arcade shooter set in the fast realms of space which required players to build a ship with various parts, unlocking and upgrading parts through gameplay. What I am trying to say though, is playing this game for me, feels inherently familiar, but obviously won’t for many others.
Luckily, Gimbal is a predominantly multiplayer experience and with that in mind, 8 Labs were kind enough to provide an additional code to share with a buddy, so while I played through the game myself, I decided to base a large chunk of the review on his initial reactions and document them, comparing them to what I felt about the game. He originally liked the customization of the ship. Being able to create a slow, bulky craft that packed enough firepower to make a dent in a small planet as well as a nippy craft that could evade danger easily was great. The depth of this mechanic increased two fold when realised we had to balance speed and aggression if we wanted to stand a hope in hell in defeating other players. Deciding whether to spend your cash on an additional thruster or a rocket launcher really gave the game a level of strategy.
However this quickly became a moot point, as gameplay mainly consisted of being annihilated by everyone elses heat-seekers.This is where the big, gaping flaw in the Gimbal’s design comes into play. Most games that reward you for time and effort put forth are still playable by those who are new to it, or just aren’t very good. An elite MLG player is going to win a normal game 9/10 whether you give him his usual load-out or not. However, Gimbal requires little to no skill whatsoever to play. Considering weapons fire in a straight line, unless you’re behind a ship that is unable to maneuver due to its sluggishness, most of the game is spent in head-on dog fights that result in the weaker ship getting blown to smithereens. Of course, the idea is to play enough so you can upgrade your vessle to become the biggest fish in the tank, but this amounts to little more than MMORPG-style grinding, and this is not something you expect from a arcade-shooter.
Adittionally, I found the multiplayer to be laggy-as-hell, preventing me from avoiding any attacks with nifty flying, and just careering into environmental objects. When I did get it to run smoothly, I still felt that aiming was nearly impossible as a stroke of a key caused the ship to change course by around 45 degrees, meaning I had to simultaneously deflect my attacks while trying to maintain the right course. Another aspect of Gimbal which I can only describe as bloody annoying, is when the ship takes damage, certain parts go offline. This means if someone smacks you in the thrusters, you exclusively move in just a circle, or worse, just a straight line. Couple this with the fact ammo barely lasts a second, and a simple knock can turn your ship into a pile of floating scrap metal. Perhaps a single player other than the current ‘training ground’ would be in order to get the most out of the ship you create.
In terms of visuals, both of us were impressed with how quaint and colorful yet… spacey (totally a word) the game felt. The backdrops help emulate the vastness of space, glide-like handling of the ship really makes you feel like you’re floating through the cosmos. The one issue I had however, was that your ship didn’t feel very distinguishable from anyone else’s, or indeed the surroundings. The ships felt so small (and in some cases pixelated due to the graph-style building system) that you barely noticed them against the backdrop. The core mechanic of Gimbal is the upgrading of your own ship, making it a personal vessel in which you annihilate your foes. The problem is, Gimbal almost glosses over the visual aspect of this, instead focusing on what you can do with your ship. Which, as I said before just seems to be stick heat-seekers on the front and call it a day.
Is It Worth Your Money?
$15 is a lot to ask for an independent multiplayer only title. When I say that, I don’t mean in terms of production values, but such a small launch will only get so many players online. You could easily find the community starting to shrivel soon after launch, and the lack of a campaign or single player means your investment is down the pan. Gimbal has great visuals and an interesting mechanic that appeals to the Lego crowd. Unfortunately the unoriginal gameplay and lackluster controls make this game a miss to all but those who truly love the shipbuilding genre. If you’re willing to put the huge amount of hours in to perfect your craft then you’ll likely get a great sense of satisfaction out of Gimbal.