Gearshifters is a surprise. What initially seems to be your standard everyday side scrolling shooter, albeit in car form instead of intergalactic space carrier, Gearshifters has more than enough about it to be able to provide you with some gaming needs long into the night.
It comes with a story that happily brings together the driving and shooting action, and even though it’s a bit throwaway at times, it does ensure there is both rhyme and reason to why you are heading out on endless amounts of delivery missions. That story whisks us to the dangerous transport runs of 2060, taking place straight after the collapse of capitalism and requiring us with reaching The Citadel. It’s not long though before the narrative starts to twist and turn, and whilst you may well be glad to skip through the static cutscenes as fast as you can, you’ll be grateful for why it has been included. Gearshifters may not need a story, but the one which is here should be seen as a teeny little positive.
Alongside that story comes the main action. This involves you jumping behind the wheel of your finest wasteland cruiser, taking down foes, collecting cash, schematics, power-ups and more along the way, all in hope of taking down a variety of factions. With end of segment bosses in place to ensure everything you have learnt is put to a decent test, Gearshifters certainly hits the mark again.
It looks pretty good too, pushed out with an arcade style which allows everything you need – your car, your opposition, your pickups and the surroundings you work for – to be admired. It’s not going to win any awards for artistic flair, and ultimately it all boils down to a case of shoot anything that moves as quickly as possible, but at least Gearshifters looks good in doing so. It even sounds good as well. That arcade feel means that weapons, crashes, bashes, smashes and more will happily immerse you in the action, with a pounding soundtrack helping matters even more.
Further to all this, Gearshifters handles really well. There’s not an ounce of lag, no sign of any stutter no matter how much is going on on screen, and – once upgraded a few times – your car can be controlled as you wish; accelerating, braking hard, drifting, spinning and reversing all over the shop.
And in amongst it all, it’s those upgrades which keep you coming back to Gearshifters time and time again. There are a ton of them too, and by picking up dropped schematics from your foes, along with gaining enough in-game coinage to be able to afford them, you’ll soon be upgrading your vehicle like never before.
Visual customisation is a gimme, but you’ll also be picking your primary weapons (shotguns, machine guns, miniguns and the like), along with secondary weaponry types – flame throwers, rocket launchers, rear guns, lightning cannons and more. The primary weapons are only limited by a cooldown meter, pretty much infinite in their ammo, yet the secondary ones require ammo pickups for any kind of use.
That customisation and personalisation of your vehicle expands more when you consider additional charge abilities, like being able to enhance your armour, to scramble enemy targeting capabilities, or to refill your arsenal. Again, you’ll need to build this charge by picking up the required drops when they appear, but with every takedown comes the chance to build your little collection.
Throw in the opportunity to fit different tyres depending on your stage – tarmac, off road and other adverse conditions come into play – to enhancing other extras like your suspension, brakes or gearing, and you’d think that Gearshifters had covered everything. You’d be wrong though as further combat parts also come along for the ride. It’s not long into playing Gearshifters will you find your car kitted out like the most intense killing machine. As long as you pick up and take those schematics of course. Schematics are key.
There are also a variety of unlockable skills to enjoy too, letting you drive backwards whilst shooting, enabling the chance to drift in and fire from an angle and more. It’s very much a case of the more time you put into Gearshifters, the more you’ll get out of it.
The very best thing is that each and every one of these abilities, unlocks and notches on the progression ladder always feel obtainable, able to keep you informed that the next run may just be enough to unlock that better weapon or will be able to provide you with a few more coins to add on some additional armour.
There is however one thing that Gearshifters does that really surprises. It throws in some roguelite action just for the sheer hell of it.
I know, roguelite combat racer? Yeah I wasn’t expecting that either but the way Numskull Games and Red Phantom Games have gone about integrating it is again very neatly done.
You see, for the most part your journey through the wastelands and onwards to The Citadel (I don’t want to spoil the story so that’s all you’re allowed) could well work as a standard leveled affair. But Gearshifters changes things up by providing a few stages before treating you to the faction boss. Fail at any point and you’ll be resurrected back at your HQ, with all your cash and schematics in tow. Harness those in the right way by throwing them into the unlocked customisation options and you’ll have the chance to head out and prove yourself once more. Basically, with every additional foray you find yourself stronger, better equipped and ready to go again. And if you’re still finding progression tough after that, Gearshifters will happily let you dial down – or up – the difficulty as you see fit. I’m not sure I totally agree with the whole ‘total invincibility’ option, but it’s there should you require it.
It’s this roguelite nature which is the real surprise in Gearshifters, mostly as these types of games are normally able to draw you in for a certain length of time before repetition kicks in. That’s rarely the case with this side scroller, helped by a decent variety of enemy units which are dictated by your path through the lands and the faction you decide to go up against.
There is also a single simple decision to make prior to every stage too, as a card system brings forth the chance to earn extra cash, to gain a schematic or to refill your weapons at the cost of something else. Mostly you’ll want to take the schematic, as that is the lifeblood of any driver, but again the option to switch things up as you see fit is an appreciated one.
There’s little to not like about Gearshifters, but like anything, it ain’t perfect. For instance there have been times when I’ve needed to reload the game as missions have refused to load in to the map screen. And that map itself is pretty confusing, with pathways this way and that, each of which has numerous waypoints and tick boxes. There’s rarely a time when you really feel at home knowing what kind of objective, mission or faction will be best to tackle next.
And it has to be said, Gearshifters can be a hard old slog, especially in the early moments as you pray for accessories to be added to your car. There will be times when you’re tempted to head off on a mission in the knowledge that you won’t be able to complete it, but hope that it’ll bring a few bits of coinage to allow for an upgrade. With the ‘standard’ difficulty providing a pretty tasty challenge, especially with some of the faction bosses, you’ll be crying out for new ideas, pretty fast.
On the whole Gearshifters is a brilliant little surprise. A side scrolling combat racer like this shouldn’t really have as much going on as Gearshifters does, but the inclusion of those roguelite elements means this is one you’ll be going back to time and time again – if only as the temptation of a new upgrade is always just around the corner.
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