There’s a quote from Bungie’s design lead, Jaime Griesemer, during their development of Halo 2 which really gets to the bottom of what makes a great action video game: “If you can get 30 seconds of fun you can pretty much stretch that out to be an entire game.” Guangzhou-based Duoyi Games have taken this mantra to heart in crafting a satisfying and addictive combat loop for their new 'first-person looter-shooter meets rogue-lite’ - Gunfire Reborn.
Loot it up
Having just released on Xbox & PC via Game Pass, alongside existing Steam and mobile versions, Gunfire Reborn is now serving up its rogue-lite mayhem to a wider audience. This is one of those games that clearly mixes the DNA from existing titles to create a compelling hybrid.
The first-person combat is lifted straight from Borderlands with a barrage of cell-shaded enemies and bountiful loot drops combined with a tactical mix of guns, grenades and special abilities. The game’s structure however will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s spent time with Dead Cells or Hades. It employs a rogue-lite system of perma-death combined with randomised dungeons which steadily increase in difficulty during each run.
In true rogue-lite fashion, dying is the key to progressing, and after using all available revives players will respawn back at a central hub with a stash of progression points to spend on upgrading various stats. These stats include everything from increasing ammo capacity to health and armour points, weapon proficiency and the amount of starting currency. Spending progression points on upgrades will provide a range of active and passive buffs, ensuring further progress on the next run. It’s the classic rogue-lite game loop we all know and love, and Gunfire Reborn doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel.
Here come the big guns
While there’s not much innovation happening in terms of the mechanics, what makes the game ultimately work is the fun and gratifying combat. Much like any good looter-shooter, players will spend almost every moment mowing down a diverse set of enemies in a fountain of explosions and hit markers. The enemy scaling is finely balanced too, so progressing through each run is not just about having the best stats - it also relies on actively getting better at the game and using the full range of skills such as effectively utilising cover, or increasing damage by using headshots.
The weapon variety is also a big highlight - there are over fifty weapons on offer. As players progress they'll unlock or upgrade to more powerful variations with randomised stats and elemental abilities. The weapon variety is not at quite the same level as Borderlands as there's no procedural weapon generation here, but with many of the main stats being randomised on each weapon, the potential variation is still almost limitless.
There's the usual fare including assault rifles, SMGs and shotguns, and also the more unusual - such as a bomb-throwing lizard, a 'power glove' that shoots lightning, and a range of samurai swords for melee combat. Further boosting players' abilities as they progress, scrolls give additional stat boosts, such as an increase to ammo capacity at the expense of armour, or buffs to weapon damage when standing still. Much like other rogue-lites, finding some rare and powerful scrolls can lead to vastly overpowered builds which allow players to breeze through runs.
Co-Op to the Rescue
While the game is a blast to play in single-player, after long stretches it can become a lonely affair. This is why the game’s co-op-based multiplayer mode really is the most enjoyable. During co-op sessions, up to four players of varying skill levels can take on dungeons and try to get as far as possible. Enemy numbers are increased during co-op and difficulty is scaled up so newer players will need to be cautious.
The addition of unlimited revives (as opposed to just one in single-player mode) ensures that teams will have a much greater chance of progressing if they watch each other's backs. Thankfully the online community is pretty strong, and I found all my online teammates willing to engage in cooperative play during my co-op sessions using Xbox Live matchmaking.
While the co-op mode is fantastic, sadly on Xbox it’s currently riddled with performance issues that I hope to be sorted out via some much-needed updates. For example, during my own play-throughs, I used the game’s built-in matchmaking system to find teammates. Despite using Xbox Live, I kept matching with other players whose ping was in the triple digits, sometimes as high as 500+.
Sure, I’m playing in Australia where the player base isn’t as high, but surely it’s possible to match up with a few players in this region? Rather than use a centralised server to host games, Gunfire Reborn uses a peer-to-peer system in which one player will host while others join. This is an underwhelming experience and the developers really should implement a server-based model for co-op play.
Once in a co-op session, I experienced regular glitches and frame-rate drops. It seemed like the game’s net code was struggling to deal with multiple players in the same space. Also, it may not be a fault of the developers, but during several runs, I saw other players freeze and abruptly log off, and during some boss battles, I was suddenly abandoned by my teammates - despite the fact we were on a successful run.
Don’t get me wrong, when the co-op mode works, it’s genuinely fun and has a ton of potential. But right now on Xbox, the game needs a lot of performance improvements before I can wholeheartedly recommend co-op play.
A Class Act
It’s a shame the co-op mode leaves so much to be desired because there’s a lot to like about Gunfire Reborn. The dungeons themselves (called ‘acts’) are diverse and mix up combat with a broad range of enemy types. Each act has around 5-6 levels which increase in difficulty before facing a final boss.
The first act takes place in the Longling Tomb which consists of a series of tight, randomised corridors along with bigger hub rooms that serve as staging grounds for larger set pieces, which usually involve defeating waves of both grunt and elite enemies. The final boss in this dungeon is fairly easy during the first few runs but becomes much more powerful in later runs once players progress beyond a certain level.
Upon completing the Longling Tombs, players find themselves in the next act, the Anxi Desert. There’s a fountain in the opening area here which lets players save their games and exit back to the main tavern if they want to. I liked this feature, as it allowed me to take a break during runs before diving back into the next dungeon, though it's disabled during co-op to ensure the group remains together during each run.
The Anxi Desert is by far my favourite area of the game, and definitely gave off the most ‘Borderlands’ vibes. It’s also a nice change after the dark corridors of the Longling Tomb, featuring more open levels filled with shifting sands and large boulders for cover. The region is dotted with Wild West towns whose main streets are fun combat locations. It also adds a swathe of interesting enemies including snipers who fire homing bullets, large soldiers wielding flamethrowers, and a range of aggressive reptilian foes. They make for entertaining cannon fodder, particularly when using the energy orb to freeze them in place and then shatter them to pieces with an automatic weapon.
The final boss in Anxi Desert is a hulking snake-like sandworm that can clone itself and is very difficult to defeat without some heavily upgraded weapons. The third act, called the Duo Fjord, takes place at night in a lush valley, filled with bamboo forests and dotted with small villages. I’ve only reached this area a few times, and the enemies here are much more agile and deadly. The fourth act is called Hyperborean Jokul which takes place in a snowy, mountainous region.
Players start a new run on Normal difficulty and then move on to Elite, Nightmare, and finally Reincarnation which has 8 further levels that represent Gunfire's endgame content. Aside from massively boosting the HP of enemies and beefing up the boss’s difficulty across the board, Reincarnation adds challenge events which are unavoidable enemy encounters that can pop up at any time during a run. With its multiple difficulty levels and meaty endgame, Gunfire Reborn has a substantial amount of content for players to dig into.
A Hero is Born
There’s also a diverse set of unlockable heroes which add further variation to the gameplay, allowing players to find a character whose unique skillset is more suited to their own play-style. The first hero is known as Crown Prince whose special abilities include a smoke grenade that has a decay effect, and an energy orb that can freeze enemies in place. Despite his lower movement speed, he’s still an excellent character to start out with and is by far the character with whom I’ve spent the most time.
The second character players can unlock is Ao Bai, a Rottweiler with dreadlocks who has the ability to dual-wield weapons, making him very powerful when it comes to gunplay. He also has the ability to throw explosive grenades, though he does have less powerful shields which make him more vulnerable to attacks. Other heroes include a pink bunny named Tao who can hurl swords at enemies and a hedgehog named Qian Sui who can summon a powerful shield, among others. Mixing up each run by swapping out heroes keeps the game fresh and allows players to approach situations in a variety of ways.
East Meets West
Gunfire Reborn is the developer's first major release outside of China, with most of their previous releases consisting of mobile and PC-based MMOs and RPGs. The game initially saw release on Steam before being ported to mobile as the excellent Gunfire Reborn mobile, with its first release on console now on Xbox (and PC) via Game Pass.
Notably, the studio also handled the Chinese version of Keen Games’ popular sandbox RPG, Portal Knights. Gunfire Reborn’s origins within China can be seen in several menus which, despite the game having received full English localisation, still have some information written in Chinese. The game also has a distinctive East meets West flavour with a mix of cultural iconography and influences, and is all the richer for it.
Despite this being the studio's first foray into the world of rogue-lites, they’ve handled it well and have delivered a solid experience. A steady stream of updates and content has continued since its launch, and the game's popularity has grown since 2021. The Xbox and non-Steam version on PC has been published by Italy-based 505 Games, who count diverse titles like Terraria, Control, and the PC release of Death Stranding among their stable.
Dying and Trying Again
Overall, Gunfire Reborn is a fun and competent rogue-lite with a satisfying combat loop. The moment-to-moment gameplay is addictive and the randomisation of dungeons keeps things interesting across a succession of runs. The meta-progression ensures that the old mantra of ‘just one more run’ is always tempting. Like any action rogue-lite worth its salt, the repetition of dying and trying again is a core gameplay mechanic, so others' mileage may vary depending on their tolerance for games of this structure.
One big stand out for me is the co-op play which has a lot of potential, despite being hampered by some performance issues on console. Hopefully, these will be ironed out soon, though without a major shift from the current peer-to-peer matchmaking system to a server-based approach it’s hard to see how the developers would overcome this issue.
Gunfire Reborn is solid and engaging. It successfully blends the ’30 seconds of fun’ combat loop of the best looter-shooters with the satisfying meta-progression of rogue-lites to create a compelling hybrid FPS that’s definitely worth checking out for fans of either genre.
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