Priced at £6.99, there’s a very strong possibility you’ll have overlooked the release of Oldschool Games’ God Mode, a new four person PVE horde-mode shooter. The genre is fairly saturated, and with too few titles that innovate within the genre, a lot of you – ourselves included – tend to turn a blind eye. This one, published by Atlus, is only £6.99. How good can a game in an historically bad genre be, for only £6.99?

The answer: Jesus Christ, this game is good.

“Welcome to Hades… that’s hell in a toga”

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The first thing you’ll notice about God Mode is its sense of humor. The melodramatic voice over from the demon overlord reminds me of Rock of Ages, with a similarly Grecian theme enough to make even the prudest classicists cream in their togas. As it stands, you have five breathtakingly beautiful maps to choose from, all of which follow a progressive set of rooms, split through portals, as you make your way through hordes of legendary enemies.

God Mode is that tacked on ‘horde mode’ that every AAA title seems to ship with now’days, but because that’s all it is, Oldschool Games have focused on exactly what makes that genre good, excelling in all its strong points. It’s balanced, hectic, well designed, and the maps are beautiful, varied, and expansive. Visually, God Mode is stunning for £6.99, and whilst this is a bit of a straw-man observation, it rivals God of War Ascension, visually.

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Surprisingly, the game is very immersive. Games in this genre tend to cause you to zone out after a small length of time, and only titles such as Killing Floor and Nazi Zombie Army, from Rebellion, have come close to keeping players engaged. There are various mechanics employed to do this. Firstly, the weapons look, sound, and feel great to shoot. The starting SMG has low accuracy, but tearing through hordes of enemies and watching them explode and dismember is a genuine thrill. Dismemberment adds to the excitement, and every enemy type has the potential to have their limbs – or bones – torn apart.

Another exciting feature is, as you’d expect, progression. Throughout the mission, you collect gold with which you buy new weapons, and upgrade them. Purchasing a new weapon and then waiting for enough gold to upgrade it substantially is the best way forward, and I still find the SMG to be the most useful weapon at most times. Shotguns, unfortunately, don’t pack the punch that you’d expect – but if you upgrade the damage on them, they can achieve that one shot kill you were hoping for. Players can equip a maximum of two weapons, picking up ammo drops around the map if needs be.

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So we’ve established that the core shooting mechanics and character progression are totally awesome, but there are some more subtle (or, well, not so subtle) additions to the gameplay that sets this title apart from the rest. Needless to say, the absolutely astonishingly beautiful level design already sets God Mode miles ahead of the competition, but each level within the mission adds a ‘mutator’, which you’ll know from UT, or Nexuiz, etc,. These random variables do things such as the benign alteration of the games audio pitch for the round, but they also do beneficial things like giving everyone infinite ammo with no need to reload. More brutal random mutators, like health drops doing nothing, or ammo slowly depleting, can be crucial, and it’s really just dumb luck whichever happens to your party. They’re funny, frequent, and frighteningly ferocious in how they affect the gameplay. Each one comes with a narration from the hilariously melodramatic over-lord of Hades.

This is a skill based third person shooter, and communication is important. Friendly fire is on at times, mutator permitting, and – this is the important part – the 6 lives you have are shared. Per mission, you have 6 lives between the party (if playing two player, maximum four). That means if one of you sucks, you’re going to let the entire team down. Because of this, whenever our team played in a PUG, there were, of course, problems. Hogging ammo and health drops when they didn’t need them, or just generally sucking was a huge detriment to the mission. Because they’re split into about 4-5 levels each, with a boss at the end, those lives really are crucial. A mutator which gives everything one shot kill – including the enemies – can really screw your team up if you’re not on comms, or one of you is a dog, or something.

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Because of that, this is a game you’re going to want to play with friends. You don’t necessarily have to, but there are other reasons as to why that’s a good idea: firstly, you can swear various ‘oaths’ before the mission, which will give you +% gold and experience in exchange for a handicap. You can have as many oaths as you want, but they are heavy burdens. Things such as having no special ability for the game, or ammo or health drops giving you less return, are a huge detriment to your team, so you need to let people know what you’ve got on, so they can assist you the best they can. There’s a risk right now that people will have all available oaths on and effectively “free-load” off the backs of other players in hopes of leveling up much quicker. That’s a dick move, but I can see it happening in random groups a lot. There’s no way, as far as I can tell, to see what handicap players have set themselves up for. I found it perfectly reasonable to receive less health from health drops, and to not have a special ability, in exchange for +10 and +20% stack-able XP and Gold, playing on normal.

As for difficulty, this is a skill based shooter. There are a ton of enemies on screen at once, and there’s a ton to dodge. Whilst you can sprint with ‘space’, and roll double tapping it, your normal run speed is much slower than other games in this genre, and you’ll get mobbed very quickly if you don’t keep tabs on what’s going on. You can’t resurrect your friends; you just die.

Enemy types are surprisingly varied considering the cost of the game, and all assets are, as I said, exceptionally beautiful. From Titans to skeletons, flying beasts to ethereal mages, God Mode has everything you’d expect from a game in this aesthetic genre. What it does, it does exceptionally well, and I cannot believe they’ve crammed it all in, only asking £6.99 for the whole package.

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After the boss, the mission ends with a curve ball, where all players compete for money drops in Hades’ hotel lobby. You can kill eachother to earn XP, or just focus on collecting gold each, sharing it. It’s hilarious in PUG’s because, of course, it becomes a free-for-all, but at this stage you’ve completed the mission and needn’t worry about failure. After the mission ends, you can head back to the lobby, buy more gear, upgrade it, and even purchase more costumes. On the costume front, if I had one criticism, it’d be that there isn’t a whole lot of variation. Costumes are split between head, torso, and trousers – but they’re just variations of 4 or so different pre-sets, from Victorian, to Gentlemen, and pirates, all included.

There are a ton of reasons as to why God Mode is such a great title, but they’re all very subtle. It’s possible many of them will be lost on some gamers – but this isn’t a casual game. It’s a hardcore game for hardcore gamers with a sense of humor and a love for gaming. You can tell it’s made with a wink and a smile, and plenty of knowledge of the genre, from people who know exactly how to make this type of game. Oldschool Games deserve a high five and a hand-shake, and Atlus, as ever, have done a great job at pricing the whole thing. For £6.99, I absolutely cannot recommend this one enough, and that’s why I unapologetically give it the five stars it deserves, and our first ‘must own’ tag of 2013.