Gun Jam boasts a concept that’s somewhat familiar in its “shoot to the beat” mechanic where rhythm game elements are blended into a first-person shooter arena. Rather than follow along a linear, narrative path akin to something like Metal: Hellsinger, Gun Jam offers a more open-ended gameplay loop. This allows you to tune in and zone out to music from its phenomenal OST, or import music of your own.
In a way, Gun Jam feels a bit like a first-person Beat Hazard set within a cyberpunk world, and certainly has the potential to be as fun and addicting. Unfortunately, in its current state Gun Jam also feels unfinished, and this is a real shame. Something with this much promise should’ve been given the extra few months of development time it needed to bake. In the future, Gun Jam may become something worth recommending, but as of right now, it’s a diamond that’s still very much in the rough.
Dashing through the “no”
Gun Jam thrusts you into the game with little to nothing in the way of instruction, tutorial, or explanation. Looking over its main menu, you’ll notice a selection of songs with their genre and beats-per-minute (BPM) listed, and an assortment of stages to play these songs in ranging from Easy to Hard levels of difficulty.
Right off the bat, I found it to be an odd choice that Gun Jam doesn’t allow you to preview any of these songs within the menu. You’re left to find out how they sound by selecting and playing them. As stellar as it is, Gun Jam’s OST is sparse with only 10 tracks to choose from within genres like Trap Hop, EDM, and Metal. With Gun Jam giving players the ability to import their own music, the limited track list isn’t as much of an issue as other areas of the game.
Specifically, only having four stages to choose from. This is where Gun Jam starts to feel noticeably unfinished. Each of the game’s four stages come with their own Overdrive, these aren't explained to you but are essentially in-level support such as slowing things down with Aero Bullet Time, or dealing more damage with Tap Quad Damage.
With only four stages present, I found it strange that two come with the exact same Overdrive, Tap Quad Damage. It's less interesting than some of the other Overdrives, and left me wishing there were more stages where I could play around with something else, like Aero Bullet Time or Ballad Berserk. Or even just have the ability to select which Overdrive I’d prefer for each stage.
Similar to not being able to preview songs, the game doesn’t offer up much in the way of details about these Overdrives. Instead, you’re left to find out what they do on your own by playing through each of the stages and observing. This would be fine, but the stages themselves also don’t tell you much in regards to what’s expected of you.
Not only can you shoot weapons to the beat with different markers reflecting different attacks and weapons, which the game rotates between automatically and frequently, you can also dash and dodge to the beat. Gun Jam gives you points for attacking or dashing, and I realized fairly quickly that instead of focusing on shooting enemies to the beat, I could simply cheese my way through by dashing around the stage in time with the beat.
Some enemies will pursue you if they spot you but they aren’t intelligent enough, or fast enough, to catch you. This makes the “dashing around the stage” method far more viable an option than it should be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and entertaining in its own right, but if the point of the game is shooting to the beat, Gun Jam doesn’t do much in the way of encouraging you.
You're not only relatively untouchable in dashing around the stage, the game’s enemies aren’t much of a threat in and of themselves either. Unless you’re standing right next to them, or in the path of their weapon shots, you likely won’t have to worry too much about taking damage. And when you do, Gun Jam is generous with its life hearts scattered around each stage. Not only are there several to find, they also respawn so once you know where they are, you return to the same spot over and over again to refill your health.
With these respawning on their own, and enemies seemingly spawning in randomly as opposed to in conjunction with the music as is the case with something like Beat Hazard, I found myself curious to play around with Gun Jam to further learn how its systems work. To do this, I turned to the ability to import my own music as there were a few tracks I know the structure of quite well in games like the frequently aforementioned Beat Hazard, or even something like Audiosurf.
Unfortunately, the process of importing music into Gun Jam is tedious. Far more than any other rhythm game I’ve played with this feature. On the Steam page it’s promised that you can, “Play to our OST or add your own music with our importer to create your own gameplay experience.” That sounds great on paper, but as you might’ve already guessed, Gun Jam has no importer to speak of.
When interacting with the section where you can import music, it instructs you to dig into the game’s folders and place your MP3s in there yourself, manually. While this is relatively straightforward, it became a frustratingly complicated process as the “Music” folder the game wanted me to put tracks into didn’t exist. Only after creating my own “Music” folder within Gun Jam’s files was I then able to get some tracks loaded into the game. In the future, I’d really love to see an easier way to import your own music. An “importer” like what’s suggested in Gun Jam’s page on Steam would be great, or even something like Spotify integration would improve the experience in a big way.
Gimme that boom, boom, boom
Despite the countless issues I have with Gun Jam, I can’t say it isn’t fun. It can be an absolute blast with the right music, including much of what’s already present in its OST. The game’s soundtrack is full of bangers, there isn’t a single song on Gun Jam’s OST that I dislike, though I will say there are certainly those that work better with the game’s arena battle format than others.
Once I was able to import my own music, notably some of my fast-paced metal and K-pop faves, I found myself dialed in to the experience even more. Getting into the rhythm of things, whether you’re dashing or shooting, is both simple and approachable. You won’t struggle with a learning curve in Gun Jam, unless you import something really wild, of course.
I loved feeling the tap, tap, tap, of my mouse clicks as I dashed around and shot at foes. I appreciated being able to play with my mouse and keyboard rather than being forced to use a controller (though there is controller support if that’s your preference). I enjoyed the areas of stages where you get shot up into the air and can look around and get a better idea as to where to move next.
The idea of having a bigger boss come in closer to the end of a track is fantastic, and adds some much-needed spice to the wave of same-ish enemies you get for the bulk of the track. Explosives you can shoot are present in each stage and allow for some elements of strategy, such as luring a mob of enemies into a trap and blasting them to smithereens. The cyberpunk setting and aesthetic are cool, particularly what’s seen in the City Streets and Sonic Prison stages.
Accessibility features are present as well to the game’s credit, including forced color presets, aim magnetism, simplified beatmap, and invulnerability options. You can also reset key bindings to further tune things to your preferred play style.
Wait to buy
Gun Jam has a lot of potential, it really does. I had a lot of fun playing it, and the predominant feeling it left me with wasn’t dislike, but rather, disappointment. It could have done so much more with its first-person wave shooter mixed with rhythm mechanics blend. With that being said, with a bit more work to add things like information to explain its systems to you, tutorial content, more stages, the ability to choose or switch between Overdrives, leaderboards, and an easier way to import your own music, Gun Jam could be a worthwhile experience yet.
In its current state though, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth its $20 (USD) price tag. Unless you’re ok with the extra work of digging through its file folders to import your own music that is, because as the game is right now, you can burn through all of its 10-track base game content in less than an hour. And there's nothing much else to it beyond that.
This review is based on a Steam key provided by the publisher. Gun Jam is available starting April 19 for PC (Steam).
- Creative concept with a lot of promise
- Fantastic selection of music
- The ability to import your own music
- Feels unfinished
- Doesn't explain its systems to you
- Uninteresting, unintelligent enemies
- Uninspired levels, only 4 stages on offer
- Too easy to cheese via dashing/dodging
- Importing music is a tedious process
- No leaderboards, no reason/reward to seek high scores
Morgan Shaver posted a new article, Gun Jam review: Too much gun, not enough jam