Angel’s Gear is a 2D horror-themed metroidvania, which takes place in a world infected by a machine virus called Gear.
The game has an insane start, we play as a soldier ready to storm a castle and destroy the Gear, but as soon as we reach the shore, the moon shatters and a massive dragon comes out, completely changing the world and killing everyone around us. The blue sky turns into a sickly green, and now giant gears spin in the horizon.
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Angel’s Gear makes sure to choose these sickly colors to illustrate its environments, everything is painted in a shade of grey, green, yellow or brown, with the texturing giving every wall and floor an organic and Giger-esque look. The world is now sick, and its appearance clearly reflects that.
Soon the player finds themselves at a hub area full of eccentric characters, a short girl with multiple robot arms, a giant blacksmith who was consumed by the Gear but seems to be fine, an old man tending to a giant tree, a mysterious man in a trench coat, and a giant woman alongside a small immortal creature.
These characters will provide the player with guidance, and have small side quests of their own. They seem to view the player as an expendable resource at first, but quickly get attached when it becomes clear that the soldier may be their only chance at stopping the Gear. Most of the NPCs don’t get a lot of development aside from the blacksmith, who we find out was an angel before the Gear transformed her into a giant bone demon, despite that, she’s a super cheerful character and I always made sure to check if she had new dialogue.
Getting into gameplay, the first thing to notice is the control layout. Angel’s Gear can be played on mouse and keyboard, but if feels really awkward. The developer ran into problems with controller support due to limitations with the game’s engine, and even though it now can be played with a controller, a few adjustments need to be made with third-party software.
Angel’s Gear controls in a very specific way, and while it is a tall ask for the player to both put up with a unique controls scheme and also tweak it through software, I’m not a newcomer to PC gaming, before Xbox One controllers were a commodity, I would have to make do with bootleg PlayStation controllers and edit their bindings manually for games that didn’t have controller support, so it’s an issue that almost makes me nostalgic.
In fact, Angel’s Gear really feels like a game that came out a while ago, around that 2014 era of indie experimentation that gave us games like Nidhogg and Jazzpunk. It is a really unique title and I can say that putting up with its quirks is worth it, it’s a really interesting take on a horror metroidvania due to its uniqueness.
What does upset me is seeing the game or the controls get called buggy when they really aren’t. The controls are definitely not properly bound, and the mouse and keyboard layout feels like getting lobotomized, but when bound properly, the game controls just fine. Getting used to aiming and dodging is part of a difficulty curve that is present in so many other games, but Angel Gear‘s initial presentation makes it look way worse than it actually is.
Angel’s Gear also feels a lot like a survival horror title due to its mechanics. Enemies don’t come back after being killed, you need to manage your ammo count, you can’t shoot while moving, and the player character looks really similar to Dead Space’s Isaac Clarke. To further drive the comparison, you can also stomp on downed enemies, which rewards you with ammo.
Our main task is to stop the Gear’s corruption, Heathcliff, the man who brought the Gear to Godhead, is a scientist who was eventually consumed by his research, and released the Gear virus into the world to consume everything. He shows up a few times throughout the game to taunt us, and he looks really imposing, but during our final encounter with him he looks significantly smaller for some reason.
I also have an issue with most boss fights, none of them are really difficult, in fact, most of the difficulty is found at the beginning of the game, where you are still trying to get used to the unique controls. The player constantly runs out of ammo during boss fights, so the bosses usually have an attack that will give ammo to the player. A lot of the time the boss just stomps on the ground and ammo shows up, or they’ll just throw some out for you. It’s a band-aid solution that makes it look like the bosses are helping you defeat them.
The player needs to recover ammo to keep the boss fight going, but the player has no natural ways of recovering ammo unless stomping on an enemy. The solution to this problem would be to let the player recover ammo when doing melee attacks to bosses, it would also increase the difficulty of the fights by forcing the player to get out of their ranged comfort zone.
The game gets exponentially easier as the player progresses, I think I did a pretty good sweep of the game’s map, and ended up with a lot of ammo and bullets that froze enemies in one shot, which let me kill them instantly. The player is also rewarded with extra health by completing side quests, so the only difficulty curve that shows up is from a later area where everything kills you instantly, but it’s more of a bad game design issue.
Also on the topic of game design, the map we are given is pretty much useless, it doesn’t show any unexplored rooms or which rooms are connected to each other, so finding where you have to go can be a bit of a nightmare sometimes. The game drops pretty straightforward directions on where you need to go next, but some zones are harder to find than others.
Angel’s Gear clocks in at a around 3 hours of playtime, which is definitely on the shorter side, but makes it so the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. Some of the game’s flaws would definitely start showing more if the game lasted something like 8 hours.
I can’t say Angel’s Gear is a game for everyone, it was a breath of fresh air in a saturated metroidvania environment due to its lack of padding and complete commitment to the premise, but the controls may be a tall barrier for people who want a more modern experience. I hope people have the patience to engage with the game in a proper way, and despite some of its flaws, I feel like Angel’s Gear is the definition of a diamond in the rough.
I hope to see more from Scumhead in the future, hopefully in a better engine with less limitations and proper controls.
Angel’s Gear is available for Microsoft Windows (through Steam).