Gigantic review

Reviews
3 months ago by Steven Strom

As in the game Gigantic, not, er, a particularly long review.

The titular, huge beasts at the heart of Gigantic bring to mind slow, lumbering struggles between two unstoppable forces of nature. According to what little lore the game's multiplayer provides, the on-foot combat between literally and figuratively colorful heroes is just a means to trigger those climactic clashes.

That's fine.  I can live with my own relative insignificance when my battles are this bone rattlingly fast. Because, holy smokes, does the action ever blitz by in Gigantic.

If you've followed the game online at all, that might be a surprise. It gets called a MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, an awful lot. That particular genre isn't known for its speed — or simplicity, or friendly player bases, or even action-oriented combat — very often.

Gigantic is just as akin to something like Overwatch. There's a sprinkling of MOBA-like concepts. The objective is always to destroy one large final target, for instance, and each five-player team's territory is usually demarcated by points that damage opposing players. The feel and flow of combat, however, is all action game. There's even a one-eyed robot that transforms into a player-controlled turret.

Most of the rest of the cast have exceedingly distinct looks and personalities. Gigantic’s hyper-colorful, ultra-rubbery art style splits the difference between Adventure Time and The Looney Tunes. When I play as a pistol-wielding Rocketeer, or a crystal rainbow warrior woman, they're not just unique from most characters I've played in other competitive games. They're energetic and lively.

That sense of life runs throughout Gigantic. Most MOBAs use static structures, like towers, as objectives and obstacles between players' ultimate goals. Here, teams continuously claim control points by summoning creatures to defend them. Mechanically, these monsters have their own unique abilities — like healing nearby friendly players, or gating off pathways across the level. Superficially, though, they just lend even more bouncy vitality to the game's ever-moving aesthetic.

Speaking of which, I don't just mean the game is "fast" because matches end quickly. You’ll be chasing opponents, running away, and just barely skirting the edges of 10-player melees, while firing magic missiles and a character's own dead dad as a projectile, into the fray. It’s a whole thing.

The typical flow of combat goes like so. A scuffle starts. One side realizes it's about to lose. The smart losers run away, while the better or luckier winners continue the chase. The prey either reaches a defensive creature in time, or bites the big one as the hunters catch up too quickly.

Skirmishes like these crisscross the map until enough damage has been done to supercharge the better team's Guardian. These are those go-to-hell huge monsters I mentioned at the start. Sufficiently sated with violence, they'll leap to the other side of the map and pin down the opposing team's godlike creature. When the loser is vulnerable, it's up to the winner's team to deal as much damage as they can.

Of course, preoccupied with god slaying, the winning team is unusually open to attack from the defending team. Which usually leads to yet another high-speed chase as the attackers flee in the wake of their 20-second damage window. And so it goes...

To balance all the endurance running, Gigantic uses a stamina system that quickly drains as characters sprint and dodge. It's just about the only limited resource players need to manage regularly, other than ability cooldowns, adding to the overall accessible nature of the game.

There are no minions to kill or gold to get from killing them. Teams share experience points, which is earned by killing players and anchored creatures, which unlocks modifications to every hero's five skills. I stress that these are only modifications, since everyone starts every match with a full kit of abilities.

The modifications branch slightly, meaning there's some wiggle room in how you "build" your character match-to-match. For the most part, though, games of Gigantic are simple, even skirmishes between known quantities. So the alienating inaccessibility of, say, Dota 2 doesn't get in the way of the blistering fast battles.

Which isn't to say Gigantic is shallow. In fact, Gigantic is a little too confident in its presumed simplicity.

Between the chases, Guardian slaying, concentrated team-on-team conflicts, downtime is almost nonexistent. That only gives you those precious few seconds after death and before respawning to think about which combination of six adjustments to all five of your skills best suits the current shape of the match. You can't even review skills and skill trees from the character select screen.

That's fine, once you've internalized every possible ability across the relatively modest hero roster. Which is even to be expected in a game that's meant to played thousands of times. That doesn't change the fact that the lack of breathing room ever-so-slightly discourages new players from experimenting with new heroes on the fly.

Luckily, a "training ground" mode assuages the issue. Players can use it to test out heroes in a safe environment, against dummy NPCs, but firing at the range only goes so far. It doesn't prepare you for the kaleidoscope of explosions, poisons, electric shocks, and leaping ninja frogs where such skills actually interact.

It does let you sample every playable fighter in the game, however — even the ones you haven't purchased. Let me just say: every last free-to-play, character-driven battler should adopt this feature going forward. A grip of freely playable characters rotate in and out every week (a la League of Legends), but limitless firsthand taste-testing is still irreplaceable

I only wish Gigantic's maps and modes were as diverse. Games like Dota, League, and even the equally action-oriented MOBA Paragon have just one major mode: kill the ancient/nexus/core. Gigantic is the same, with its Guardians, but doesn't have the same ratio of complexity to variety as those other games.

Without items to buy, minions and lanes to manage, or jungles to stalk, Gigantic feels awfully simple — bordering on one-note. Overwatch, which shares a similar purity of moment-to-moment action, shakes its mechanics up externally with different objectives depending on different maps. Not so here: Gigantic has a MOBA-like continuity, but not the craterous depth that makes tooling around the same lines of attack feel fresh each and every time.

Which is a shame. The basic premise of two humongous monsters clawing for supremacy across the map feels ripe for more unique objectives than the one the game already has. Hell, maybe the developers do have plans for more. They're not there yet, though.

Even so, the handful of gameplay strings that tug me across the equally few maps are hard to resist. The Looney Tunes comparison doesn't just extend to gameplay: Gigantic is nonstop, elastic mayhem with violent, yet somehow innocent purpose. Sometimes you're the Road Runner, darting over canyon walls, through tunnels, and out of sight. Sometimes you're Wile E. Coyote, still juiced up on whatever current trick tells you this time will be the time things go smoothly. And sometimes things fall apart — thanks to a lack of stamina, health, abilities off cooldown, or living teammates — just when it looked like it was about to go your way. It's so fast and irreverent that it's tough to stay mad. You just begin another charge and get back to work.

It can get repetitive, like an out-of-date cartoon, but there's something naturally timeless about it, too.

Verdict: Yes