Initially released a year ago on PC to a very positive rating, this rogue-lite FPS where you blast away heaps of baddies while collecting upgrades has made the leap to console. Gunfire Reborn was a supremely pleasant surprise to me, coming from absolutely nowhere and being a good time from start to finish. It’s also another solid grab for Game Pass in Xbox’s continuous mission to find content to feed its ever-expanding subscription service. This is the kind of game you can stumble upon while browsing Game Pass, download on a whim and wind up engrossed in.
Gunfire Reborn subscribes to the rogue-lite idea, which is the polite way of saying that you’re probably going to die a lot because you haven’t managed to get enough upgrades yet, so don’t take it personally. It’s not as completely unforgiving as rogue-lites, though, thanks to a couple of save points and reasonably short levels. On every run, you’ll manage to scrape up some Soul Essence that can be spent on a talent tree to unlock permanent upgrades across every one of the six characters. That might just be increased damage or health, but it could also be a chance to get better Inscriptions on weapons or get more Copper to spend on mid-level upgrades to your gear via the helpful blacksmith. These are the foundations on which you’ll build future runs and it only takes a few upgrades to realize a difference – a handful of stat boosts in you’ll be slicing through the first biome of the game with ease.
Which is good because you’re going to be seeing that first biome a hell of a lot. Gunfire Reborn suffers from a core design conceit of the rogue-lite genre: repetition. A lot of the best games in the genre have fallen at this hurdle and many others have put in substantial work figuring out how to keep things feeling fresh, but Gunfire doesn’t quite pull it off. The level designs are very basic, the first two (a tomb and a desert) are especially dull looking. As you ramp up the difficulty enemies will get modifiers to make them more dangerous but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to be shooting the same handful of foes in the same boring tomb over and over again. The biggest way the game tries to combat the repetition is by attempting to make every run feel meaningful. By defeating certain numbers of specific enemies new weapon types, upgrade Scrolls and more will be added in to the game, potentially turning up every time you crack a chest or defeat a boss. Speaking of, beating a boss a couple of times usually unlocks the chance for a new boss to spawn in its place. While Gunfire Reborn doesn’t do what the magnificent Hades does, its attempts to make even failure feel worthwhile are solid.
Mid-run there are a number of different ways to build up your character, starting with Ascensions. Gained from chests these upgrades are unique to each character, focusing on building up their core traits and skills. For example, the very first character you have is a cat (who also happens to be a prince) who can hurl poisonous smoke bombs and throw a handy orb that locks down enemies for a few seconds. Potential upgrades can include more damaging smoke bombs, increased elemental effects and higher orb counts. Each Ascension also has three levels, and naturally, those higher levels offer some serious stat boosts. Or you might play as the weirdly sexy rabbit character (I can feel you judging me) who can summon up magical swords, or the bird who has a leaping kick that can cover entire rooms. Personally, I was a fan of the character who could dual-wield weapons because using two mini-guns at once is just plain awesome.
Next up are the Occult Scrolls that can be found in chests, bought from vendors, and occasionally even picked up randomly from a slain enemy. The most consistent way of getting them, though, is the Vaults hidden throughout most stages, acting as optional challenges. I say optional, but most of the time you’re going to want to complete them to snag upgrades and stand a better chance of beating the bosses. Anyway, Scrolls offer a wide variety of effects, and some of them even boast powerful upgrades coupled with a curse, making for some very interesting decisions. Like, is it worth taking a scroll that completely removes your armour/shield but also gives a health boost and 2% health regen? Hard to say, but if you also have a Scroll that powers up another stat based on your current armour/shield percentage then the answer may be more obvious. Sometimes Scrolls can change how you approach situations, too, like giving you a 90% damage reduction from distant enemies but also taking 90% damage when up close and personal.
The final piece of this shooty puzzle is the guns. Not only is there an impressive selection of weapons to choose from, ranging from the expected shotguns to fireball-spewing lizards, but each one can also come with numerous perks to consider. They come in numerous rarities, affecting everything from elemental damage to accuracy. You can carry two guns at any given time along with a default pistol that stays with you, and those two guns are important because elemental effects can actually be combined to create powerful new effects. When you add together the weapons, the Scrolls and the Ascensions what you end up with is an impressively wide set of variables that get mixed together in interesting ways. And when you get that awesome run of luck which leads to a heap of synergistic upgrades it feels amazing! My first successful run came playing as the cat, with a wealth of boosts that amped up my corrosive smoke bombs and a strong lighting gun. Those two elements combined created Miasma, a devastating effect that may actually be a tad overpowered. A few stacks of heavily boosted elemental damage later and I was ripping through everything at insane speeds. Of course, the flip-side is there will always be runs where things just don’t line up and you die at the hands of a basic goon.
I’d say that while there’s certainly room for skill in Gunfire Reborn, progress is more about the grind. It’s likely your successes will come from getting a lucky combination of scrolls, weapons and Ascensions. Don’t take that the wrong way, mind you – this genre is built on the idea of progress through grinding, but on the rogue-like scale, this one favours raw stats more than something like Returnal where pure gameplay skill could carry you quite far through a terrible loadout.
The coolest thing is hooking up with up to three other people for some co-op action. I do think the levels are a little restrictive in places for so many characters running about, but it’s a lot of fun to combine attacks and elemental effects. New avenues of character builds are opened up when you and a pal deliberately set up weapons and perks to maximize the confusion effect which briefly turns enemies into allies, or when one of you builds toward close-range mayhem and the other focuses on long-range warfare.
Performance isn’t an issue. I tested Gunfire Reborn on both PC via Game Pass PC and an Xbox Series S and got stonking frame rates on both. Even on the lowly Series S (which is a great choice for cheap gaming thanks to its low electricity use) the in-game counter was hovering around 160-220fps. Hell, it could probably do with a limiter so that it doesn’t tax the hardware for no reason. Over on the PC, my Ryzen 3600 and 1080ti were delivering absurd framerates as well with no hitches. I’m fairly confident a small potato could run Gunfire Reborn at 60fps without breaking a sweat.
But while the performance is great I did encounter a couple of technical snafus worth mentioning. In particular, I ran into a couple of crashes on the PC version which seems like they might have been related to running a browser (Brave, to be exact) in the background. That could be isolated purely to me, though. I did also note a few examples of the game briefly stuttering when entering a room where enemies spawned in. And while playing the Xbox version I also had a weird moment where I couldn’t move the camera and could only move side-to-side, requiring a full restart to fix. There are save points between the different biomes and a complete run is usually 30-60 minutes, so at least crashes or serious issues don’t feel like a kick in the teeth like it sometimes does in other rogue-lites.
There is a story that technically ties all of this nonsense together but I’ll be buggered blind if I know what it is. There’s something about spirits and curses, but the developers aren’t native English speakers and the translation is rough. It doesn’t help that on the Xbox version there’s a specific talking chest whose text pops up in the native Chinese. You’ll probably tune the plot out and that’s perfectly fine. This isn’t the kind of game where you need much of a reason to fight a giant sandworm using a minigun. It’s enough to know that you are and it’s awesome.
I don’t think Gunfire Reborn does anything new or particularly amazing. It’s not going to blow your metaphorical socks off and it isn’t going to topple the greats of the genre in a hail of bullets and fire damage. It is, however, a very well-executed little rogue-lite shooter that kept me entertained for a dozen hours or so across many, many runs, both successful and unsuccessful. Between the scrolls, Ascensions, weapons and six different characters there is a lot of different combinations and it’s very easy to get sucked into trying to find the perfect mix. If Gunfire Reborn sounds like your kind of jam, you’re gonna have a good time.
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