John Woo's seminal police drama, Hard Boiled, was never supposed to be gaudy meditation on stylistic over-violence that it's become legendary for. Woo, fresh off the the director's chair of other genre notables The Killer, Bullet in the Head, and Once a Thief, wanted to make a compelling action drama that glorified the right side of the law. He wanted Chow Yun Fat's Inspector Tequila to invoke more Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry) and less Mark Lee (A Better Tomorrow). In a way, Woo was successful. Tequila was decidedly a self-styled anti-hero, looking for his particular brand of justice in places far across the acceptable "line" and drowning the guilt of his transgressions in a bottle. But John Woo succumbed to his primal nature almost immediately, because some men are just put on this Earth to make epic 20 minute gunfights. And we're all better for it, because in 1992 one of the best examples of America's unyielding fascination with guns came overseas and changed the way we romanticize the gunfight.
It's easy to scour the games industry to pinpoint the most logical influences for a game like Enter the Gungeon, but it's not unreasonable to say that Dodge Roll's shooting gallery would never have happened without Hard Boiled. As that movie is elevated through history on the back of its incredible cinematography and stunt choreography, Gungeon peeks its head noticeably over the crowd of twin stick shooters and roguelites by choosing the absurdist approach.
There is a story revolving around a handful of wayward warriors who have found themselves in the shadow of the fabled Gungeon in hopes to shoot their way to the ultimate prize: a gun which can kill the past. Like Inspector Tequila's drama with the Hoi Triad, it's really just a means to a trigger-pulling end. With respect to the delicate attention taken to inject Woo's real-life influences to create complex and nuanced characters, we're here for the rail-sliding and shotgun twirling.
When you fill the shoes of one of these gungeoneers - be it the Dredd doppleganging Marine, the scorned Convict - and take your first steps into the dusty death trap, not much time will pass before you're swearing at yourself. Though you move quickly and can eponymously dodgeroll to avoid the myriad threats mobilized to stop your descent, no level of responsiveness or refinement of controls will stop your from meeting your sudden and certain end.
In fact, your first five hours with this game will most likely see you dying upon every reveal of a new enemy type, new floor trap, or new boss. Death is as much a means to an end as the bullets from the up to 200 guns you can find as you travel deeper into this 2nd Amendment shrine. As you die, certain things remain consistent, like NPCs rescued in your travels or guns you've unlocked the opportunity to find in your playthroughs. Things generally not uncommon in other landmark titles of the genre like The Binding of Issac or Nuclear Throne. Gungeon's je ne sais quoi lies in its full on commitment to making every moment of each play through feel like it's missing a Woo-vian jazz lick or doves flapping in the breeze in slow motion.
When you survive, you always feel like you earned it. Enemies, be they bullet-shaped creatures firing one shot pistols or books who are weaponizing the alphabet against you, always want you dead. Maybe it's the aggression of the artificial intelligence or the clever room designs by the procedural generator, but rooms often feel like just the right size and full of just the right obstacles to be useful and infuriating. When encountering bosses, their rather predictable patterns are reinforced by the Treasure Studios-style, bullet hell shoot-em up levels of projectiles that fill the screen early and often. Gungeon can become many types of shooters at once.
There are several ways to interact with the environment outside of simply shooting it as well. Tables can be flipped in order provide cover on the fly, but they can only take a finite amount of damage. Some items, like chandeliers, can be dropped on enemies, and many of the traps in a room can be used as weapons against your foes. Outside of that, the extensive level of detail in any given room of the Gungeon is staggering. Broken barrels, splintered tables, and bullet holes in walls are small scene dressings that really drive home the action movie appeal of it all. At the end of a particularly tense gun exchange, any given room in the Gungeon will look like Inspector Tequila has been dealing justice there.
Even the guns themselves brim with a spectacular level of meticulousness and personality. Many of the most memorable guns don't even really shoot bullets, like the Magic Lamp. Other standouts, like the Snakemaker, do weird things on occasion, like turning enemies into snakes. Every chest-opening or trip to the shop is a blind reach into the grab bag of recklessness ridiculousness that really defines the game after repeat playthroughs. Not only is it entertaining, but the randomness is an elemental part of the shoot>loot>repeat loop. Your weapon determines your strategy.
It's also worth mentioning the items and other pick ups, which are equally random and often times just as ludicrous as the guns you can wield. For every Molotov, there is a Space Friend, and be they conventional or off the wall, items add another wrinkle to an already lumpy tapestry. Your loadouts of passive and active elements come to characterize your experiences, and help make each playthrough at least feel unique and riveting when the heart of the thing is pretty basic. Just like any good action movie.
Even more than Midway's Stranglehold, Enter the Gungeon may be the proper video game successor to John Woo's early 90's action classic. Not in the strict sense of the story it tells, but the way it tells it. Shooting through rooms with its precision and poise in a realm of chaos is the closest I've ever felt to being Tequila in the Tea House or the Hospital.
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.