As video game pitches go, Lemnis Gate is pretty out there. Maybe not in terms of themes – there’s been plenty of games that have tried timey-wimey sci-fi stuff – but definitely in terms of how it blends its central time-loop mechanic with first-person hero shooter, real-time strategy and migraine inducing levels of pressurised concentration. OK, so the last one isn’t a video game genre, but it absolutely gets across experience of trying to outwit your opponent. This is essentially the video game equivalent of chess boxing.
Each match of Lemnis Gate has a straight forward structure to it, as each player or team takes turns to put an Operatives into the field of play. Instead of issuing commands like an all-seeing god, you instead take direct control over that character and go through the motions you think will let you overcome whatever plan your opponent is trying to put into play.
The twist is that you’re taking turns to affect the exact same 25 second window. The first player runs through that first 25 seconds, perhaps grabbing an objective putting in place some defensive turrets, setting the first layer of an overall strategy. Then the other player takes their own character and works to counteract that, whether it’s simply gunning the first opposing Operatives down to cancel their actions, or going after a separate objective.
With each turn, the picture becomes more and more complex, with more actions and counteractions woven together. If you bring out your sniper and manage to take out a few enemies, it will seem like a mini victory… right up until the other side’s sniper manages to pull the trigger and wipe out your sniper’s action, restoring their comrades’ actions back to the time loop. You can think of it a bit like Back to the Future, as Operatives and the ripple of their effects are phased in and out as the kill count racks up.
There’s a constant pressure when it’s your turn to execute in the “boxing” side of the game.. Those sniper shots need to land in order to mean anything, you need to get to the right place at the right time in order to throw the pivotal grenade and still have time to grab and capture an objective, you need to not wander in front of the speculative rockets you sent flying in the first round – yes, friendly fire is very much on. Failure with any one character can send your plan spiralling and let the other side wrestle control of the match away from you.
As much as the cyclical strategy can throw you for a loop, there’s plenty of familiarity that players can latch onto. The game modes and objectives feel immediately familiar, whether it’s needing to dash out, grab one of a few balls on the map and bring them back to your base – there can be just enough time for one character to manage two, if you know what you’re doing – or trying to capture control points by dealing damage to four towers dotted across the level.
Similarly, you have a set of seven Operatives that lean on a number of well-established tropes. You’ve got Toxin with her gloopy Tox Cannon, Rush who has Dual Shredders and a Dash ability, Striker with the all-important sniper rifle and the ability to slow time to help land shots, the robot Karl with a Precision Beam and a shield bubble to drop, and so on. Thankfully each character has just a single fire weapon and a single ability to learn. In 1-on-1 battles you have five rounds and have to consider which five of the seven you’ll use, while in 2-on-2 matches, each player has three rounds.
The real difficulty through all of this is getting players into the game. Even with the elements grounded in other multiplayer shooters, the game is a daunting prospect to figure out. You have a multi-stage tutorial to work through as you’re walked through the very basics of controlling an FPS, the objectives, and then on to the contrasting Operatives and a test match against AI in a controlled situation. You’ll still be learning as you step into the first few matches, figuring out which characters do what. You might win, you might equally have confounding losses as you’re thoroughly outsmarted or see your crowning victory cruelly ripped from your finger tips because you missed your shots.
The thing is… even in defeat Lemnis Gate is still an utterly enthralling concept, and Ratloop Games have wrapped it up in a compelling fashion. I do see issues in getting people to step through the eponymous gate and stick around long enough to figure out how the game all fits together, but there’s 25 seconds of incredible, mind-bending fun that’ll get set on repeat for those who dare to find it.