‘Lemnis Gate’ review: time and time again

Loop what you’ve done

It’s often said that the best ideas are the least complicated. By this metric, Lemnis Gate is not a good idea. The selling point of Lemnis Gate is a difficult one to sum up. It’s a turn-based hero shooter (albeit a bare-bones one with a tiny cast of characters), where each session plays out inside a 25-second time loop.

For example: the game starts, your opponent captures the flag. On your turn, you select the rocket-lobber, and frag them to bits before they even reach the flag. On the next turn, they select the sniper, and headshot your rocketeer before he fires, restoring the original timeline. Does it sound like this gets frightfully complicated over the course of a round? If so, you’ve got the gist.

Some wonderful strategic ideas emerge from this chaos: essentially, causality itself is a weapon in your arsenal. The trouble is, the same goes for the enemy. Every action taken by a player can be undone by their opponent in the following turn, creating a sort-of temporal cat and mouse situation where the secret to winning is in correctly balancing your time between pressing ahead with your objectives, and preventing your opponent from achieving theirs.

The order in which you deploy your use-once heroes is a huge factor in this. Sure, you can expend your sniper near the beginning of a round, but maybe at some point in the mid-game, there’s going to be a crucial need to take out a defender as soon as they spawn in on the other side of the map. In Lemnis Gate, playing yourself is as much of a hazard as enemy fire.

Lemnis Gate
Lemnis Gate

If you’re not careful, you can end up in that frustrating noughts & crosses situation where you’re perpetually reacting instead of making gains – so boldness and risk-taking is encouraged by design. This paradigm gives birth to a lot of nail-biting, adrenaline-surging moments, where your prowess at the causal strategy element of the game butts up against your skill as an FPS player: when everything comes down to whether or not you can make a split-second headshot in mid-air, or parkour your way through the chaos and boost to victory. That interplay between strategy and tactics, the held-breath between planning and execution, is where Lemnis Gate absolutely comes together.

However, beyond the emergent properties of the time-loop metagame, it’s a pretty underwhelming FPS. As mentioned, it’s a lightly staffed hero shooter with a fairly rote selection of characters (the tank, the runner, the sniper, the COD character, etc). The gunplay is competent but unmemorable. Nothing about it quite clicks in the way that great shooters tend to do. Pointing this out feels rather like saying that Arkham Asylum would be rubbish if Batman wasn’t in it (he is, so the point is moot). Lemnis Gate is about fourth-dimensional strategy, and on those terms, it rules, there’s nothing else like it. But it’s also about shooting guns, and there are plenty of better games about shooting guns.

That does rather raise the question of who it’s for. Is it for strategy gamers who don’t like competitive shooters? No. Is it for online FPS fans who yearn for time-travel gimmicks? They’d be better served by Timeshift.

It’s not enough of a shooter to prise people away from Valorant or Overwatch, and it’s not really a strategy game in any existing sense, but it is an honest-to-goodness attempt to advance the medium. Who it’s for is people willing to try something – which may be its undoing.

Lemnis Gate screenshot 2
Lemnis Gate. Credit: Ratloop Games Canada

Though it’s not necessarily for a reviewer to ponder the fortunes of a new title, the question of whether or not a strictly online game can catch and hold an audience certainly is. In testing, we found it difficult to join games. For a few days after launch, it seemed impossible to enter anything except ranked matches – it was even impossible to start a 1v1 game with friends, as attempting to do so would send us into an endless matchmaking timer.

These issues have since been put down to dodgy netcode and largely fixed, but it remains difficult to get matches in the more exotic variants on offer. Lemnis Gate is primarily a 1v1 or 2v2 turn-based FPS, but a selection of other game types mixes this up, including a supremely chaotic version where each turn is taken simultaneously. It’s in this type of match that being shot by a previous version of yourself is an exceedingly common cause of death, such is the insanity that ensues.

Yes, you can team-kill yourself. Which puts you in the interesting predicament of deciding whether or not it’s worth killing yourself in the next turn to avoid killing yourself in the first place. And that almost encapsulates the tortured brilliance at its core; it’s nine-dimensional chess, with noscopes and ‘nades. A griefing engine where you can unwittingly bully future versions of you. A game with so many threads that it can easily unravel, and frequently does.

Best played with friends (though it isn’t everything), Lemnis Gate can certainly be a tremendous amount of fun; it takes an oversubscribed genre with little room for invention and nails on a fresh dimension of creative play. But it’s often too chaotic for its own good, a little light on content, and it’s tough to imagine it sustaining an audience.

If you’ve got Game Pass and some open-minded pals, though, it’s hard not to recommend. The time-loop mechanic feels good enough to get nicked by the big boys and show up some years later as a mode in your Halos or CODs. As the selling point of an otherwise middling shooter, it’s taking a lot of weight. As part of a wider package, it could be transformative.

So, yeah, it’s complicated. But it is a good idea.

Lemnis Gate is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5 and PC. We tested the game on PC and Xbox Series X|S.

The Verdict

Though it’s been marred by a shaky launch, and it’s difficult to explain to your mates, Lemnis Gate’s issues don’t dull the brilliance of its ideas.

Pros

  • A genuinely new kind of multiplayer game
  • Full of nail-biting moments
  • Lovely visuals

Cons

  • Matches can get too chaotic to follow
  • Not memorable for its shooting
  • Ongoing online issues
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