Tuesday, May 16, 2017

RIVE (PS4)

Two Tribe's "RIVE" is one of those indie experiences that wants to be everything. It wants to pay homage to the great classics like 'Gradius', duplicate retro experiences like 'Tetris', and sarcastically embody the AI versus test subject relationship that was presented in "Portal". Despite these obvious nods the game at heart is a Metroidvania in the 2.5D platforming sense mixed with transitional phases that apply shmup style gameplay. As the redneck hacker protagonist, 'Roughshot' you enter a seemingly derelict spaceship inside your spider tank only to find it still operational, and under the command of an AI drone named, Daryl Lloyd Lancaster (DLL). Once the main character meets this obnoxious droid, and finds that he is doomed to rinse, and repeat the trial by fire set before him he makes it his end goal to destroy the ship, and escape. DLL has other plans though, and through a warp device, and defense robots he keeps the roughneck spider tank piloting space trucker from doing what it is he has in mind. The ongoing conversations between the pair, and the slapstick conflicts therein are constantly sarcastic in nature setting a proper tone for the mission based campaign that acts as a means to unlock everything else there is to unlock in this highly unusual game.

RIVE, as I just mentioned is at it's core a Metroidvania, and shmup hybrid. As a space hacker and scavenger with the handle, 'Roughshot' you are to pilot your spider tank through meticulously constructed platforming stages as well as through various shmup inspired sequences that pay tribute to arcade classics such as 'Asteroids', 'Geometry Wars', and even 'Gradius'. All done up in a chapter by chapter basis meant to open up the game in it's entirety. What makes this initial campaign trek from mission to mission so challenging is not so much the platforming puzzles, the shmup situations, or the level layouts, but more so the control setup. While the game offers several different control options the double jump mechanic which is crucial to a lot of the more treacherous areas within the main campaign is tied to the 'L1' or 'L2' buttons making the reaction time less reliable than it would have been had the jump button been tied to "X". As far as mission objectives go the stages are usually multi-tier or multi-sectional with different sections offering up different types of gameplay. Sometimes it'll be straight up Metroidvania platforming with the abilities of the spider tank at your beckon call while other times you will be flying, or swimming around shmup style as you shoot in a multi-directional manner, or even forward facing style.

Roughshot, and his spider tank will have to backtrack at times in order to make progress, stand their ground sometimes while killing off waves of drones, and at other times progress through puzzle platforming that will try even the most genre dedicated players' patience. There are even noticeable moments where situations imitate popular shmups that you may or may not have heard of. Each mission in the campaign, which comes with a coinciding chapter number and title will have you doing all of the above while ultimately seeking out the warp, trying to escape the ship, or fixing the situation so that you can do either one. There's a lot of repeat playthrough scenarios that change slightly through progress due to this embedded playthrough pattern.

When it comes to the spider tank in the Metroidvania sense you'll find that it can shoot facing forward, in an arch, or in all directions if you are jumping in the air. In the shmup mode it can move up & down, rotate, and even fire in all directions depending on the type of  shmup the game is mimicking. As a main weapon the spider tank has a basic machine gun fire tied to the "Right Thumbstick" directional inputs, and a special set of ammo crate based weapons (Tesla, Bombs, Missiles ...) that must be purchased at the upgrade station using collected nuts & bolts gathered from downed sentries/robots. The special weapons require a pressing of "R2" to shoot, and can be selected and switched between by pressing one of the four face buttons once you've purchased them. Along with these more powerful damage dealing sub-weapons you'll also find health/shield boosts and boosted magnetism for collecting the game's nutty in-game currency. As far as the special weapons are concerned they require that you pick up a dropped ammo crate power-up to use. Another mechanic includes the ability to double jump (L1/L2), as previously mentioned. Movement, as it were is done with the "Left Thumbstick", and possibly even the DPad. Of course the game's options/settings menu offers control variations which slightly adjust the control layout in different ways. Mainly shifting shoulder button functions to one side or the other.

Aside from the campaign you'll also find a "Mission", "Challenge", and "Space Arena" mode. All of which is unlocked via a partial campaign playthrough. The 'Mission' option, in particular is a mission specific playthrough in which you can try to perfect your leaderboard score on a particular mission. This includes doing so in the standard campaign style, single token style (single life), and a speed run style (timed). Along with this you can also set the difficulty making the playthrough as easy or as difficult as you wish. In regards to the "Challenge" these are daily Bronze, Silver, and Gold tier challenges that take place in the various mission environments. There are 18 in total, and they rotate on a regular basis. Each challenge is timed, and requires that a certain objective be met within the given time limit. Things like squishing cockroaches, or besting bosses are a part of these timed trials, among other things. When it comes to the final "Space Arena" mode it is basically a survival mode in which you are placed in the middle of a mission/campaign environment, and must survive while killing off the constantly spawning waves of enemy bots. There are health drops, and ammo drops dropped more frequently to help out in your survival efforts. Once you die in Arena your score will be automatically uploaded to the game's global leaderboards.

RIVE does have it's own global leaderboard menu, by the way, including a listing for every mode within the game. It will show your standing in comparison to others', and even do so in comparison to PSN peers. During mode specific playthroughs you'll often times see completion screens which contain a mention of whether or not other friends who own the game beat your current score. The game, as it were is definitely score based, and in the combo sense. Shooting numerous enemy bots in a row without taking damage will increase the combo score that you obtain. There are even environmental objects which can be destroyed for added score.

The Presentation ...

RIVE is a beautifully rendered 2.5D Metrodivania, and shmup hybrid. There's no denying it. It's the type of game that would give 'Triple A' games a run for their money when it comes to graphics presentation. The special effects, the bot design, and even the quirky character animations come together perfectly, and smoothly along with the highly impressive soundtrack. The soundtrack itself is a hard hitting synthetic music compilation that changes often making the repeat journey through the spaceship all the more exhilarating, and much less dull. Along with said music comes the well done voice-overs which are further accented through onscreen subtitles. For those of you interested there are several languages to choose from in the settings menu should you need to change for a proper understanding.

The Verdict ...

I wanted so much to like this game, and at first I really did. As I made it deeper into the game though there were some serious problems that began to shine through. The respawn/checkpoint system, for one thing was sometimes so poorly done that when you respawned after a death I'd immediately take damage or die. The game didn't have in place any set markers, or checkpoints making the respawn system wholly unreliable. There's that glaring problem, and the biggest issue which, in my opinion is the placement of the jump button on the controller. Having double jump set to L1, or L2 caused some major aggravation at points when timing was the key to completion. It was so frustrating in fact that I quit my playthrough of the campaign at mission 10. I sat there trying to get past a single section for nearly 30 minutes without even coming close to defeating the required wave of enemy bots. This was on "Normal" difficulty too. The whole control scheme was in itself awkward, if I were to be honest. If it weren't for those things, and some instances where the playthrough seemed intentionally unfair I'd have recommended this game without a second's thought. As it stands though I cannot recommend it. Any game that frustrates me to the point I'm swearing is not fitting of a passing rating, and RIVE did exactly that. I'd strongly suggest that the developer patch in a remapped version of the controls, or make a mappable controller option available to the gamer. Perhaps even do a complete controls overhaul.

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