Among the powerful AAA titles released every year, a plethora of indie games are swept under the media’s rug. Some of those indie titles are incredible, others miserable, and many land somewhere in the middle. Few of these indie projects are safe from being rendered obscure behind the spotlighted heavy-hitters within the industry, such as the Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Far Cry franchises. However, some obscure titles manage to squeak through long enough to add their voices to a media that seems unenthused about covering them. One such title is Hover: Revolt of Gamers, an action-adventure indie game with a cartoon atmosphere developed by Fusty Game and Midgar Studio, and published by The Sidekicks and Plug In Digital. Hover is not a game that will echo across the video game industry, but still manages to provide a modicum of entertainment.
Hover: Revolt of Gamers puts players in control of rogue Gamers. Players are basically tasked with having fun as the Gamers’ form of rebellion against the Authorities—an oppressive regime that has banned video games and punishes any sort of fun with “rehabilitation centers.” Essentially, Hover is a futuristic, cartoonish, video game version of George Orwell’s 1984. With playful graphics, barely average audio, a story that does not bring much to the table, and fast-paced gameplay, Hover is a video game that offers a way to merely pass the time.
Visually, Hover is a video game replication of the American animated science fiction sitcom Futurama. The cartoonish graphics give the game an amusing atmosphere that keeps the otherwise-oppressive story lighthearted and whimsical. Sparks flashing when players grind on rails while sprinting around the game world, air warping around characters when using the rewind feature that allows players to return to their previous position, and impish graffiti tags reminiscent of emojis all provide comical displays that make Hover only somewhat unique. For players who have experienced Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom and the Kingdom Hearts games, Hover’s visuals will feel familiar.
Sadly, Hover’s audio does not push the game any further than the graphics. The game’s story is told through dialogue boxes at certain intervals that require players to click on AI characters (NPCs) or are provided naturally through progression. Voice acting was either out of the question in the developers’ budget or intentionally omitted in favor of the game’s other elements. While a lack of voice acting has not always been necessary for success (see GoldenEye 007 for N64 and Final Fantasy VII-IX for PlayStation), the modernization of video games all but demands characters and stories be delivered through voicework for the sake of immersion and charm. Without voice acting, Hover’s story lacks any real emotional attachment and can easily be ignored during a playthrough. Moreover, the rest of the game’s audio does little to add to the game’s quality. Sound effects, while neither muffled nor cacophonous, are plain, and Hover’s music is spirited but repetitive to the point of white noise.
Along with Hover’s lack of voicework detracting from the game’s story, the tale itself is trite. Even though twisting the specifics of the story into a rebellion instigated by the Gamers is an interesting concept, the idea’s execution does not offer enough flair to make the fable engrossing. On measure, players will find Hover’s story wanting, plagued by overly cheesy dialogue made more tedious by scattered typos and awkward delivery. Admixed with an unoriginal script, Hover’s plot provides little respite from monotony and can only be received in small doses lest players’ eyelids become too heavy to keep open.
However, Hover does provide a counterweight to the game’s banal fantasy in the form of fast-paced gameplay with RPG elements. As players traverse the game world and complete side missions (sprint races, hitting Authority drones, spraying the walls with graffiti, etc.), their characters gain experience and level up. However, leveling up is a different process than other RPG titles. Rather than spending talent/skill points when a character reaches a new level, gamers can upgrade their characters’ stats by applying augments to a limited number of slots in the character menu. Augments are found throughout the game world and picked up by running over them. Players can increase their characters’ speed, agility, jump height, and even the emoji that appears when they graffiti tag certain spots on walls. While carrying out their rebellious duties in Hover, players must avoid getting caught by the Authorities. To avoid being taken to a “rehabilitation” center, users have to evade security cameras and drones. On being spotted by the cameras dotted about the environment, drones are deployed, which Gamers can flee from, but remaining undetected in the first place is, by far, the easier approach. In some instances, players must find a way to unlock doors when infiltrating the Authorities’ buildings. Often, triggering a door’s unlock sequence starts a timer, which gives players a limited time to retrace their steps and pass back through the door. The rewind feature can be useful here, as rewinding returns players to a previous position. However, rewinding does not slow, stop, or reverse time, so gamers must still be quick to get through the door. The minor puzzle feature for infiltrating the Authorities’ locations is interesting, and does not feel repetitive when tackling missions in Hover, adding a little bit of entertainment for short periods of time. In general, Hover’s mechanics provide an enthusiastic rush in quick bursts.
Those quick bursts are amplified by Hover’s multiplayer. Online, Hover is an interesting experience that pits players in races and other competitions against one another, all while serving the purpose of rebelling against the Authorities. The game’s mechanics do not change between multiplayer and single-player. However, if a player’s Internet is poor, that user can expect high amounts of latency, which will affect their multiplayer experience (true of any online game). Outside of slow Internet, Hover’s servers are quite stable. Regardless, even with stable servers and semi-fun online competitions, the game’s multiplayer does not add much to Hover.
Hover: Revolt of Gamers is not a game that will propel the video game industry forward. Nevertheless, the indie game does nothing set the industry back either. The entertaining graphics and swift gameplay make the game an interesting experience in short bursts, while Hover’s barely standard audio and unimpressive story detract from the game’s immersion and overall caliber. Hover is by no means a terrible game. Unfortunately, the project lacks replay value, and is easy to get bored of within half-hour bursts. Hover is a game in which players run the sprint, not the marathon. Hopefully, the primary developer of the title, Fusty Game, will improve with its next project, and the developer seems to be heading in the right direction.
RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure
A Conflicted Beginning
The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.
Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.
As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.
Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.
With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).
Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.
Gunplay To Die For
Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.
Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.
The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.
Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.
Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.
The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.
The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.
However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.
A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast
The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.
Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.
With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.
To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).
Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.
A Slipshod Structure
Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.
Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.
Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.
On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.
Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
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