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Hovership Havoc Review — Getting Barely Off The Ground

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Hovership Havoc looks and feels like it that needs more time in the oven. The game is a step in the right direction to make something memorable—even for being developed by mainly one person—but many aspects are missing or not done well enough to stand out in the twin-stick shooter genre. Players follow a simple path: they pilot one of four different hover ships, take down robots, and try to reach the end boss. However, this core gameplay loop is far from polished. Out in the wilds of gaming storefronts are many great twin-stick shooters that people would be justified in choosing to play over Hovership Havoc.

Each of the four hoverships comes with unique stats and firing modes. The Devastator shoots like a shotgun and overheats quickly, leaving the player defenceless. The Plasma Gatling may fire quickly, but does not deal enough damage to be worthwhile without upgrades. The Laser Blaster shoots a tri-beam attack at close range, but the spread makes it hard to use as a shotgun, and the ship therefore has a learning curve. The Pulse Cannon is the most productive right off the hop, being able to deal damage at a longer range than the others. To get the most out of each ship, much time is needed to level up specific aspects to make them feel more balanced and worth the while. If progression was paced better, trying to level up each ship would be more enjoyable and make the game feel fairer.

Whether failing or passing a level, the player gets upgrade gears with which to improve the various stats and sub-weapons. The fact that the gamer always makes progress in upgrading the ship and subsequently doing better is a great incentive to keep playing. The problem with the gears mechanic is the player only gains access to upgrades if they successfully pass the level or back out to the ship select screen where the loadout can be edited; this set-up is unwieldy, but not a major issue. Many times when going to upgrade at the ship select screen, previous changes seemed to have been reverted but not enough resources were available to fix what was changed. Why this happens is not specified, as is the case with many other aspects of the game.

For example, seemingly at random, a blue Wi-Fi symbol appears, providing access to a sub-weapon or, even better, a free upgrade to one of the stats. Luckily, these upgrades are persistent and will not be lost later on, though they only improve stats and not sub-weapons. Picking up upgrades or new weapons is a bit like gambling, as the gamer hopes to get their favourite ability; even if not, the pick-up can be discarded without consequence. Furthermore, each sub-weapon can be upgraded and will hold those upgrades for when they are picked up again, saving gears and letting players focus on their favourites. If upgrading changes cooldown, damage, or even lifetime, none of that information is shown. Furthermore, many abilities do not have much impact or are hard to use, such as the Sky Beam, which is so stiff that it is practically useless. The Speed Burst (an ability all ships have) cannot be changed and covers such little ground that it is easily forgotten. This ability could have been more useful if it had two or three times the distance, even if it does come in handy in particular situations. The ability makes the player invincible and can destroy small robots, making its potential high. Sadly, the possibilities are squandered thanks to its short range.

Gameplay-wise, Hovership Havoc is a mixed bag. Though the controls are never explained, the core systems are easily figured out, as the abilities displayed at the bottom of the screen show what button to push. Also, players will likely reach the end of the game without realizing they can focus their aim because that mechanic is not expressed.

No clear story is present, but the game appears to be about a quest to take down a corporation. The player travels through randomly generated zones, from the first called The Research Facility, into The Industrial Zone, and then The Core. The barebones story is not helped by the lack of indication in progress, which ends up being one of the most confusing aspects of the game. After finishing a level, the game seemingly puts the player right back at the beginning. Hovership Havoc does not specify if the level is Part 1 or Part 2, but instead gives both the same title, making players not realize the progression they are making. Each level comprises a set of pre-made rooms with random enemy spawns. To pass each stage, the player needs to destroy a number of generator-looking objects that light up after what seems like an indeterminate amount of time. Once they are destroyed, the player is teleported to the next stage, even if enemies are still alive.

Proportioning does become a problem with some of the stages, creating tight areas that look like someone can go through when they actually can not. Some of the levels feel too small thanks to large numbers of enemies. Getting overrun happens often, resulting in annoying deaths, so increasing health could make the game more forgiving. Meanwhile, opening up the corridors would allow the player to manoeuvre more freely, avoiding what can sometimes be guaranteed damage. Such tight spots are few and far between, as most stages are open, with large areas to move. Sometimes objects such as idle helicopters blend into the background. These confusing environments can lead to the player getting stuck. Normally, the level design is sufficient aside from these few hiccups.

While progressing through the levels, the player faces off with a few bigger, stronger enemies, though not much variety is showcased in the enemy design otherwise. Even in the absence of diversity, the enemies are well-designed, with turrets, randomly moving robots, tanks, and various other foes. The robots make for more intricate battles, where movement and awareness are important to survive. In some regards, the enemies are reminiscent of Doom’s monster/gameplay linkage. The adversaries present can make the player’s strategy change or even make them focus on a new target, showing that Hovership Havoc has depth. The enemy robots also contrast well against the background, ensuring players are able to see them and know what is going on and then show what carnage has happened with their remains.

Unfortunately, enemies do not react to being hit: no colour change nor animation. The only visual indication is small numbers that show how much damage was done, and they can be hard to see, leaving doubt as to whether the player is affecting the robots. The fact that the enemies do not react to the player’s attacks also makes the sub-weapons feel like they are useless or underpowered. Not understanding the attack radius can make understanding how to use them harder. Furthermore, this lack of feedback makes supposedly powerful attacks feel weak.

Boss battles transpire differently to the rest of the game. While the normal gameplay is a top-down twin-stick shooter, boss battles lower the camera to be more of a third-person shooter without sacrificing the core gameplay loop. The bosses are not too hard, so long as players focus on them. The way the bosses work feels somewhat similar to Tower of Guns, but they still fit with Hovership Havoc’s style.

The gameplay for Hovership Havoc is barebones, with a solid central gameplay loop. The ability to play with four different ships is a nice touch, changing how encounters play out. With some adjustments, the game could shape up to be something people keep coming back to. Hovership Havoc is making a full release but the game could do with more development time to hammer in the nuances and subtle aspects that would make it shine. By no means is Hovership Havoc a bad project, as the gameplay and enemies are well designed, but aspects that relay information to the player are missing. Better communication regarding the game’s mechanics, a bit more variety, and larger levels might push to make Hovership Havoc more noticeable among other twin-stick shooters. For anyone looking for a game to play while listening to a podcast, Hovership Havoc is great. The game is solid and worth putting a few hours in, but maybe waiting for further updates would be best.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC.

A graduate of Game Development with a specialization in animation. A true love for all things creative especially Game Design and Story.

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Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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