Also, absurdly alliterative article abstracts. But mostly Receiver.
I feel as though it’s hard to grasp a lot of concepts in games without actually trying them for yourself, and it’s hard to actually try them yourself without…you know…installing and playing the game. Which is a hassle. It’s simple enough to say, “maybe have a go at this,” but a lot of the time what that actually boils down to is:
- Finding a game (or, slightly simpler, following a link).
- Buying the game. Possibly after setting up an account at whatever site is selling it.
- Downloading the game, which will likely take at least a few minutes.
- Installing the game, which will likely take a few more minutes.
- Starting the game and possibly doing some first-time setup.
- Spending as long as you like playing around with whatever it was made you go looking for the game in the first place.
The point is, what I sum up as “have a go” actually involves a series of actions that all take time and often aren’t as straightforward as they should be. This is one reason I’d really recommend having a go at Receiver.
Quite a while ago, I wrote an article on realism in the Metro (2033/Last Light) games. The developers have really gone out of their way to make the games immersive, but in the process draw attention to a number of necessary breaks from reality. One such break from reality is the way in which the main character, Artyom, handles ammunition (you hit a button; he reloads), versus the logistics of how that would work realistically:
In order to swap his double-barreled shotgun for an automatic one, Artyom would have to sit down and load every shell he has into the appropriate magazine: otherwise, next time he wanted to use it, he’d have an empty shotgun, an empty magazine and a big bag of loose shells.
Of course it should be pretty obvious why Metro opts for a “press this button to reload” mechanic over a “press this button to eject the empty magazine, now press this button to holster your weapon, and this button to start cramming bullets into the magazine…” mechanic. That would be ridiculous. Like, QWOP ridiculous.
It’s also, as it turns out, kind of fun.
Receiver is to Metro what QWOP is to Mario & Sonic at the 2012 Olympic Games. In the same way that QWOP gives you individual buttons to control your runner’s thighs and calves, Receiver gives you individual buttons for specific components of your firearm. Then throws you into a nightmarish cyberpunk cityscape populated solely by machine gun turrets and hovering Tazer drones.
The list of controls visible in that screenshot is optional–you can show or hide it with the tap of a button–and it’s actually not too hard to memorise the sequence of button presses necessary to, for example, pop out a nearly-full magazine and slot in a couple more bullets from your tiny stock of loose ones. It even highlights important details (here that the safety is on), making comparisons to the bafflingly punishing QWOP perhaps not entirely fair.
In terms of how it handles ammo management and reloading, Receiver is realistic to the point of absurdity. If you have only one magazine, you will have to manually stuff individual bullets into it every time you want to reload. If you’re using a revolver and want to reload before it’s completely empty, you’ll have to open the cylinder, tip out the cartridges currently inside (some occasionally get stuck), then pick up any unspent bullets off the ground before tapping “z” a few times to slot in the fresh ones. If the more realistic aspects of Metro highlight the game’s most implausible elements, the entirety of Receiver makes it abundantly clear how pencils-in-nostrils insane the action hero genre is as a whole. You’re not Bruce Willis. You’re Steve from Accounting, and your office block is full of killbots.
The killbots themselves are, incidentally, just as complicated as the player. Each one consists of a number of interrelated components: motor, power supply, camera, ammunition box, etc. This means that you’re not just blasting at an enemy in order to shave off hit points: you’re targeting specific parts of a machine in order to neutralise it. A well-placed shot can totally shut down a turret, but at the same time it’s just as likely that a lucky shot will destroy its gun (though it’s equally likely that your bullets will just ricochet off). Early on in the game, I found I was wasting bullets trying to totally wreck turrets that had shattered cameras or were out of ammo. Then I stepped on a Tazer drone that was immobilised but still armed, and decided to go back to shooting at anything that beeped when I got near.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the level of detail incorporated into Receiver, whether or not you even enjoy it as a game. Personally, I firmly believe that not all games have to be fun. However, what’s really staggering is that despite playing more like a critique on the First Person Shooter genre than a game in its own right, Receiver‘s cruel level of difficulty actually translates into a fairly engaging game. With only a single (randomised) level to explore, and a setup that forces you to rely on luck as much as skill, it sometimes feels more like Minesweeper than Call of Duty. Without saves or checkpoints, and with an understanding that you’re almost guaranteed to fail, the sense of achievement comes not from progressing through the game, but from simply becoming less bad at it. Taking down a turret with your last shot, or managing to reload while a drone is zipping towards you, is incredibly satisfying largely because it’s so difficult. If I ever actually manage to complete the game, I’ve got no doubt that it’ll be because the randomised city layout and starting equipment gave me a leg up. However, I’m also absolutely certain that it’ll be quite a feat nonetheless.
Receiver‘s story is little more than scene-setting, as far as I can tell. However, that scene-setting–provided by cassette tapes scattered around the level–is certainly effective. It’s half Terminator, half The Matrix, and at the very least gives you a good reason to explore the game. There will always be eleven tapes available to collect, and as far as I’m aware collecting all eleven is the only way to win the game. My personal record is five or six, so I don’t expect to be seeing an ending for myself any time soon.
If you want to have a go at Receiver, you’ll need a fairly fancy computer: the system requirements are pretty hefty. However, if you just want an idea what it’s like without having to go through six steps to get there, then QWOP does a lot of the same basic things and is playable in-browser.