If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a video game that takes itself too seriously. The occasional moment of self-deprecation is a great way to skirt around the pitfalls to which many new games are often prone; a developer’s mistake will be more likely to stick out like a sore thumb if it strikes an obvious wrong note in what is an otherwise serious piece. All things in moderation, of course, but we’d all rather laugh along with a game than at it. So I’d say that for a new release, keeping a sense of lightheartedness is pretty crucial. I ramble on like this because RIVE, the side-scrolling shooter from Dutch company Two Tribes, is thoroughly aware of the aforementioned necessities.
RIVE is a game made for gamers, dishing up some of the most frantic gameplay I’ve ever experienced whilst keeping it lighthearted enough to make you laugh while you cry. And when I say frantic, I do mean frantic. The primary objective of RIVE is to blast your way through a variety of swarming robots whose sole purpose is to ruin your day. The game uses a joystick-dependent firing system alongside some wacky special attacks to keep the player afloat, and you’ll often find that you’re in desperate need of the boxes of ammo that give you access to said attacks, particularly when crowds of frisbee-shaped bad guys are darting around you, looking for an opening within which to blow you to smithereens.
Yes, you can blow him up, and no, he does not take kindly to it.
To cut to the chase, RIVE is a contender for the title of most difficult game I’ve ever played. Although it allows for a few much needed upgrades to your spaceship/tank, it tends toward keeping the player one step behind; fiendish level design alongside some frankly horrific boss battles results in a game that you will almost inevitably end up wanting with all of your being to uninstall and burn. Small comforts come in the form of the ability to hack and recruit nearby robots, which provide either offensive or defensive aid. Ultimately, though, the beauty of RIVE is in its sheer bloody difficulty. It’s all too telling that the only mode you have access to on start up is called “hard mode.”
This is the secret “8th circle of Hell” that Dante missed out of his Inferno.
I found myself pleasantly surprised by the plot that runs through RIVE: the protagonist is a happy-go-lucky scrap merchant with a penchant for weaponry, whilst the game’s primary villain is a seemingly-nondescript assistance robot who has built an army of explosive automatons within the confines of an old space-ship. The plot is simple – you make your way into the belly of said space-ship on the hunt for scrap, and end up fighting your way out as it becomes obvious that the well-meaning, well-spoken ‘assistance bot’ would love you to sample each and every one of his nasty creations. The tongue-in-cheek humor is never too much, in my opinion, and the self-referential comments that both character and game often make (“Man, I don’t know how those FPS guys do it!”) are a wonderfully silly way to keep you laughing through the brutality that is to be found around every corner.
In space, no-one can hear you blasting your way through a robot kamikaze-fest.
There’s no denying that RIVE does look a little dated. The engine used is unchanged from the last game built by Two Tribes, and it shows; that said, I’m not entirely sure a side-scroller of this simplicity really needs fancy graphics to be thoroughly enjoyable. I liked the fact that the backdrop to your adventure often influenced what was happening in the foreground – a boss that can be seen skulking its way toward you in the 2-dimensional distance, for example – and was satisfied enough that in spite of the hectic nature of the game, I never once saw a drop in frame-rate or associated graphical issue.
The giant pile-driver-slash-squid robot that will haunt your nightmares.
In terms of level design, RIVE cannot be faulted. In fact, so often are you taken by surprise by what your character walks/drops/is thrown into that I’d commend the sheer unpredictability of each stage; sections of the game take place on moving conveyor belts or train roofs, or in outer space, or in small arenas with shifting environments reminiscent of the many fights with Bowser that I’m sure we’ve all been through. What makes RIVE stand out from the crowd is that these sections are seemingly interlinked: you will always eventually find your way back to the large room that contains the upgrade machine and a teleporter that allows you to hop about the space-ship. The game feels intricate, and neatly crafted, and although the gameplay may lack depth the neat pairing between level design and combat more than makes up for it.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to sing the praises of a game like RIVE. I was expecting a lifeless, repetitive slog of a platformer, which sounds harsh but is in reality too often the case. What I got was the exact opposite; RIVE is shamelessly cheeky, dangerously tough, and engrossing enough that I plan on spending a significant amount of my down-time attempting to beat that one, giant pile-driver-slash-squid boss that currently has me swearing at the TV. Sure, it isn’t particularly profound, but since when did that matter? If you’re after side-scrolling mayhem with fairly constant references to how cliched it all is (as well as the occasional homage to Metal Gear Solid), RIVE is the one for you.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Gameplay - 7/10
Plot - 6/10
Design - 7/10
Wreck! Hack! Die! Retry!
It would be no stretch to say that RIVE has given me sleepless nights: though it may not be the most profound game you’ll ever experience, nor the most beautiful, it does have a wonderful personality, and will try its utmost to keep you coming back for one more attempt at one of the many extraordinarily challenging levels that comprise this surprise of a game.