Review: RIVE

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 RIVE is not my jam.

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RIVE (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Two Tribes
Publisher: Two Tribes Publishing
Released: September 13, 2016
MSRP: $14.99

RIVE is an explosive twin-stick shooter that wants to beat you up and steal your lunch. Sending you home with a black eye while shouting at you to come back for more. Punishment is the name of the game. Can’t keep up with the onslaught of laser death-dealing robots? No problem. RIVE‘s failure screens will remind you of how bad your reflexes have become. You’re an old man, gramps! Too cool for this school.

Beyond the difficulty, I love how RIVE‘s checkpoint system shows the player mercy. The more you die, the closer the checkpoints become. Encouraging players to keep fighting, no matter how hard they have been smacked down.

What I’m not quite sure about is the placement of the jump button. On the PlayStation 4, the jump button is assigned to the L2 trigger versus the standard X button. The end result is curious and awkward feeling.

RIVE reminds me of the worst games I played during the Console Wars of the ’90s. Difficult. Demanding. No satisfying reward.

In the end, RIVE fails to bring anything new to the playground. Not even revealing one compelling example to keep pressing onward. The game revels in bashing the player over the head with difficulty for the sake of difficulty. I have no time for that. RIVE is not my jam.

Wave Splinter

RIVE reviewed by Bryan Hall

[Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail build provided by Evolve PR.]

INVERSUS

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wavesplinter4/5 – INVERSUS is a smart shooter that challenges your brain through unique movement and solid gameplay mechanics. A great game to play with your kids and to pull out when friends and family come over.

Wave SplinterTitle: INVERSUS
Developer: Hypersect
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $14.99

*INVERSUS was reviewed using a code provided by Evolve PR.

Firewatch

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Bryan and Josh talk almost daily. But they have never met. One day, they got to review Firewatch—a visually stunning game for PS4 and PC—about two people who never met, but talk daily. This is that review.

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Firewatch takes place in Wyoming’s wilderness during the summer of 1989. Fire a constant threat, you’re hired to watch for anything that could harm the millions of acres of lush wild. Alone. Your only connection with any other humans comes in the form of a walkie-talkie at the top of your tower.

“So what’s wrong with you?” the person on the other line asks. Her name is Delilah.

Bryan:

What was your initial impression of Delilah?

Josh:

Delilah won my trust pretty early on, because she simply responded to what we saw together: like the time somebody set-off fireworks and we had to deal with that together. I wouldn’t say I completely trusted her right off the bat, especially with how she assumed something was wrong with relationships in Henry’s past but wouldn’t open up about her own. But her voice is sincere. Talking to Delilah is the highlight of the game for me. She sounds and feels like a real person. So does Henry, honestly, even though we’re in his shoes.

What did you think of Delilah?

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Bryan:

Delilah and Henry’s banter brought back memories of going camping with my Grandpa Ayers. He would tell these stories/create situations that would scare my brother and I to tears. The man had a way of planting thoughts and building upon those thoughts. Pretty soon you’d think that there was a bear just beyond the campfire. For a game to capture those times spent with my grandpa—it’s just amazing.

Speaking of, what did you think of all the hiking?

I think the game nails that feeling of being alone in the woods. A place where the imagination can run wild; a place where you and one other person shape your reality.

Josh:

The hiking always felt only as long as it needed to be. Instead of backtracking, the game often ended a scene and just cut ahead a few days to something important. But once or twice I had to backtrack for a long hike. At first I was like, “Oh, man!” But then Delilah would chime in and talk my ear off. It made the long walk completely worth it because it didn’t feel lonely.

She’d just talk about how the firefighters would do controlled burns, or about the teenage girls who snuck into the forest with three cases of beer. And sometimes the conversation turned more serious, but it always felt like an honest-to-God friendship. That friendship made the long hikes feel short to me.

You know what, Bryan? It reminds me of us. Like Henry and Delilah, we’ve never met, but we talk all the time. Our conversation has gone longer than theirs—we’ve been talking for three years now, but it’s super-similar in terms of a mostly-faceless friendship. Though, there was the couple times we talked face-to-face over Skype. It’s really cool that Firewatch explores this very modern kind of friendship, despite taking place about thirty years ago.

It definitely says a lot about our day, age and the kinds of relationships we forge these days, but I’ve noticed other reviewers say Firewatch is like a book—a real page-turner. What do you think of the idea that this could be considered “literature?”

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Bryan:

Firewatch is definitely a page-turner: a popcorn mystery/thriller that tries to answer, “How do we respond when things don’t go the way we want them to?“ The game has a similar feel to one of my favorite books, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I read the book in two days, so concerned about the father and son trying to survive in a world where they’re alone. I couldn’t stop reading until the father and son were safe. Similarly, I found myself playing Firewatch until Henry and Delilah were safe. At least safe by an in-game checkpoint. I also liked how all the characters were real, broken. Living in the aftermath of bad choices.

Could the game be compared to literature? Maybe. But like The Road, there was no satisfying ending. I don’t know about you, Josh, but I felt like Firewatch fell apart trying to tie up it’s ending. All that intrigue, suspense, and then poof! But, I guess life is like that. It took me a few days of pondering to appreciate what Firewatch was trying to convey. Quite possibly one of the deeper games I’ve played.

Speaking of depth, and suspense, what do you think of the intro to the game?

Josh:

The intro surprised me! Who starts one of the most graphically rich video games ever with all text? But here it is: just text and hyperlinks for fifteen minutes. Subtle music added a little texture, but it’s essentially just a short Twine game built to establish your character, Henry. It was low-fi, but extremely affecting for me. It got me right into Henry’s hopes, fears, and disappointments.

What did you think of this intro?

Bryan:

I cried. And I’m not a crier. It reminded me that life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to. Sometimes we become overwhelmed. A change of scenery needed in order to move forward.

Random question: Did you find yourself wanting to hoard/collect the books that you found in the game?

Josh:

Thanks for bringing up the books! When I found the books in the game, I really thought I was gonna have to collect books for some kind of achievement-driven task, but it never came. I love how the devs stripped-out anything but what’s important: the task at hand and the unfolding conversation between Henry and Delilah. Sure I could go off and explore wherever I wanted to, but it was only because I was genuinely curious—not because I had external achievements motivating me.

The ending will probably cause a lot of mixed feelings for some. Video games are known for epic breakthroughs at the last moment before credits roll, and Firewatch‘s conclusion seems like it could go for this grandiose Bioshock-style revelation, but then it puts something very grounded and earthy instead. You don’t save the world, or rescue the princess. There’s not even any fireworks.

It’s kind of the point: this is just a game about two people. That’s it. When I got to the final moments, I was on the edge of my seat—just because of Henry’s excitement to finally meet Delilah face-to-face.

How do you feel about Firewatch overall?

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Bryan:

Firewatch doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. I like how the game focuses on Henry and Delilah’s story. It allows the player to soak in and explore the Wyoming wilderness while getting to know another human being.

Josh:

I agree. It’s a valuable addition to the world of adult fiction. I’m not quite sure that I know what place it holds on my shelf for years to come. I can’t share it with everybody due to the unique adult conversations. Henry and Delilah talk like single adults in their forties who have a lot of problems. But the frank discussion never felt out of place. The strong words only added to the characters feeling real. I think that’s the key takeaway for me: it’s about having another adult to talk to who you can share anything with—especially the bad stuff.

wavesplinter4/5 – Plot holes mare what could have been a revelatory narrative experience.

Wave SplinterTitle: Firewatch
Developer: Campo Santo
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Reviews on: PC, PlayStation 4
MSRP: $19.99

*Firewatch was reviewed using codes provided by Campo Santo.

That Dragon Cancer drove me to prayer

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Tabitha and I experienced That Dragon Cancer together. With Wyatt tucked away in bed for the night, we hooked the laptop up to the television. Light’s dimmed, we entered the world of the Green family. The musical score comforts like a warm blanket. The woods around full of promise and wonder. In this setting we meet the Green’s son, Joel, who is feeding a duck. Joel laughs, a lot. After a transitional time at the playground, we meet the dragon of this story, cancer.

Cancer, represented in jagged distorted shapes of hate. Always lurking like a monster in the night. Howls reverberating as a heartbeat of a sick boy.

That Dragon Cancer is a series of vignettes, brief flashes of hope and dark nightmares. Narrated at times by Ryan and Amy Green, we follow their family on their journey with Joel. Tabitha and I appreciated the depth of honesty in Amy’s comments on doubt. Doubt is normal, she says. A contrast to the modern Church whispering “hush” in such moments.

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No matter how dire the situation became. No matter how hard Amy and Ryan prayed, their faith stood out to us. A faith that allows for questions, doubts, and even fears. Media, as a whole, has a hard time portraying faith. The video game medium allows for an unknown level of intimacy. Allowing us to partake, in some small way, in the Green’s suffering. I’m thankful for that.

As the game ended, I found myself in a contemplative mood. That Dragon Cancer reminded me of my need to pray. I prayed for Amy, Ryan, and their family. I fell asleep only to wake up sometime later. Praying over life, direction, and meaning.

I would like to thank Ryan and Amy for being real. For sharing Joel’s life and opening up their family to the world.

Wave SplinterTitle: That Dragon, Cancer
Developer: Numinous Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, OUYA
Reviews on: PC
MSRP: $14.99

*A review copy was provided for this review. 

Race the Sun

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The sun travels across the afternoon sky. Flying along in your sleek solar craft, you race towards the horizon. Will the sun set before you complete your trek over many regions? Depends on how bumpy your flight is.

Speed, Glorious Speed

Race the Sun has been a joyous surprise for me. Coming as a free downloadable game on PlayStation Plus, Race the Sun features gameplay hooks that sink deep.

Race-The-Sun-Logo-BlackBGRace the Sun is an endless runner platform game, much like Temple Run. Your solar craft is forever racing forward, unless it hits something and explodes. These Tron-esque explosions happen often. Learning from failure is the name of the game. Race the Sun features simple flight controls of moving right to left as well as a single jump button. As you weave your way through shape-filled mazes, power ups such as speed boosts and jumping litter the game world. Sounds easy, right?

The further you rocket into the distance, the closer the sun comes to setting. Shadows begin to cast off of the minimalist but deadly landscape. As your eyes struggle with the speed, obstacles, and route decisions, death is but a heartbeat away.

What keeps me coming back to the party?

  • A world that randomly generates every 24 hours
  • A sense of speed that I have not felt since F-Zero GX on the GameCube.
  • Fun objectives to complete
  • Personal high scores to beat

Race the Sun is the experience I needed to renew my faith in videogames–seriously, I’ve felt burned out. I can’t recommend it enough. Definitely worth the price of admission if you happen not to download it this month (May 2015) on PlayStation Plus. Come on, you owe it to yourself to race the great ball of fire.

DEFCON 5wavesplinter5/5 – Just buy it already!

Wave SplinterTitle: Race the Sun
Developer: Flippfly
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Vita
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $10