Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Receiver: the 7-day Masterpiece

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It comes as nothing but a shock that Wolfire Games, the guys that have been developing their furry beat-em-up Overgrowth for 8 YEARS could manage to make a stellar title like Receiver in seven days. Receiver absolutely demolishes so many assumptions and tropes about the FPS genre that they're almost too numerous to list, but all you need to know is that it's probably the best game ever made in a week.

Receiver is a game about guns. Yes, there is a story and genre you could associate the game with, but it all pales in comparison to the game's central fixation on your weapon. Lacking any heads-up display, the game revolves around the vaguely realistic usage of a firearm to defeat robotic enemies: magazines must be pulled out of the gun to see how many bullets they have left, the slide must be pulled back to check if a bullet is in the chamber, and of course, the safety has to be turned off before firing, etc. The natural FPS instinct -of reloading a 30-round magazine every time you fire a couple bullets- is impossible in Receiver unless you're just hellbent on wasting a lot of time.

The complicated controls can be brought up in the upper right-hand portion of the screen, if you need help remembering them.

The gun is the game. Although you're faced against automated turrets and drones that kill you in one hit, you'll find that your gun becomes as much of an adversary as it is a companion, since it can save you by the skin of your butt one moment, and lead to unexpected death the next. Again I say that the gun is the game. Whatever frustratingly vague pseudo-philosophical high-concept sci-fi tidbits the plot trickles down to you are so much bollocks in comparison to your immediate danger. Though, to be fair, the story is highly immersive, but it serves the framework this game uses to prop up its nail-biting tension and rock-solid difficulty.

Environments in Receiver are shadowy and desolate, giving a heavy "cyberpunk" vibe. A lethal turret can be seen scanning for intruders (left).

The procedurally-generated environments are a natural by-product of the story, which deals a lot in variant perceptions of reality (which I won't go into much due to spoilers), and as a result the game world is very crude in its presentation. In fact, it wouldn't look out of place in a PS1 game, but this is more a blessing than a curse, since any level of visual detail would have likely pushed this game over its seven-day deadline. My only concern with the limited visuals is just how poorly the game runs despite looking so bad. As you can expect, seven days is not a lot of time to optimize a game, but some patches added later would further justify Receiver as a full retail product.

A turret locks on and fires at me. One bullet is enough to end your character, and there are no continues.

Enemies are quick to spot you and demand deliberate exploration to take down successfully. Rushing into any room without paying attention is a recipe for getting a 22 caliber lobotomy. Still, enemies rarely feel cheap, just powerful and present enough to provide a daunting challenge. Said challenge further compels you into a state of anxiety as you play, since all your hard work could be over in an instant if you become hasty.

Turrets can be disabled by shooting their camera or motor, which removes their ability to see you or fire, respectively. Here I attempt to deactivate two turrets that ultimately got the better of me. I was impatient, you see...

To compound all of this, you run by tapping the W key repeatedly. This gives immense weight to every instance of speed, since overshooting a dash from cover to cover can result in swift death, and constantly tapping it will lead to the aforementioned problem of entering rooms unprepared. Running is also loud, and the accompanying scream of gunfire make for sound design that delights in creating wonderful little bursts of panic before giving you extended quiet times, all through careful control of volume balancing.

There's a sort of foreboding tranquility to the exploration, but once a threat is in your path, the impact of the sounds will pepper the game flow with little crescendos of intense action. Rarely is a game so patience-oriented and explosively heart-pounding in the same breath.

The story is revealed through System-Shock-esque audio logs, scattered throughout the environment in the form of cassettes. Bullets, magazines, and flashlights can also be picked up and stored in your inventory for later use.

Receiver, ultimately, is a game about patience, method, atmosphere, and tension. The wildly complex controls related to utilizing your gun are a smokescreen initially, but as time goes on they become a reflex embedded in muscle memory, which reflects not just the actual process of learning to use a firearm, but also the situation that the character has found himself in. He's (she's?) a fish out of water, dealing with procedures and circumstances alien to him, just as they will be alien to you if you enter into this game expecting just another shooter.

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