Feb 18, 2017 | 33 Comments
Review: Rive is a relentless challenge that rivals any you're likely to face this year
Butt kickings on demand
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4
Developer: Two Tribes
Wreck, Hack, Die, Retry. These are the words that make up the subtitle of Rive, and they could not be more accurate or encompassing. To put it simply, Rive is a hard game. But it’s not just the challenge you get from taking on hordes of enemies that so many other titles present to you; it’s the constant state of momentum that makes Rive stand out from the pack. Moments to catch your breath are so few and far between that Rive is an exercise in both skill and managing your nerve.
There’s a certain smugness that comes with being able to master a challenging game, but Rive never really gives that to you. It never lets you grow too confident in your abilities as mere jumping sections can quickly turn to death traps if your attention strays but even for a moment.
It’s this aspect of the game that makes me feel that there is at least an argument to be made that Rive is the most difficult game to release in 2016. Surely, fans of Dark Souls III might scoff at such a notion, but it’s not as crazy as it seems once you get behind the controller.
Rive is old school, and damn proud of it.
One of the first lines you hear out of the mouth of Roughshot, the gruff, tough, and bearded protagonist that (naturally) likes to shoot stuff is “let me put on some classic game music.”
This sets the tone for what you can expect from everything Rive has to offer going forward, from both its gameplay style and 4th wall-breaking narrative. Rive’s central game loop revolves around the player being able to simultaneously move the character with one stick while directionally shooting off an endless supply of bullets with the other. Realism and seriousness need not apply.
There are also some fun little details that Two Tribes has tossed in, namely references to other classic games, memes, and popular culture. There’s one piece of dialog that references The Simpsons’ “any key” sketch and another that nods at The Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” single. These are my kind of writers.
Rive is tough...sometimes a little too much so.
Rive makes an excellent first impression with its slick controls and smooth 60 FPS performance, which was most certainly a requirement for this game given the pinpoint accuracy the game demands from its players over the smallest details. You will be contending with moving platforms, deadly laser beams, crushing pillars, and agile enemy fodder simultaneously on a regular basis, and then some when it comes to boss battles. The action throughout the game is chaotic but balanced enough so as not to feel unfair most of the time. And that’s the optimum phrase; most of the time.
There will be moments where you will hit a wall of death. At certain parts of the game, I easily died between 20-30 times just because of the sheer amount of stuff Rive throws on your plate at once. This can feel very exhausting, as the battle starts to translate away from the controller and into your head. Rive demands precision, and when you start thinking about how to be precise, it all comes apart. It was here where I needed to step away from Rive, but fortunately, coming back to the game never felt like a chore.
The best way I can describe the difficulty is this; if you’re familiar with the Mario Maker logic, where you have to beat your creation to submit it to the server for others to play, that’s how I feel like Rive was created at times. It seems like when Two Tribes was running through their game during Q&A, they figured that if they could beat it once, it was ready to go. Technically, they wouldn’t be wrong, as it is possible to beat everything, but it does take away the sense of accomplishment you’re supposed to get from overcoming a major challenge and replaces it with relief.
Rive does a good job at attempting to change things up and does so with mostly positive results.
For a game that’s all about difficulty, Rive throws a lot of variance into its equation, and it's clear that Two Tribes knew how to create compelling challenges within different types of game genres. And this is where Rive is at its best. There are points in the game where you’ll get thrown for a loop and be forced to contend with its challenges in different ways.
One section changes the game into a scrolling shooter in the vein of something like Ikaruga while another takes away your ability to shoot altogether. These add nice little twists that help to break things up, but there are a few segments that are a tad troubled.
Rive’s incorporation of platforming elements is the prime example of what the game does wrong. While most of the segments are simply jumping from one platform to another (most of which are perfectly functional), there are a few parts that require you to navigate through underwater traps. These sections are problematic because Roughshot’s momentum can carry him further than the point that you pull off the controller, which can result in some cheap damage (and even death) from running into the trap. These traps range from standstill mines to moving saw blades, and I found that the saw blades were the most problematic given that I had to contend with two different sources of dangerous momentum instead of one.
If you’re a fan of tough games, there’s no doubt that Rive is a game to take a look at. Rive is developer Two Tribes’ final game, and they should be proud of what they have created here. I’m still feeling the itch to dive back in and take on the game’s extra modes, which says something in and of itself. Rive is made for fans of old school 360-degree twitch shooters, but it can satisfy anyone who is looking for a game to kick their butt.
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