This game is not remotely fair. The constraints under which it was developed were unfair, and that unfairness is passed along to the player in the form of brutally unforgiving and occasionally impossible gameplay. The game isn’t mean or sadistic. It’s just indifferent.
Receiver was developed as part of a challenge to make an FPS in just seven days. For reference, that’s like trying to teach yourself Portuguese over your lunchbreak. Whatever faults the game might have, I have to give it credit for rising to an absurd and arbitrary challenge.
FPS games are routinely the most ambitious and expensive titles produced by the industry. The first-person view means the camera will be close to the scenery, which necessitates lots of detail. The genre is both insanely popular and deeply entrenched, meaning gameplay needs to be carefully designed and meticulously polished to even have a chance at standing out from the crowd. The violence creates a desire for context, which leads to cutscenes, which leads to outrageously expensive motion capture and model design, along with professional voice acting. Too much constant shooting gets to be numbing and monotonous, so you break up the firefights with set-piece stunts, moments of visual spectacle, and diverting vehicle sections that basically end up being a mechanically distinct game. (Which must also be carefully tested and balanced.)
The point is, these things normally cost money to produce and asking someone to make one in just seven days is completely unreasonable. Projects like Receiver must therefore strip the genre down to its bare elements to even have a prayer at making something playable in the given timeframe. In Receiver the story is nothing more than a series of mysterious audio logs. The environments are stark, simple, and procedurally generated. The gameplay is focused on two simple enemies.
The gimmick here is that the guns aren’t just visually modeled after real-world firearms. These guns are little mechanical simulations, complete with all the moving parts and complexities. Don’t hop in here thinking you’re going to Call of Duty your way to victory. After a few minutes with Receiver, the idea of tapping the R key to reload a firearm will seem as ludicrous as a driving game where your only input is the throttle. If you’re used to reloading your weapon every couple of shots just to make sure you’re always full, then this game will very quickly make it clear why people don’t do this in real life.
In Receiver, you’ve got a button to eject the current magazine, a button to put the firearm away so you’re now holding just the magazine because this is a two-handed job, another button to insert rounds into the mag one at a time, another button to retrieve the weapon, another to insert the mag, and another to release the slide lock. If you want to know how many shots you’ve got left and you’ve been forgetting to keep track, then you pull the mag and count them up.
|Halp! No moar boolits!|
You don’t get a magical floating crosshair telling you where bullets will end up when you pull the trigger. If you don’t want to eyeball it then you need to look down the sights and experience the annoyance of aiming a weapon that’s blocking your view of the thing you’re trying to aim at. Thank goodness your body is invisible in this game, since I’d hate to have my hands blocking my view of the weapon itself. (This might be the first FPS in over a decade where you don’t play as a white dude, but only because you don’t have a voice or body.)
The idea is that you’re running around in darkened building at night, surrounded by stationary turrets and flying killbots. Your foes don’t have hit point bars. They are machines, and you must break them by putting bullets into the working parts. You can disable individual systems of these devices, leaving them in a partially working state, or you can waste precious bullets uselessly plinking away at their structural bits, which is like trying to cripple a car by shooting the roof full of holes. Combat is incredibly abrupt and deadly. You die if you get hit, and engagements usually don’t last more than a couple of seconds. Assuming you want your game to last more than a minute, you’ll need to be extremely cautious and paranoid.
To give you an idea of how detailed this is: The airborne robots are about the size of a toaster. They’re basically a flying taser. At one point I found myself stuck in a narrow hallway, panic-firing at a flier like I normally do in this game. It bumped into me and I stopped, expecting that was game over. But nothing happened. It flew around in a circle and bumped into me again. I’d blown off the deadly shocky bits and it was now a flying toy. Then I had to decide if I wanted to waste more bullets on it, or if I wanted to continue on with this thing buzzing around my head.
Is it a good game? It depends. Are you the sort of person who looks at the challenge of Nethack or Dwarf Fortress and sees a mountain that must be conquered? Then this game will be happy to present you with a cruel, uncaring slope on which to dash yourself again and again. If you’re concerned with things like “fairness”, or see “difficulty spikes” as a shortcoming, then this game is exists to offend you. This would be a hard game even if you had infinite bullets, and here you are positively starved for bullets.
You need to collect eleven cassette tapes to win the game. (I assume. I never got more than three.) They’re spread around, and you’re going to have to deal with many turrets in the process of rounding them all up.
We’ve got two things in play here: On one side we have unforgiving mechanics and on the other we have random environments. Some games you’ll spawn with a full weapon plus a couple of extra magazines, and find yourself in a room with more bullets and a free tape. In another game you’ll find yourself starting with a half-empty weapon and the next room will be decorated like someone shopped at IKEA during a “buy one, get two free” sale on killer turrets.
To a certain extent it’s survival horror without the horror. The environments are bristling with danger, and the random layouts mean you never know what you’ll find in the next room.
Receiver is very much an experimental game. You might spend a good number of hours working to beat it, but you’ll have seen everything it has to offer within the first twenty minutes. It’s not fair, it’s not reasonable, but it’s worth a look if you’re curious about firearms as mechanical devices and see them as more than just a crude tool for unlocking cutscenes.
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