All jammed up

Guns and video games have a long shared history to the point that, at times, it seems as though the two are inextricable. A quick survey of video game history will likely produce only a short list of games that do not feature a gun.

Guns and video games have a long shared history to the point that, at times, it seems as though the two are inextricable. A quick survey of video game history will likely produce only a short list of games that do not feature a gun.

Guns are so popular in games that an entire genre based on a specific perspective has cropped up around them: the first-person shooter.

Whether this saturation of firearms in games is an innately bad thing is up for debate. Regardless, it’s always interesting to see another take on guns in games, even more so when it appears under the guise of an FPS.

Such is the case with Wolfire Games’ new release, Receiver.

Receiver is a response to the typical first-person shooter experiences you might expect from Call of Duty or Battlefield. The simple act of reloading, often resigned to a controller button or the R key on the PC, is a sprawling process that can take several minutes to complete on your first attempt.

Receiver, which was originally developed during a seven-day game jam, sprang from a humble background: It worked well as an experiment then, but how does it hold up as a refined retail product?

In Receiver you wake with only two items, a gun and an audio cassette player, the latter of which you will use when collecting 11 tapes scattered throughout the environment. The tapes describe a rather ambiguous event called the Mindkill. It’s your job to figure out as much about the Mindkill as possible.

The voice acting for the tapes is appropriately monotone, evocative of a cult leader instructing a disciple; it sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Receiver neither goes far enough to be considered a simulation nor uses its convoluted reloading mechanic meaningfully enough to be considered a puzzle game. Once you’ve got the reloading mechanic down it’s just a process of muscle memory.

While successfully reloading your gun in combat is rewarding the first few times, the novelty quickly wears off after you realize just how easy it is to die and lose all your progress.

The main obstacles in Receiver, aside from reloading, are grounded turrets and flying drones. These might not sound like particularly frightening enemies, but boy howdy can they lay you out.

The turrets, which are very accurate sport machine guns, and the drones, which will come careening towards you at the slightest provocation, are basically made of electricity.

Both of these enemies are capable of taking you down in a single shot and do so liberally if you’re not on your toes. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t matter how attentive you are.

At one point a turret shot me through a wall. In most games this would be a minor annoyance; I would lick my wounds and hunt down a med kit or wait for my health to recharge.

Not so in Receiver, in which that single shot means death. The same does not go for the enemy, however: I often emptied round after round into them with little or no effect.

Therein lies the rub of Receiver for me: Your gun, for all the attention you will give it, is woefully inadequate for the threats you are pitted against.

As such, I began playing Receiver as if it were a survival horror game. I avoided enemies as much as possible, doing my best to stay out of sight. I resorted to violence only when absolutely necessary. I was careful. I was clever.

I survived maybe a few minutes longer than my last run before getting an apparently fatal amount of lead pumped into my shin.

As I said before, the object of Receiver is to collect 11 tapes. While I’m sure someone out there can pull this off handily, trying to do so at my present skill level is absolutely maddening.

Wolfire Games presents
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
★ ★

I was frequently put into situations where I was sandwiched between two rooms filled with turrets. The only way I could progress was through one of those rooms. It was an extremely frustrating experience to use up all of my bullets on a single encounter with a single turret, only to see it remain unfazed and fully functional.

Worse yet, I didn’t feel as though I had learned anything about disabling my enemy. All I could do was march into its line of fire and hope my next round would go better; it rarely did.

Receiver tugs all the heart strings usually required to make me fall in love with an indie game: It’s a fresh new take on a genre desperately in need of shaking up; the art style is distinct and colorful; the story is just esoteric enough to be intriguing.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is lacking after you’ve puzzled out the reload mechanic. Bugs and seemingly unwinnable situations compound the issue further to make this an interesting showpiece worthy of playing through a couple of rounds just to see what all the fuss is about, but not a fully realized game.