Rive Review – A bumpy ride

Rive doesn’t know when enough is enough. It seeks to create a challenging shooter that evokes the classics (such as R-Type and Bangai-O, if some of the game’s dialog is any indication), attempting to recreate the frantic, bombastic action of those games. And it certainly does – quite well, I might add – but it also doesn’t know when to stop. It hits its stride early on, finding a nice balance between challenge and raw spectacle. But then it keeps going, adding more outrageous set-pieces, making things even more difficult, constantly trying to outdo itself until the whole thing falls apart. While the overall experience is enjoyable, particularly its first half, it dissolves into a frustrating slog toward the end.

Rive is a side-scrolling dual-stick shooter where you fight your way through a massive spaceship. It places you in the role of a scavenger by the name of Roughshot, who finds himself stranded in the middle of space and in need of fuel following some unknown incident. He comes across a large, well-fortified craft, however, and decides to break in to refuel and maybe grab some scrap to sell. Except he only ends up steadily destroying the ship the more he explores. That’s mostly accidental at first – a fuel tank situated on platform amid a river of lava springs a leak and explodes, for instance – but soon becomes intentional once the ship’s proprietor decides not to let Roughshot leave.

Instead, Roughshot’s treated as a test subject for all the ship’s security measures. Enemies begin pouring in from every crevice from the second you step foot inside the spacecraft, seldom giving you a moment of solitude. The spider tank you control is more than equipped to deal with them, its standard machine gun makes quick work of anything in its path. Sub-weapons like a shotgun and rocket launcher help thin the enemy hordes, but their ammo is limited, so it’s best to employ them carefully.

Rive’s early-goings certainly waste no time in throwing you into the deep end of things, but it’s also careful not to overwhelm. It’s intense, certainly, but, at least for the first few levels, it feels manageable. The scenarios you find yourself in are full of spectacle, but exert some measure of restraint. Speeding through a river of lava while fighting off dozens of foes is exciting, particularly as they fly uncomfortably close to your position. Jumping between train tracks to avoid oncoming trains instils just the right amount of paranoia, as the locomotives provide only a brief warning of their arrival.

Even the more traditional encounters – that is, you in a nondescript open space facing off against several waves of varying foes – prove to be just as entertaining. Navigating the mayhem that naturally erupts is always a challenge, but in these situations, it’s far more enjoyable because you aren’t under any constraints. You’re free to maneuver however you please, turning the game into pure shoot-‘em-up anarchy.

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Those kinds of scenes demonstrate Rive at its best. A strong balance between utter chaos and carefully orchestrated action. The sort that are thrilling to partake in, no matter how many times you fail.

When he action becomes  too busy, it’s impossible to keep up. Explosions constantly fill the screen, disguising enemy movement while also making it difficult to see where you are. A lot of the deaths I accrued can be attributed to losing track of the action rather than a simple mistake on my part. If the latter were more common it would be easier to accept losses and press on, but when I can’t pinpoint what happened, it’s  extremely frustrating.

That’s compounded by Rive’s drive to constantly up the ante to unreasonable degrees. The scenarios you find yourself in late in the game become utterly ridiculous and unreasonable. Avoiding a massive saw blade and laser that move in opposite directions while you jump in and out of a pool of water, taking occasional pot-shots at your adversaries, is emblematic of the sort of challenges Rive loves to create in its latter half. It always takes a simple room and builds the most annoying scenarios possible.

The worst example I found was one instance wherein I was situated on a small, three-pronged pillar. Hordes of kamikaze drones would spawn in waves on each side of the room, while another robot flew around the edges of the screen firing homing rockets at me. With so little room to maneuver, I was lucky to even survive the initial wave. If it wasn’t the drones doing me in, it was the rockets. Either one of these on their own would make a for a pretty challenging segment, but together they’re a nightmare. It took me almost an hour to finish it, and that’s including the many attempts I made after swapping to  easy mode. I almost quit entirely.

Those sorts of cases embody Rive at its worst. It constantly piles on new threats that require a lot of multitasking. The first five or six levels embody Rive at its best, while the rest lose their way by simply not knowing when to stop. It’s a shame Rive is Two Tribes’ final game because there’s a solid enough foundation here that I would have liked to see what the company could do if they took another crack at making a shooter. When Rive works, it’s a stellar game. A finely-tuned, fantastic shooter that stands with the best of them. But when it falters, it’s tough to endure.

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