I’ve been battling against a minor case of writer’s block this week when it comes to blogging, or at least writer’s struggle if that’s a thing. Each post idea I’ve decided to run with has been abandoned pretty quickly and sentences just arn’t flowing. Even now I’m struggling to extract each phrase in exactly the way I want to from the ideas zipping around my head. One of the big things I’ve learnt about blogging is that each post forms itself in different ways; sometimes the whole thing can just be blurted out, sometimes the piece is longer but flows from idea to idea and sometimes, like now, the post needs to be assembled piece by piece with each phrase and thought painstakingly formed. Having admitted that, I’ll also say that these painstakingly formed articles often come out well and I find that there is an attention to detail that can be lost in my blurted ramblings. It was somewhere roaming through these thoughts about the painstakingly laborious and what aspect of gaming I could write about that I found myself thinking about ‘Receiver’, a game that I have sporadic urges to play, have thoroughly enjoyed, but with which the word painstaking seems innately connected.
‘Receiver’ was originally created as part of a ‘7 day FPS Challenge’ in 2012 by independent developer ‘WolfFire Games’ (most notably led by David Rosen). It’s also unlikely to be a developer prominently visible on many people’s radar and is arguably most famous for the perpetually ‘Early Access’ lagomorpha themed third person brawler ‘OverGrowth’. Overgrowth has earned a brief tangential sentence or two here because it contains some of the most fluid and satisfying third person combat in a game that I’ve ever experienced (with the caveat that’s it’s also pretty difficult) and once it gets released as an actual ‘thing’ I’m going to hop right back in there and start playing it again.
‘Receiver’ itself is a simple concept: an FPS set in a procedurally generated quasi-futuristic map. The layout seems to be broadly inspired by the architecture of apartment blocks, although it’s tricky to say much more than that as most surfaces are simply boldy coloured rather than textured. The whole environment has an aesthetic characterised by basic geometric shapes that make up bedrooms, staricases, and plant-rooms which have all been chunkily furnished with assets that are identifiable as specific objects, but not more than that. Into this world are thrown two types of enemies: Firstly (and most annoyingly) buzzing drones that hover along fixed patrol routes until they are alerted, at which point they bumble in a straight line toward the player, bouncing off whatever object might be in the way, determined to get you to try out the zappy end of their taser. Secondly, static turrets that rotate and open fire at the player if they’re too slow to get out of their line of sight and which can be neatly disabled in different ways depending on the part of their blocky chassis you manage to land a bullet on. The plot is tied intimately with the main objective and is to collect eleven audio cassette tapes, randomly scattered through the map, which make up ‘the perpetual set’. Each of the tapes plays as it is collected and, as the order in which the player finds each tape is not pre-determined, there are elements of non-linear storytelling at play although the plot itself is mostly smoke & mirrors hinting at an oppressive Orwelian mind control nightmare that listening to ‘the perpetual set’ will grant some kind of resistance to. The disgruntled badger in me doesn’t really play Receiver for narrative, although as a neat vehicle for the core gameplay it serves its purpose and fits with the cyberpunk overtones.
The setting, objective, enemies, and plot are however just necessities of the genre added to give the true focus of the title, the gun mechanics, a stage on which to perform. At its heart ‘Receiver’ is an exercise in deconstructing the idea of the FPS by moving the complexity of the game from the goal and environment and placing it firmly in the player’s virtual hands by adding tedious amounts of realism to the action of firing a handgun. The trigger can be pulled by clicking the mouse button as normal, but the player must also go through the other associated actions which a game normally takes care of for you. For example, how do you reload a semi-automatic handgun? hit ‘R’ right? In receiver you might have to hold the gun in one hand and the magazine in the other; then push the button to insert the magazine, then push the button to release the slide lock and therefore chamber the first bullet, or manually pull the slide back… what? there was already a bullet in the chamber? well it’s been ejected onto the floor now, so you better pick it up. Were there any bullets in the magazine you just inserted? no? well you’ll have to eject it, holster your gun so that your other hand is free to load the bullets into the magazine and start the process again. Inevitably if I do think I have it all sorted I’m greeted by a smug ‘click’ when trying to engage with an enemy because the safety was on.
Swinging back around to my opening comments, it’s easy to dismiss ‘Receiver’ as tedious and pointless but given some time, perseverance through the painstakingly slow preparation and inevitable sudden deaths can yield an immense sense of accomplishment when it starts to come together. It’s mini-roguelitelike nature privides the sense of rythm and progression with each round that can be very satisfying.
A typical run for me would involve the following elements: First examine the gun; is it loaded? Is there a bullet chambered? Is the safety on? Am I carrying spare ammo? Is it loaded into magazines? Start to examine the environment, check the immediate vicinity for ammo and tapes, listen for enemies, sweep the sector vertically if possible before picking a direction. Try to work out a strategy for picking of enemies between each encounter and always keep the gun fully loaded with spare ammo as ready as possible. The occasions when a sequence of rapid button taps comes together to eject a magazine, grab the next one, side it in, release the slidelock, and fire, all whilst running backwards from one of those hovering zappy things manage to elevate a normal gaming action to something of notable achievement.
It’s by no means a polished thing, there are various quirks that are difficult to pin down as intended or just something skewed in the code, there’s the odd performance stutter (and I suspect a good amount of optimisation that could be done), and just an air of ‘jumbled together’ about the whole experience. It’s a rough concept, a throw away ‘this would be interesting’ moment. All that aside, if you’re curious to try something a little different and stick with it, then it is rewarding.
Have you played Receiver? Did you like it? … or did it miss the mark for you?