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Rive Review

Game Spot Reviews - Sat, 11/25/2017 - 15:00

Backed into a corner by curtains of laser fire, I hop and twist, curling my shots and grinding foes into nuts and bolts. After hacking a support drone to bring in some extra muscle to the fight, I battle my way out and continue my maelstrom of destruction. These moments are common in Rive, and they're emblematic of how the game melds sharp design and challenging encounters to reinvigorate the shoot-em-up genre. It's a chaotic game backed by explosive action, snarky cracks, and an affection for the ridiculous.

You play as a no-name, space-salvaging badass in a robust spider tank. It’s an armored, all-terrain machine with a giant machine gun for its basic weapon. As you progress, you’ll earn more upgrades like new weapons and armor, plus some gadgets that let you take control of everything from turrets to trains.

In the beginning, you stumble across a gargantuan derelict vessel ready for plunder. But, of course, there's a catch: As you explore, you’re accosted by countless drones and bots programmed to put you down. You'll learn to shoot, move, and use some other basic skills, but then Rive situationally limits how can use your newfound abilities by forcing you into a corner or into a zero-g bubble. These moments are as tense as boss battles, asking you to utilize your skills in novel ways, all while under the duress of constant, high-energy action.

Despite that, Rive rarely feels overwhelming. It's intense and taxing, but it doesn't often feel like it's asking too much. It's common nowadays to herald difficult games as intrinsically “good,” but that trend belies that fact that there's a tenuous balance between difficulty and frustration. Rive is challenging, but even if you die, you can instantly jump back into the action. You never lose more than about 30 seconds of progress, and death doesn't drain resources or knock down your overall score. The game includes plenty of tough spots, but it doesn’t take too long to acclimate to the challenge and wriggle through.

Along the way, you'll find some rather strange locales, given that the majority of the game takes place on a spaceship. Between giant lava lakes, oceans, zero-G bubbles, and the like, Rive gives you plenty of playgrounds to explore. Each area is bright, colorful and gorgeously animated. Creatures skitter along the floor while lights and backgrounds hum with life. That's all window dressing, sure, but each level is also distinct, presenting new sets of challenges every few minutes.

One of the few solid knocks against Rive comes from its protagonist. He's got all the corn and cheese of classics like Duke Nukem (without the crass misogyny). He has all the personality of a brick, and only a couple of his jokes hit their mark. It's a strange addition that doesn't seem necessary given the game's focus on action over storytelling, and is borderline cringeworthy.

Rive is demanding, but it pushes the kind of near-thoughtless play that shoot-em-ups strive to achieve. When faced with an onslaught of enemies and environmental hazards, you'll have to think fast or die. Rive also doesn't run all that long, but what's here is excellent, top-notch action, and the game delivers some of the most memorable moments in a shoot-em-up in years.

Editor's note: After a few additional hours of testing Rive: Ultimate Edition, GameSpot has updated the score to reflect the Switch version of the game. - Nov. 25, 2017, 7:00 AM PT

Batman: The Enemy Within - Episode 3: Fractured Mask Review

Game Spot Reviews - Fri, 11/24/2017 - 12:12

This review will contain spoilers for previous episodes of Batman: The Enemy Within.

In Episode 2 of Batman: The Enemy Within, Bruce Wayne found himself behind enemy lines working as a member of The Pact, a coalition of villains hatching a plan to wreak havoc in Gotham City. In Episode 3, Fractured Mask, developer Telltale pumps the brakes on high-stakes schemes in favour of something a little more intimate. The result is an episode that only inches the overarching narrative forward, but takes a big leap in exploring the fragile nature of Bruce Wayne's duality.

At the end of the last episode, Catwoman--who has been absent since Season 1--made a surprise return, and in Episode 3 it's revealed she's in league with Harley, Bane, Mr. Freeze, and John "Not The Joker Yet" Doe. But Catwoman is also driven to take revenge against The Pact--and the mysterious forces they represent--for the death of Riddler. Through her, Fractured Mask recontextualizes Riddler's actions somewhat by indicating that his plans may not have aligned completely with his villainous compatriots. The Riddler that Catwoman knew was a different, better person than the one Batman faced, and ultimately the one The Pact killed. With this in mind, she takes it into her own hands to seek retribution.

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Naturally, this places Bruce in a tricky spot. Since Catwoman's plans threaten to undermine his own efforts as an undercover operative for Amanda Waller, the two find themselves at odds professionally. Complicating matters even further is the burgeoning romance between them which, amongst the deception and subterfuge, allows them to find some comfort in each other and not completely descend into darkness. This dynamic is at the core of Episode 3 and, for the most part, it is depicted well. Although there are a couple of scenes where Catwoman's attitude pivots jarringly, these eventually culminate in a moment of genuine emotional payoff where the player can choose to develop their relationship in a meaningful way.

Bruce Wayne and Batman's other ties become equally messy in Episode 3. Most impactfully, his friendship with Jim Gordon takes a serious turn for the worse. Since Batman is playing nice with Amanda Waller, who is wrestling control of Gotham's law enforcement operations away from Gordon, the two begin to drift apart. Episode 3 presents a Gordon who has his back against the wall and is desperately trying to remain relevant. He clutches at straws hoping to grasp something significant and, unfortunately, this results in Bruce finding himself in Gordon's crosshairs. It's actually quite sad to see Batman's staunchest ally slowly becoming his demise. Although there is an opportunity to begin repairing this fracturing friendship, taking this step will damage another important one. There aren't very many big decision-making moments in Episode 3, but the few that are there carry enough consequence to make the player pause and think.

Episode 3 also sees old wounds reopened, with Lucius Fox's daughter, Tiffany, becoming embroiled in Batman and Bruce Wayne's activities. As a character, Tiffany hasn't had much screen time but the events of the episode raise her profile considerably. Without spoiling the story, Telltale seems to be motioning towards something that, if it happens, could be very exciting for fans of Batman and for this series.

And then, throughout it all is John Doe, the man being positioned to become Joker. He's a lingering presence that is both charming and unsettling, and Episode 3 hops back and forth between those two personas expertly. Doe continues to be a fascinating take on the character; unsure of who he is but very slowly dipping into the madness that will inevitably consume him. His need to find acceptance sees him craving Harley Quinn's attention, to the point where he puts both himself and his "best friend" Bruce in danger. As with the previous two episodes, John Doe is a standout character, providing levity with some excellently delivered one-liners, throwaway quips, and one hilarious sequence involving shadow puppets.

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While Episode 3 has strong characterization, its gameplay feels rather shallow. Outside of the fight sequences, which are well choreographed but a little trite, there's one big puzzle for players to solve. It takes place in Riddler's hideout and, given his love of flaunting his intelligence, you'd think it would be elaborate and challenging. However, it's actually trivial to solve, making Riddler seem a bit dull--talk about kicking someone when he's already down.

Nevertheless, Episode 3 of Telltale's Batman: The Enemy Within is well thought out and strongly written. Telltale has weaved together a complicated web of relationships that's becoming strained by the people tangled in it. After two relatively straightforward episodes, this is exactly what the series needed to carry it forward and ensure players are compelled to see it through.

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