Friday night, 2 A.M. I'm stuck to my couch playing RIVE on my PS4. I've been playing it for over 2 hours straight, stuck on the final boss. I could have called it quits and moved on to something else. I had almost finished the game anyway, what would happen if I skipped just the final boss? But herein lies the best aspect of RIVE: a difficulty that is actually feels fair, rather than forced.
RIVE is the final game made by Two Tribes, the critically acclaimed studio, who brought us titles such as the Tori Tori games and RUSH. In an industry that just tends to focus on the biggest trend and forgets everything else, it is devastating to see more single-player focused studios close shop. But at the very least, we can be relieved that Two Tribes went out with a quite literal bang (Seriously, every single enemy you kill in this game dies with an explosion. It's maddening.)
You play as aa astronaut/mechanic/engineer/weapons expert/redneck named Roughshot. While cruising through stars and shooting asteroids, you are suddenly pulled into a ship, controlled by the AI, named "Daryl Lloyd-Lancaster," who for some reason doesn't want you to leave his place. It's up to you to find out what is going on and escape from the ship.
From the description I just gave you, you might be concluding that Daryl is your typical rogue AI, out to defeat you and the world, but make no mistake, Daryl is no SHODAN or GLaDOS. He might be a little annoying and he may send his hordes of minions to stop you but he poses no actual threat by himself. Hell, you spend almost 75% of the game destroying his ever replicating robot bodies while he is trying to shove the plot down your face.
The game combines platforming with shoot'em up mechanics which goes together as well as peanut butter and jelly. You can tell that the controls and the game mechanics were meticulously play tested because they feel extremely responsive. When you kill an enemy in RIVE, the resulting explosion, sound effect and vibration makes you feel like a badass, even after 6 hours of it. You start out with a gatling gun which serves as your primary weapon throughout the entirety of the game. Each enemy drops nuts and bolts when you kill them, and these are your main form of currency to buy more powerful weapons such as an EMP charge and multi-rocket launchers. These weapons need to be recharged as you use them. Unfortunately the types of enemies you can face are limited, and they all are introduced very quickly, leaving you with no variety throughout the end-game.
What separates RIVE from the countless other action shoot'em ups is the brutal difficulty. You will die in RIVE. A lot. Sometimes you will be so close to victory before your timely death. Sometimes you will jump into a pit while attempting to defend yourself against the endless amount of suicidal robots that are coming towards you. Sometimes you will even die while platforming because you didn't jump quite as high as you needed to. But all of these deaths have something in common: They all feel fair, you have complete control over the camera, your hurdles and obstacles are all clearly telegraphed. If you die while playing RIVE, it's all your fault, you just had to react faster and you know it. That is what keeps you coming back even after the 40th attempt at a boss.
The visuals of the game are simple yet defined, and each level is vast, distinct and colorful. The few levels where you get to fly around in space are beautiful just because of the sheer excellence of the background. Both Roughshot and Daryl are voiced by Mark Dodson, known for his voice work in Star Wars (he was the voice of Jabba's pet, Salacious Crumb) and Gremlins. He's certainly got the acting chops but after hearing the exact same line over and over again just because you can't beat the area, it gets extremely annoying.
Two Tribes was always known for their tight gameplay and responsive controls and in those areas the game succeeds with flying colors. But the new things they invested in for their final game such as voice acting and an actual plot just feels average in comparison. The game is 15$ on PSN, so if you want a 5-6 hours long game that will push you to your absolute limits in terms of sheer skill, then RIVE is definitely worth checking out.