Hardware: Rivals isn’t an easy game to like, nor is it especially easy to enjoy. After the surprise success of Rocket League, I imagine that expectations were unusually high for another vehicle-based multiplayer game. The game enjoyed a somewhat successful beta test last year, one that I personally took part in and thoroughly enjoyed. But that was just a small portion of the game, while today’s review is about the package as a whole.
At first, it doesn’t seem unlike the beta. The gameplay is fast and frantic, with players smashing all over the different maps. Its premise is simple enough: destroy opposing players with you vehicle by picking up power ups. It’s the bread and butter of any multiplayer game, really. The first couple of hours go by quite nicely as I re-learn the controls and figure out the best ways to outmaneuver the opposition, but soon after that it starts to feel like a chore.
One thing that I either didn’t pick up on with the beta, or it has been changed for the full release, is just how difficult it is to actually score a bloody point. Health bars in Hardware: Rivals are, to put it simply, too high. You can be chasing some mug around for the better part of two minutes and still not score a kill. Then again, someone could sneak up from behind, lay a cheap shot on you and you’re done for in a matter of seconds. It’s all very unbalanced.
The game gives you a few options when it comes to vehicles, but it’s not enormous by any means, and they’re essentially just two types split-up. There are the two tanks, and then there are the two trucks. Each come with their own abilities and flaws: the tanks are slower to get around the game’s maps, but they pack more power in their tank shot. The trucks on the other hand are much more nimble, but their stock ammunition is basically a pea shooter. It’s no surprise, then, to find that most games are populated with tanks. How’s that for balance?
Controlling the vehicles isn’t that difficult, but it does take a bit of getting used to. Accelerate and brake/reverse are mapped to the familiar R2/L2 triggers (or X and O) while firing your primary on-board weapon and pick-ups are mapped to R1 and L1, respectively. It takes time to come to terms that you will at times have to be driving forward without knowing where you’re going. Other players typically attack from the rear, so if you want to have a chance of surviving, either by scaring them off with a few shots or attempting to take them out while on the move, you’re going to need to learn to swivel the aiming reticule behind while your vehicle goes forward. It’s a pain in the neck, sure, but it’s unavoidable. Aiming in general isn’t perfect, especially when you’re confined to a small space with just your on-board weapons, but the majority of the pick-ups enable lock-ons which, at least for me, are a life saver.
The game looks good, though, so it’s got that going for it. The graphics aren’t anything to write home about but they get the job done and hit the eye quite nicely. Simplistic maps with bright colours and an innocent enough art design are all that’s needed. The game runs quite nicely, too, and I never really had any problems with frame-rates or dropped audio.
Each map has been well designed, and there’s even the extra bonus of each map having its own dangers: a countdown initiates and you either have to hide underground or get up to a high spot to avoid instant death. They come once game and they nearly always inject a bit of excitement into a game, but even they start to feel a bit boring after a while, especially once you learn the quickest routes to safety.
However, Hardware: Rivals is a multiplayer game, through and through. If you’re hoping for some offline fun, the best you’re gonna do with is the training mode which, in all honesty, isn’t that exciting. The game demands you go online and have it out with some strangers over the internet. It might sound like the sort of thing that some might be in to, but for me a game where my fun is dictated by the actions of others is rarely enjoyable. There’s always going to be one scrotum on the other team who’s constantly picking up the over-powered pick-up, then retreating to a high point to that he’s basically untouchable. It’s a problem I’ve come across in most multiplayer games, so I’m not really surprised to find similar stuff in Hardware: Rivals.
It’s fun in short bursts and it definitely feeds that appetite for some Vigilante 8-style car combat, but it doesn’t come close to the real thing. It’s fun in its own way, but it really does need some balancing tweaks to encourage players to branch out a bit and explore some different play-styles.
Disclaimer: This review was conducted using a copy of the game that was obtained by the reviewer at his own expense. (The cheap sod got it free from PS Plus, in other words.)
Release Date: January 5th, 2016
Developer: SCE Connected Content Group
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Platform: PlayStation 4
Price: £16.99 (Released free with PS Plus)