“Who the hell built this place? There are so many insane robots and other hostile contraptions here!” This line from RIVE’s protagonist sums it all up.
RIVE is a game that doesn’t do much to sell itself to the player. Rather, it’s almost as if you have to sell yourself to RIVE, to prove that you’re worthy enough to experience all that it has to offer. It demands much of you and it won’t settle for any less than your full attention, even for a second. It requires a combination of patience, memory, quick reflexes, determination, finger endurance, and more. If you’re lacking in even a single area, you’re going to have a tough time.
It’s hard not to admire the sheer gall of RIVE’s expectations. It’s a mercilessly difficult experience that requires a blend of platforming and twin-stick shooting excellence on your part. One second, you’re forced to navigate an increasingly tricky maze of tight tunnels as lava licks your heels. The next, you’re floating in a gravity ball fending off a swarm of drone attackers while trying not to hit the edge and falling to an electrifying end. This constant back and forth dynamic frequently left me death-gripping my controller, anxious about what kind of scenario I might encounter next. How many times would I have to die to get through it?
These elements create a fluid and exciting romp that’s genuinely fun to take part in…until it’s not. But we’ll get to that shortly. RIVE’s beautiful and detailed cyberpunk environments compound the experience, and it’s truly a joy to roll, jump, and spin through the twelve expansive campaign missions, even though there’s not much of a story. RIVE keeps it simple in this department: you’re Roughshot, a loot-happy salvager in a spider tank, and you’re trying to escape a ship. Roughshot’s a likeable guy, and I often found myself smiling at his amusingly self-aware lines and cynical sense of humor. Of course, there’s also an ever-present bad guy there to spoil your fun—he just wants to test his toys against you and watch you burn.
And trust me, you’re going to burn. A lot. I appreciate tough play that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something spectacular when I finally prevail, and I know I’m not alone in that. With RIVE, however, victory was more synonymous with relief than with accomplishment. It wasn’t that I managed to nail the timing on my special attack or execute the perfect spin dodge, but rather that I lucked out on my 18th (or 40th) attempt. Too frequent single-shot deaths and a view that’s a little too zoomed in make your life even more difficult. Regular checkpoints help, but they have the tendency to put you in obnoxious situations.
Truth be told, I had a much different review written in my head at the game’s halfway point. I managed to sail through the first six chapters without the urge to slam my controller through the wall. It was great, but it didn’t last. The difficulty ramped up exponentially through the latter half of the game, turning a tough but enjoyable battle into a slog that didn’t sit well with me. RIVE features an easy mode that you can flip on at any time, but I shouldn’t feel driven to click that option.
RIVE’s upgrade system makes the process of die-die-die-die-get-lucky more bearable, and though it’s not deep enough to make you feel legitimately rewarded, it does increase your survivability. You’ll gain access to powerful special weapons that can pop you out of a tough spot, but they rely on pick-ups to use. They never seem to be around when you need them, and I often found myself holding on to my attacks for just the right moment. Additionally, you have the ability to hack robots that heal you or fight at your side, which is a nice touch. I won’t argue that they’re much appreciated additions, but they’re too linear to feel satisfying.
For those of you who can’t help but embrace your inner masochist, there’s also a speed run mode that opens up after you beat the game. And, of course, you have the ability to replay levels with the goal of posting higher and higher scores, visible via a global leaderboard. It’s added replayability for the more hardcore crowd, but probably won’t be touched by a sizable group of players.
RIVE is unapologetically itself. It’s action-packed and tough as nails from start to finish. It never lets up. On one hand, that type of attitude deserves commendation because it’s so upfront and offered with no remorse. On the other hand, though, it’s going to push some gamers a touch too far, over the edge of manageably difficult and into the pit of too brutal to keep going. Those that do push on can expect an adventure filled with playful quips and one pretty level after the next. It’s on the short side at around four to six hours—depending on your skill level—but there’s always the option of replaying levels to rise up the leaderboard. Approach RIVE with all of this in mind, and you might just have a good time. But don’t say you haven’t been warned.