By Nathan Grayson on June 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am.
I went to a firing range once. Now, don’t get the wrong idea: I had no pretensions of “Oh, I’ve played first-person shooters, so this will be a bullet-casing-encrusted cakewalk.” I was not able to pre-fathom, however, just how truly terrible I’d be. Even the simple act of loading rounds into my borrowed 9mm pistol’s magazine was – at least, at first – an awkward, embarrassing battle of man vs incredibly simple machine. And, of course, I made all the rookie mistakes: I forgot to turn the safety off, my aim kept getting shaken up by recoil that wouldn’t rattle a baby, etc. All the while, I couldn’t help but wonder: “How do people who are actually good at this do it?” This wasn’t helped by the couple standing in the stall next to me, gleefully unloading a gigantic automatic rifle.
Receiver – Wolfire’s every-aspect-of-a-gun simulating entry in the recent 7DFPS challenge – reminded me all-too-painfully of that day. But, you know, in a mostly good way. And with a twist: I had to bring my horrific lack of firearm know-how, abysmal aim, and woefully non-bulletproof body into an environment full of things that definitely knew what they were doing.
First, though, the basics: Receiver was built on three central tenets: “gun handling mechanics, randomized levels, and unordered storytelling.” Interesting and ambitious ideas, yes, but – somewhat unsurprisingly – not the sorts that come together particularly well in only one week. So, as it stands, Receiver’s a neat experiment, but – thanks to aimless level design and some basic gunplay omissions that would’ve evened the playing field in a realistic manner – a deeply flawed, sometimes frustrating game.
That said, the nitty gritty nuts ‘n’ bolts of gun usage are pretty impressive – especially given that this all came together in a week. Before I could even fire my gun, I had to holster it, remove the magazine, slip individual bullets into it, put the magazine back into the gun, turn off the safety, release the slide lock, release the kraken, pull back the hammer, and actually, you know, raise the thing in front of my virtual body. And only one of those items is a dumb joke.
Does it sound complicated? Well, it is, and that’s the point. Fortunately, a toggle-able help system can guide you from point A to point Z Alpha Gamma Egyptian Hieroglyphic Of A Locust, but it still takes quite a bit more time than simply hitting the R key and watching a bald, beefy Ramboman work his firearm-charming magic. There is, however, a wonderful satisfaction in eventually learning how to do everything in seconds without so much as glancing at the guide. No, I still wasn’t up-to-par with the best FPS heroes in the business, but robotically dismantling a hundred men in the blink of an eye is overrated anyway.
Which brings me to my next major point in the “good” column: Receiver didn’t cast me as some nigh-invincible mass of regenerating muscle. The end result, then, was that I felt exactly how I’d expect Real Me would in a combat situation involving live ammo. At one point, for instance, I spotted a floating drone robot making a beeline for the most-electrocutable part of my face, hurriedly fumbled for my gun, and – miracle of all miracles – actually managed to plug a round into it after missing, like, five times in a row. In celebration, I did a little dance – then immediately fell down a nearby flight of stairs and died.
I can also recount countless tales of repeatedly whiffing rooted-to-the-ground gun turrets only a few feet away from me, but the point remains the same: Receiver attempts to recreate the feeling of using and maintaining a real gun, and it succeeds. Well, mostly. For whatever reason, there’s no option to pull the gun a bit closer and really aim down the sights – something that, in my one whole real life experience with this sort of thing, helped me immensely. Also, I couldn’t lean around corners, which meant frequently sticking my neck out way too far and immediately riding the bullet train to permadeath’s door.
Speaking of permadeath, its usage here is certainly interesting on paper, but the execution ends up hurting Receiver more than it helps. See, as soon as I died, I immediately restarted in a random portion of the level with enemy and story-revealing-recording placement completely randomized. On one hand, this meant I never felt like I was doing the same thing over and over – at least, after an hour or so of playing.
But, on the other, it meant that level design had to facilitate such a structure, and – while you could write it off as “realistic” – the dimly lit skyscraper rooftop ended up a mess of staircases and dead ends. Moreover, a mere three enemy types (two of which are floating drones and one of which is rooted to the ground) profoundly limited any opportunities for verticality or crafty positioning. Also, on a couple occasions, I spawned right next to an enemy, leading to unavoidable insta-death.
But – and I can’t stress this enough – Receiver was created in a week. Its focus, meanwhile, lies squarely on simulating most (if not quite all) aspects of actually carrying a firearm, and in that, it’s a pretty excellent, extremely eye-opening experiment. I’m hopeful, then, that Wolfire opts to keep exploring and polishing this idea, because – on the whole – I enjoyed messing around with what it’s put together so far. And, I mean, just imagine this sort of thing with humanoid NPCs or in a multiplayer environment. I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite keen on playing that. Even if post-match stats would probably proclaim that I was most-killed by “the stairs.”