Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. But Chris isn’t here this week, so Marsh Davies has hurriedly stepped in to tug on the kevlar-flavoured war-teat that is RIP, a military multiplayer FPS which lays somewhat dubious claims to MOBA mechanics.
In the week that a new Call of Duty launches, you might wonder who, if anyone, is eager to plunge into a far-from-complete budget multiplayer-only alternative. But one war just ain’t enough for this cordite-snorting, bullet-spitting, hardcore digital-jarhead! (One who has, by pure coincidence, an emergency copy deadline.)
In fairness to RIP, the devs tout some interesting ideas, albeit ones that are only partially implemented in their currently available build. They’re seeking to borrow some of the hallmarks of the MOBA, they say, by which they mean organising their singular map into discrete lanes, and then filling those lanes with a huge roster of individualised characters, each with their own unique abilities.
It’s hard to imagine how that’ll append the game they currently have: a large, not entirely well-organised jumble of shipping containers and tents around which you can walk, shoot and die. The lanes, such as they are, don’t really seem to focus the action in the desired way - at least not at the meagre player counts currently active in-game. Nor are they even easily visible from ground level or the dense, incoherent overhead map. The roster of uniquely-voiced characters is but a dream at this stage, although you can buy exotic hi-tech skills, like the ability to slow bullets in a radius around you, or bounce projectiles back at the enemy.
There are objectives to detonate - a number of AA batteries line each route to the enemy’s base - and destroying this seems to be the goal. But the game doesn’t do a terribly good job of telegraphing this, or how you might achieve it. In fact, even its menu is a bit of a puzzle.
But a few rounds later and I’ve got it. You need grenades or rockets to blow up objectives - but unlike Counter-Strike where the essential explosives are supplied by the basic loadout, you here have to earn the cash to buy them by murdering bad dudes. Items, once bought, are persistent between lives and the fact that enemy gun emplacements and turret guns are impervious to anything but explosives means that there is some almost-interesting tension between buying better guns to hold back the enemy and objective-specific weaponry. Apparently, you can shuffle your funds between team-members, allowing individuals to bank enough cash to become the team’s dedicated AA-killer. I could never work out how to do this.
What I did work out is that the early game is all about player-killing. Forget the AA emplacements, or the annoyingly bullet-resistant, insta-death-spewing turrets that are dotted around them. At the start of each game you won’t be able to afford the explosives to take them on. Instead, you have to earn cash for kills amid the alleys of shipping containers that connect the lanes. Gaps between these giant crates, and the hiding spots on top of them, make it hard to keep a track of sightlines, but me and my comrade Angel_of_Deaths have each other’s back. Hunkering down, we snag a few easy kills as enemies pelt into our territory, popping up on radar as they break into a sprint, and sometimes running haplessly into our friendly turrets.
Cash accumulates over time, too, and I quickly have enough for a better gun, but it’s quite a trek back to HQ, which is the only place you can buy stuff, except, bizarrely, the enemy HQ. Though it’d probably be smarter just to head home, I lurk around a while longer, pistol-duelling enemies until one of them finally plugs me and let’s me respawn closer to the shop.
Now equipped with an assault rifle and a handful of grenades I set out to destroy the enemy’s mid-lane emplacement. No one seems to be about, so I just lob grenades over the stack of sandbags which protect me from the turret’s line-of-sight. The turrets, though almost instantly deadly if they catch you in open ground, don’t have the elevation to tag you over cover, and there’s often enough of that around to let you slip right by them. Their function is more of an irritant than the outright territorial denial of Dota 2’s towers. In fact, if you want, you can sneak all the way into the enemy base and have a pop at that - a fact which feels just shy of being an exploit.
Right now, however, I’m all out of grenades and the mid-lane AA emplacement is still looking pretty perky. Luckily there’s a supply crate which refills all your ammo only 20 metres or so away. I trundle over, fill my pockets, trundle back, lob grenades and repeat, entirely unmolested by the enemy team until the emplacement pops.
It may be that there just weren’t a lot of people playing. Busier servers I played on later certainly wouldn’t have allowed me to hang around mid that long without a few bullets coming my way. But this scenario does describe a couple of nagging issues with the game. Firstly: it’s not a game that scales down at all well. The map is large, and with few players in there, it feels like a long, lonely time to get from one end to the other. Few players, also means few kills, less money, less readily available explosives. As such, on low population servers it takes an age before you can even attack objectives. But even on busy servers, the action still feels very dispersed, lacking in the sort of coordination that, in other games, naturally emerges from funnelling players along defined routes. It may be that it’s just very unclear which of your lanes is being attacked, and players don’t really know where to congregate. But it’s also that pushing down a given lane doesn’t feel as strategically significant as in other games, because it’s relatively easy to duck past the turrets that punctuate them anyway.
As the game gets into its late stages however, more outlandish things begin to happen. One seemingly sure-fire kill goes disastrously awry when I let loose on an enemy who activates one of his special abilities. Suddenly my bullets streak to a stop around him, holding in the air as he spins round, strafes out of their way, and blasts me apart. Later, I watch with grim resignation as a targeted barrage of explosives rains down onto me. Players can purchase and deploy their own turrets, too - an absolute bastard to find and deal with if tucked into some corner atop a shipping crate.
None of this feels especially balanced, or even really readable, but it’s not been thrown in without any thought. My initial impressions were that RIP might be little more than some pre-fabbed assets stapled to some netcode and thrown onto Early Access to snag the unwary few willing to part with £11. Going by the unfavourable tenor of its Steam reviews, that is the conclusion many have drawn. But having spent time with it, I now think there’s promise here - if the action is more coherently directed into lanes, if the special powers create interesting, parseable emergent tactics, if the action gains a more clearly articulated strategic purpose. This is a distant, uncertain promise, perhaps - and one not worth investing £11 in when much more robust alternatives already exist in abundance. But given a year, and some free beta weekends to get the numbers in and work out the kinks, there could be something here worth painting a target on.
RIP is available via Steam. It’s usually £11/$17.50, but currently 20% off.