Review: Receiver

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I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but operating an actual firearm is a little more complicated than pressing R to reload. Guns are complex machines, and their many moving parts can and must be manipulated by skilled users to ensure proper functioning. It’s generally best that first-person shooters obfuscate these details away, but for anyone wanting a more technical experience, there’s Receiver. Crafted as part of a 7-day game dev challenge, Receiver gives you full control over your weapon and challenges you to operate it under duress, fumbling with slides and magazines as death bears down on you. The result is a unique and engrossing experience for the genre, limited only by the tiny scope of the game itself.

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There’s not much explicit plot to Receiver, and it’s all the better for it. You are lost in a complex network of high-rise offices and apartments, uninhabited save for automated turrets and drones. Somewhere in the stark halls are eleven cassette tapes detailing the Mindkill, an impending event that you will only survive by listening to the entire set. The only way you’re going to find all of them is with some firepower, and luckily you’ve got a handgun of some sort to accompany you. It’ll be an uphill battle just to use the thing effectively, but when something called the Mindkill is on the horizon you don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

Coupled with the plain gray walls, harsh lighting, and subdued electronic soundtrack, this sinister setup gives Receiver an absolutely fantastic atmosphere for your somber treks. It’s cyberpunk in the most subtle way, with the little tech you encounter seemingly grounded in the 80s, the world beyond bathed in urban neon, and your surroundings looking like an early CAD rendering of a skyscraper. The bizarre instructions given on the tapes only heighten this feeling of unfocused dread, which compliments your increasingly desperate struggle against the robotic denizens of the place.

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The thing is, Receiver has a roguelike element to it in that the complex is randomized every time you play. Rooms designs are static but connect in very different ways, and the enemies and items found within are a total toss-up. You’ll need to scour every shelf and corner for those tapes, marked only with a soft glow, and take out any turrets or drones in your way. You start with a random amount of ammunition for your weapon as well, so scrounging for bullets is essential as well. Aside from tapes and ammo you can find flashlights and extra magazines if you start with a weapon that takes them, but that’s it. No secrets or collectibles here, just you on your grim task.

That’s fine, because the bulk of your attention will be on your gun. Every run starts you with one of three weapons, a Colt 1911, an S&W revolver, or a Glock 17. Aiming and firing will be familiar enough, if a bit floaty, but you’ll need to consult the in-game help when it’s time to reload. For the Colt and Glock, you’re expected to remove the magazine, holster your gun, add bullets to the magazine, take your gun back out, insert the magazine, and release the slide. The revolver is simpler, just open the cylinder, shake out the casings (sometimes they get stuck), add new rounds, and snap it shut. There are separate keys for all of these actions, along with others for manually pulling back the slide, cocking or un-cocking the hammer, and spinning the cylinder for fun.

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It’ll take some practice to get comfortable with, but the satisfying clicks and snaps are sure to tickle the parts of your brain that like managing things. The catch is that you might have to do it all under serious duress. Turrets can lock onto you in a second and gun you down even faster, while drones will swoop in on you as aggressively as possible. Both have extremely detailed damage models so you’ll need to learn what to aim for on each. It’s possible, for example, to just shoot out the motor of a turret so it can’t rotate, or its camera so it can’t lock on to you. Regardless of your strategy you must make every bullet count, because reloading and preparing your firearm is such an involved process. It’s a simple and ultimately gratifying way to add tension to the game, and helps ground some of that tension despite the surreal atmosphere of the game.

Receiver is nothing short of remarkable, a game built entirely around the technical aspects of firearm handling that manages to be engrossing. The unique and expert atmosphere help a lot on this point but it’s the care with which the simulation is crafted that really makes it sing. Learning to reload quicker and quicker feels like an actual accomplishment, and pulling off clutch shots on your foes is an exquisite relief when it happens. Actually beating this one is a huge challenge thanks to the scarcity of resources and mounting opposition but it’s more than worth the attempt. I don’t know how well this system would work for a larger game but I’d love to see it someday, because Receiver is impressively memorable and entertaining for what it is.

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