Review: Receiver 2

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Review copy provided by developer

The original Receiver was a bit of a revelation, putting the emphasis of an FPS on the gun handling itself, rather than the story or combat. I say “a bit” because there wasn’t a whole lot of story or combat appended to releasing slide locks and spinning cylinders, just enough to keep the whole thing weirdly engaging. Receiver 2 doesn’t stray far from this proven setup, focusing on better graphics, more guns, and a form of progression layered over the highly technical gunplay. It’s a good step forward, making more of a game out of what worked in Receiver, even if it loses a little of that fever-dream magic that worked so well the first time.

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An apocalyptic event called the Mindkill is bearing down on the world, and only the specially-trained Receivers will be able to weather the threat. You are one such Receiver, trapped in an endless sprawl of apartments, warehouses, and rooftops with deadly drones. Hidden among the killbots are cassette tapes containing the lessons needed to train up your mind tech and survive the Mindkill. Obviously you’ll need to survive the turrets and drones first, and for that you have your trusty sidearm. Only by learning the intricacies of gunplay and selectively disabling your foes will you be able to reach the tapes and attain a greater understanding of the threat facing you. And if you’re clever, you might just learn the truth about the whole framework surrounding your training, too.

Receiver 2 is bound to be very different from most FPSes you’ve played, more akin to a survival sim than a run-and-gun romp. You begin every session in an indistinct location with a pistol and a few bullets for it. Don’t bother pressing R to reload it, because each gun has a litany of buttons for ejecting magazines, releasing slide locks, cocking hammers, and more. There are separate commands for pulling the slide (which ejects the chambered round) and checking the slide to see the chambered round. You’ll even need to manually insert rounds in magazines when the run out, which requires you to first holster your gun to free up your hands, except if you tap holster instead of hold and the gun is loaded and the safety is off you will absolutely shoot yourself in the leg. Just like real life!

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This exacting approach to gun handling comes from a place of respect and safety rather than idolization, and the tapes you find make this clear. While many of the cassettes reference the ethereal Mindkill and mind tech, others provide actual history lessons on firearms and practical real-world safety tips. It’s a big swing in tone from the first game’s minimalist vaporwave numbers station madness, but it works in the context of a more defined setting and higher-fidelity world. In addition to cassettes and much-needed resources like bullets, magazines, and flashlights, clever players can find floppy disks with records and accounts from other Receivers as they undergo their own training. The randomly-assembled sprawls of offices and hallways have a remarkable number of ledges you can scramble your way around, and some of the secrets are pretty revealing to the odd setting you find yourself in.

Of course, you’ll be using those handling tips and extensive interactions to shoot things, namely drones. The foes in Receiver 2 are similar to those in the first, split between stationary gun turrets and flying taser drones. These might not sound like the most thrilling opponents but just like with your firearm, these machines are modeled with such exacting detail that every encounter is unique. Each piece, from the motors to the batteries to the sensors to the armor plates, can be damaged and destroyed, leaving the target in all kinds of states. If you shoot out the sensor on a turret it’ll still operate and just be unable to find you, while if you blast the ammo box it can see you but not fire, unless it already had a round chambered from previously spotting you. The complexity of the damage model provides all the variety necessary to keep the game compelling, especially when you include the new special variants you meet in later cycles.

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It’s just as compelling a package as the original game, punched up with more content and much-improved graphics. The only aspect that ever gives me pause is the pseudo-roguelike progression, where you must collect tapes across five levels of increasing difficulty. If you die before collecting all of the randomly-scattered tapes, you must go back and repeat the previous difficulty. While this certainly raises the stakes, it can be frustrating to repeat the same challenges again and again when you’ve made it past them before, and doubly so if you make a blunder just after dying and have to repeat two of them. Death can come swiftly thanks to new enemy variants, the painfully lethal fall damage, or just holstering too quick and shooting yourself. There are also new tapes that folks might object to, both for gameplay and thematic reasons, that you can thankfully turn off entirely.

Still, there’s more to the progression than there was in the first game, and the added punitive elements don’t detract so much from the game if you’re diligent. From one perspective, it simply offers more opportunities to try out different guns in different situations. That’s really the heart of the experience, learning to master the deep weapon handling and damage modeling with the same expertise that a sharpshooter would in the real world. Obviously the skills don’t translate but there’s a definite gratification in gaining that sort of proficiency, and the moments when you’re able to eject a magazine, load a fresh one, and knock out a charging drone are simply incredible. Receiver 2 takes more patience than its predecessor, but rewards it with more mysteries, discoveries, and satisfying action.

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