Remember the last time a new game came to PlayStation Plus involving vehicles in online team matches? Of course you do, it was one of the better games of 2015. How about another in 2016? Well, here you go then. Hardware: Rivals brings you team-based vehicular combat designed to be good, daft social fun. The problem is, Hardware: Rivals spoils its own party far too often.
The concept of Hardware: Rivals is online team deathmatch in a variety of military-type vehicles. You know the type of game you’re in for here, one heavily reminiscent of seminal PlayStation series Twisted Metal, only less brown. Presentation wise, it isn’t much of a looker, it feels confused about its art direction and subsequently comes off as muddy-looking and unpolished. The colours used are generally vibrant to the point of being sickeningly garish, but the game’s landscapes are bland and uninspired by comparison. As I said, confused, rather than downright bad, but hardly the best first impression. That’s not boosted any by the frankly drab audio, lacking in anything memorable in terms of background music. Nor do any of the sound effects manage to resonate with any real impact.
Stepping into the breach, you take to the open arenas in teams of three and pick up the assorted power ups to aid your chances of blowing up the opposition and winning the round. Depending on the vehicle you choose, you will have to adapt your tactics. Tanks are heavy-hitters, packing a meaty punch, but obviously they move at a rather sedate pace. On the other hand, you have jeeps that are far nippier and smaller, thus harder to hit, but they can be obliterated with far less resistance than a tank. Early attempts at going online with Hardware: Rivals saw most matches as tanks vs tanks, with no one willing to give up raw firepower over speed and control. While both vehicle types use the same controls (with a simple X or R2 for acceleration and L2 for brakes accommodating the weaponry and sub weaponry power ups on the front triggers) the differences are enough to cause problems. Tanks are indeed strong, but even taking into account that they’d be difficult to steer and aim, they handle almost painfully slowly in Hardware. It hasn’t taken long to figure out that jeeps have the upper hand for the majority of players since launch. I suspect this will balance out again in time, but I find myself saying that about a lot of things in the game.
The power ups are one such thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what they are or what they do. A selection that includes guided missiles and lasers brings a bit of dazzle to proceedings thanks to the way they are presented (a rare visual highpoint). Where issues arise is in how they are implemented. You cannot pick up multiple power up types, only stack the one you were last holding, so spawning in the wrong position can give you a huge disadvantage and it really affects the flow of each round when people are actively avoiding weapons. Also flawed is the amount of contact you need to make in order to pick up a power up. Even grazing it can result in you missing it entirely. It’s an unnecessary pain, especially when in a tank that’s in dire need of it because an enemy vehicle is hunting it down. If you miss it you might as well forget it or be destroyed. Supers are no better, each of these changes the arena somehow, be it volcanic eruption, missile salvo or …icy floors. The player who gets the super is bound to get some easy kills as the areas in which to seek safety are small, and with the unwieldy controls of tanks, not easy to get to in time. Again, much of this could be fixed in the coming weeks and months, but it isn’t right now, so Hardware is going to find it much tougher to grab and maintain a fanbase as long as these, and other problems, persist.
Yes, other problems, because it seems to be a recurring theme with Hardware: Rivals that a smattering of niggly issues create a glaring flaw that hamstrings the chances of long-term longevity, longevity that games such as this need in order to survive. Currently, this is a strictly online affair, no real single player, no split-screen, nada. It’s online or nothing, fine, as long as the game remains busy. It’s a smart move to release this on Plus then, where it will certainly attain a bigger audience than it would by being bought on the store. The setup of Hardware has a pungent reek of Free to Play, but follows a similar route to the recent big-budget Battlefront and Rainbow Six Siege, by including F2P aspects in a game you have to buy first. In Hardware’s defence, it doesn’t do it anywhere near as blatantly as those two, and doesn’t charge full price for limited content either. That content is still a bit light though; four maps, little in the way of mode variation and, essentially, just the two vehicle types with no real differences where it matters (the guns). Challenges offer a way to break up the monotony, but they are still firmly rooted in the pedestrian nature of the game’s concept. The progression system feels tacked-on and lacking in any creativity or real rewards. It really does seem an afterthought designed to pad the game with a dreary, monotonous grind.
There’s a fairly fun short-term distraction in Hardware: Rivals, it’s just very difficult to keep a hold on that fun when so much of the game is either tripping over itself or being plain dull instead. Much like the 2012 reboot of Twisted Metal, this car combat game fails to revive the dying genre once so full of daffy fun. Feasibly, it could improve with updates, but surely releasing it right the first time should have been a priority in an increasingly overcrowded and aggressive sea of online-only titles.