Hardware: Rivals Review – Slow and Steady (PS4)
Hardware: Rivals is an arena-based, vehicular combat game that plays the role of sequel (pardon the pun) to a long-forgotten title launched as a companion for PlayStation 2’s network adapter. Better still, for some odd reason, it’s been under some serious comparison with Psyonix’s killer soccer title, Rocket League. Aside from them both containing wheel-based modes of transport, there’s very little tying the two together. Saying that, Hardware: Rivals is somewhat lacking in most aspects, irrespective of whether it’s being stacked up against or not Rocket League. And that’s a real shame.
Looks Are Deceiving
Hardware: Rivals attempts to woo you with a rather barmy scenario and it nearly has you fooled. It pits dinky yet nifty 4X4’s against lumbering but powerful tanks in and array of surprisingly large and vibrant arenas that are loaded with devastating power ups. On the face of it, what’s not to like? Once you start to tinker with what’s under the hood, however, your infatuation with Hardware’s silliness wears quite thin.
The first gripe you’ll face is the button layout. While most armed vehicles in games are usually accelerated with the left-stick and steered with the right, leaving the triggers open as fire buttons,Hardware: Rivals decides to step back a few years. It replaces right-stick steering with control over aiming your mounted turret. Granted, this adds a degree of technique to blasting away your foes, lacking the aid of auto-targeting, but it does make the whole control scheme feel devilishly cumbersome. The acceleration and fire buttons are quite simply far too close for your claws to ever feel fully at home. You can fiddle with the layout, but none of the pre-designed layouts currently supplied managed to aid our uncomfortable trigger fingers.
When you do get your head around a comfortable (and probably obscure) manner to hold your Dualshock 4 it’s on to actually handling these wheels. Spoiler: they’re not all that fun. Although you’ll be pegging about the arenas at 150kmph, there’s no feel of tangible speed. Even if you go start to feel the wind on your pixel face, the handling goes to absolute hell the moment you start to gain any pace, making the whole effort redundant anyway. Handling the vehicles is entirely off-balance with the camera often turning against you in the arenas’ more enclosed areas. Little mishaps like colliding with an ally can send you spiralling off into the distance like Darth Vader’s TIE fighter, giving you a sharp hit of motion sickness in the process.
Poor mechanics aside, the intentions here are undeniably good. Sony’s new internal studio has evidently taken spirit from the platforms more notorious titles (looking at you, Twisted Metal) and delivered it in a simple and easy to grasp model. You earn XP and points by blowing other people up, you spend the accrued points to unlock upgrades and cosmetic additions to your ride. It’s blissfully simple and great to not see awesome Tron-esque rims locked behind a pay-wall or three. There are even rotating challenges that offer opportunities to boost your XP and slot nicely into the back of your mind while playing, a welcome alternate motive to a round.
The Scenic Route
The arenas themselves are impressively large and visually great, each commanding their own super power up that can wipe out an entire team. They’re laid out in a pleasingly constructive manner with thrilling car (tank?) chases cropping up with ease, you’ll enjoy them all so much more once you’ve got to grips with all the cubby holes and shortcuts. Getting used to power up spawn locations is pretty key to victory too. These slot into your secondary weapon slot, giving you a supposedly heavy-hitting weapon that ranges from the typical missiles to a hugely satisfying laser beam.
The problem is, the laser only feels satisfying because it’s insanely powerful and often an instant kill. Everything else feels quite limp, with kills taking far too long in general. It could be argued that this is part of the balancing act we so often see in online-only escapades, but there’s definitely another way to avoid domination aside from dragging everything out. More often than not, you’ll spend your time seeking out little doses of armor to give you the edge in a firefight rather than actually being in one. The modes on offer do little to alleviate this nagging feeling of a slowed pace, either: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination – you get the idea. They all get the job done, but something of a more eccentric vibe feels sorely absent.
It’s colorful and quite ridiculous; it’s simple, accessible and well populated. Hardware: Rivals has most of the ingredients present to cook up a fantastic arcade experience, but it’s missing a vital ingredient: fun. The sluggish pace that permeates everything from movement and destruction to respawning and leveling up constantly holds it back. Even unlocks are few in number and, being mostly cosmetic, carry little to no incentive in the first place. If someone hooked Hardware: Rivals up to an espresso drip, then we’d certainly have an entirely different game. Alas, there’s a solid mound of squandered potential here, below a deceptively enticing facade.
Hardware: Rivals were reviewed from the free PS+ download on PSN at the time of reviewing. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.