“Dizzying” is a word reviewers often use to describe the scale of something inherently positive in a game. A dizzying world, for instance, might be something that is so massive that attempting to comprehend just how large and detailed it is runs the risk of developing a case of vertigo. In the case of shooters, dizzying might be better applied to their pace. Are players required to develop the sixth sense of combat awareness, to know exactly when to spin and fire? Is knowledge of the map pool critical in navigating the small corners of closed spaces at lightning speed?
HIVE: Altenum Wars is another shooter that would best be described as dizzying, but in a much more troubling way. It’s a game with a clear cut goal: let’s have a strong, diverse, and competitive, 2.5 dimensional multiplayer environment. How it approaches that goal is hazy at best, however, and it often feels as though playing the game is simulating what it would be like to fight off alien hordes while suffering from the worst effects of a rather serious concussion. I was still sure my enemy was on the map somewhere, and I knew I was meant to be killing them, but I also couldn’t figure out which way was up or down. I also had the lingering suspicion I might vomit soon.
Combat at the Right Angle
Let’s start with one of the more promising concepts in HIVE: Altenum Wars, which is the premise of its multiplayer combat. Players choose between a number of generic sci-fi tropes such as the tanky robot or the creepy alien assassin and then find themselves dumped into maps that are 360 degrees of movement. The map rotates with the player as they leap and dash through it, and it offers some cool gameplay as a result. I was able to dash toward my goal by taking a strange, up-the-wall kind of route and sneak up behind an enemy who expected me to come the other way, stealing their King of the Hill node as a result. Moments like that are always a blast in shooters, and there’s a lot of promise here in how developer Catness Games has approached the genre.
Unfortunately, it all falls apart in execution. The different characters don’t feel unique enough to say that they offer varying styles of gameplay, and for a game that promises a quick pace and explosive combat, there just isn’t much of it to be had. HIVE: Altenum Wars moves at a sluggish pace at the best of times – partially, I’ll admit, due to the fact that I couldn’t find a game with more than 4 or 5 players over several days of trying – and the way the camera shifts to catch up to changes in map angles is nauseating.
Worse still, the hit boxes on enemies is confusing at best. In multiplayer, it can be a little frustrating, as bullets that look like they’re connecting fail to drop the enemy’s health bar at all. In single player, however, it is even more egregious. Bullets routinely soar directly through an enemy without affecting them. Enemies don’t really attack, moreso just running into your character and reducing their health bar. I decided to wield a hammer once, and found that it not only slaughtered the enemies at my feet in one blow, but also somehow killed enemies who weren’t even on the screen, as two wasp-like nuisances dropped from the heavens without me even remotely touching them.
This problem is compounded by other things that are generally the result of a lack of polish. During the single player campaign, which is just protecting a payload from waves of enemies that gradually gets more difficult, I encountered a few different bugs, the most notable of which featured HIVE: Altenum Wars making a sound that could only be described as a hammer hitting soft meat, the audio cue for enemies connecting with attacks, over and over. I purposely ended my run but was met with that same noise repeating even while the menu was loaded up.
There just isn’t enough excitement in–game, which is a weird way to describe a game that wants to house frenetic gameplay. The characters are just so dull, and the combat so similar regardless of choice, that even the innovation of the Hexadiums (the game’s maps) is left feeling lukewarm at best when it should be a massive deal. That, coupled with the game’s stubborn insistence that it need only have good gameplay to make its concept work, has the entire experience feeling pretty bare bones. The visuals are vague and generic, and the music is essentially nonexistent. Sometimes, its okay to go all-in on a mechanical conceit fueling a smaller indie title, but unfortunately it isn’t strong enough to tie everything else together in HIVE.
There’s only so many times I can kill a generic looking bug in single-player with an equally generic looking robot before the experience becomes forgettable. Games like this need to have a splash of color or style, and the sterile, sci-fi hospital setting just doesn’t get it done.
Aim For The Stars
I won’t pretend that I’m the perfect audience for a game like this, as it feels like an attempt to revitalize the genre of shooter first inspired by Quake years ago; I was always more into Warcraft. It’s also worth noting that Catness Games is a small indie studio, and that some of the errors, like poor localization, are inevitably a result of that.
From an accessibility standpoint, however, HIVE: Altenum Wars does little to make the player feel welcome, and even less still to reward their perseverance in staying. It feels very much like an alpha gameplay demo for a game years down the pipeline. HIVE is a shooter that misses the mark almost entirely, but does, at the very least, provide a very solid foundation upon which Catness Games could build something truly special with more time spent iterating and refining the process.
HIVE: Altenum Wars review code provided by Catness Game Studio. Version 1.00 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our review policy.