This took a month to write. Think about that while you read it.
Anyway, this is Riftstar Raiders, from Climax Studios. The same Climax Studios behind the crappiest Silent Hill title, Origins. Yet they also did the return to form that was Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Wait, they also did Sudeki? Really? Well then. As you can tell from my written surprise, Climax has been a hit-n-miss developer for quite some time, with their newest title, RiftStar Raiders, being put on the same rusted chopping block. This time with a new genre card up their sleeve.
It’s a twin-stick shooter, but with deeper elements than the usual standard. Not that much deeper, mind you, but it’s still more ambitious than your usual affair. You play as some random guy plunged into a world constantly at war with one another, and with a few do-no-gooders (That’s if you find somebody to play with), you’re here to be the most selfish raiders in the known universe. Except not really, you end up being a pawn used by the largest military force in the known universe, so y’know. GG.
In all actuality, the plot doesn’t matter, nor will it ever matter. It’s a flimsy framing device behind most of your space battles, and by the end of it all, you’ll forget why you were here in the first place. What’s really interesting, however, is a discovery I made during my first playthrough. After 3 hours of gameplay, I began to feel a sense of deja vu and deduced that Riftstar Raiders owes a LOT to the 2016 twin-stick Livelock, and upon further investigation, the trail runs deeper.
If you haven’t played Livelock, allow me to do a quick rundown; you play as a robot guardian, built by the last humans before they all went extinct. Then the planets are all run by demonic hive-mind demigods and cyborg creatures, whose favorite food is your metallic face. Whether or not the visual and mechanical theft of the title was intentional, I find it hard to crucify them for copying it, as Livelock is a fantastic underrated gem. However, these comparisons go deeper.
Riftstar has the same combat style as Livelock. It has the same combat mechanics as Livelock. The same upgrading system, the same aesthetic, the same smartass dialogue, the same mission structures, it even has the same font! PLAGIARIST! I kid, obviously, but the sad, sad thing is that when the two are placed together, you realize how aimless Riftstar Raiders is in its endeavors.
Not to say it didn’t start off promising, the tutorial definitely had a lot of potential behind it. The mechanics don’t come across as one-time ideas that would make a window shopper purchase on instinct. The ship is pretty customizable, but the true potential doesn’t come out until you’ve managed to grind enough materials for it.
The beat goes like this; the loot you need will either come in meager amounts from enemies, or in a healthy amount from crates dotted around the map. When it comes to the crates, you’ll need to use the Gimmick of the Day, which comes in the form of a grappling hook, a grappling hook that needs to be manually aimed while you’re busy fighting everything else.
It’s attempting to bring the grinding system to a genre that doesn’t need it, which is why Sky Force Reloaded was so awful. Unless the world is more open and contains places that you can grind in, that aren’t hidden by tons of awful loading screens, then yeah, more power to you. However, these are linear missions; linear missions that account for 4 people at all times, and that’s where the problem with Riftstar lies.
It’s bad enough that half of the enemies never drop loot you can use to upgrade your ship, while the other half of the enemies never drop enough collectively for you to be able to get any worthwhile upgrades. It’s bad enough that there are only 9 missions, all 9 playing the same in terms of mechanics and progression, but the main kick to the throat comes from what Riftstar and Climax expect of you.
Riftstar is difficult. Stupidly difficult. You wouldn’t think it from the tutorial, but the tutorial isn’t a co-op mission, so you’re facing an amount possible by normal standards. The odds and pressure in the tutorial are unmatched by what follows, and that might sound like an obvious statement, but co-op isn’t merely an option in Riftstar, it’s a requirement.
With 4 people at hand, it’s possible, but it also performs worse. Switching between different hosts, we couldn’t escape the laggy and confusing mess that every game turned into. We didn’t know who was who until we exploded from one of the 10’204 hazards on screen, there was no way to co-ordinate ourselves, friendly fire wasn’t on, yet we still managed to knockback each other into OTHER hazards. This is one of the few games that is actually worse to play with friends than it is solo.
I only had this err, “privileged” experience of multiplayer once, though. I don’t have friends on speed dial, and I don’t have friends, period. “Well, why don’t you find a match filled with players, Samiee??!” You scream in the back of my mind. Well, even if I wanted to, the answer’s quite simple; there’s no match-making. Not that I believe I’d find a match anyway– I didn’t find one in Livelock either, but Livelock was fun, and the game understood if you were on your own.
I had to play most of this solo. Solo Riftstar Raiders is not fun. Mission’s 1 and 2 were absolutely miserable to play, with these unfathomable odds never being able to be saved from their bloodlust. A never-ending cluster of ships flock to your position and never stop firing until you quit the game in frustration, lose your pre-determined set of lives in solo or all your teammates in co-op.
The grappling hook has another function beyond grabbing upgrade materials, and that’s reviving your teammates in-between all of the chaos, meaning that the lives system is scrapped entirely. If all of your friends die? You restart the entire mission. So, if you run into a bit more resistance than you expected at the end? Then one by one, all of your buddies will inevitably fall like dominoes, and you have to do all of it again!
It wouldn’t sound so bad if the carnage would stop after every enemy has been neutralized, but Climax has to go ahead and commit a cardinal sin, with some enemies respawning infinitely, from points that you can’t destroy. Every mission just got unbearably worse, every objective made the pacing grind to a halt, every battle chugged to about 10FPS.
Let’s divert the pain train real quick, with a quick compliment going to the graphics, which are trying their darnedest to look good. Despite it being a 2D shooter, some of the environments can be considered downright breathtaking, with the space battles only adding to the flurry of color on display. The only issue that comes from the beauty, is that you never get to soak it in.
The game can’t be paused at all during gameplay, so once you start that mission, you better strap your bollocks on, pre-make the cigarettes and get shooting, because you will not be able to get a word in edgeways until the lasers stop. Part of me wants to say “Yeah, y’know, this is what the game needs”, but there’s barely a break in any of the missions, and these can take up to 90 minutes to complete solo.
These missions are just so arse-grindingly slow at times, even when World War 3 is being created right in front of your eyes. The AI takes a century to get any job done, and they just keep pulling random reasons to keep the onslaught going. Take a shot for every time you hear a variation of “Hang on, there’s something else…”, and you’ll die of alcohol poisoning before you get to the first decent mission.
Out of all 10 missions the game vomits at you, only number 5, “Mother Hive”, is worthy of praise. A slow-as-all-hell escort mission that manages to make the stakes quite tense. It’s also one of the few missions that seem to account for the fact that you’re only one guy, so props to you Climax, it only took you 4-5 hours to figure it out!
After the highlight has been finished, it gets hard to really stay invested. The lack of exciting music only adds to the boredom, and with no attempt to make the battles look slightly different in magnitude and nature, the game ends up becoming the twin-stick equivalent of a corridor shooter. Even with a 4-man team, the co-ordination and strategies that the developers beg you to use don’t make anything more exciting, it’s just… boring.
As big as the temptation to give Climax clout is, there’s no way you can forgive some of the amateur mistakes shown on display here. Wonky difficulties, no energy to battles, forced co-op with no matchmaking, no real soundtrack to compliment the firefights, an overall lack of varied missions, and a lack of missions period? It all leads to the same outcome; that outcome being “Riftstar Raiders is dogshit”.
This review of Riffstar Raiders is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A review copy was provided.
An incredibly tedious and frustrating hodgepodge of bad ideas, asinine execution, and blind ambition.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.