words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Two Tribes for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U, originally released in 2016.
Despite its capitalization, RIVE is not an acronym, but rather a term meaning to tear something apart violently… which is a fairly accurate description of the game’s action sequences, although sometimes it’s the player who’s doing the riving, and sometimes he’s the one getting rived.

RIVE is a sidescrolling twin-stick shooter starring the gruff and bearded Roughshot who uses his spider bot to run roughshod (see it) over heaps of robotic baddies spread across an otherwise abandoned starship. Roughshot sets down on the starship to scavenge for parts and quickly runs afoul of the ship’s sentient AI drone who makes it his personal mission to encumber the scavenger’s progress by any means, stacking the odds against him with turrets, kamikaze drones, flying energy blades, and loads of heavily armored assault bots.

Fortunately, the spider bot is well-equipped to deal with these challenges, as it can move and fire independently, spewing a steady stream of projectiles in any direction. A small array of special weapons is available as well, which may be purchased from a shop located in the Transporter Room – where the player returns after each mission – and these include a spray of heat-seeking missiles, a short-range shotgun blast, bouncing bombs, and an electroshocking orb. Players can also purchase armor upgrades and the ability to draw in currency from greater distances, which is represented by leftover nuts and bolts from destroyed enemies.

But the biggest weapon in the spider bot’s arsenal is its hacking ability. By default, the bot can hack consoles to open doors and such, but as the player explores, he discovers computer code that reveals weaknesses in several enemies and support bots. Every couple of levels across the 12-level adventure, the player learns a new hack, allowing him to change an enemy robot’s alignment and turn it into a tool to fight his foes.

The first hack is for a nurse drone, allowing the player to hack these bots and cause them to trail along behind the spider bot, healing it whenever it takes damage. Later, the player is able to take over gun turrets to double his firepower, override huge smashers that can take out shielded enemies that are impervious to standard weaponry, and eventually earn a hack that allows him to turn a common enemy into a means of environmental navigation.

Hacking is often optional, but there are several occasions where it is required to move forward, including a sequence where the player is not able to fire his weapon and instead must rely on a hacked turret to fire on his behalf (the player is able to aim the turret). Other areas see the player using hacks to break through certain obstacles, or to float up through vertical shafts and hover safely around saw blades. Hacking also comes into play during a late game boss encounter as the player must quickly perform multiple hacks while unleashing as much raw firepower as possible to take the beast down.

The game is very self-aware in terms of its humor, offering numerous references to specific games, moments in games, and gaming in general with its hit-or-miss – but mostly miss – fourth wall-breaking moments from the game’s stale protagonist. Even the game’s opening menu features some of this humor with the player being prompted to “press the any key” at the start of the game, and a menu selection that offers Hard Mode as the only selection, with unlockable speed run and 1CC modes.

The game is more difficult than the average actioner, but not necessarily as hard as one would expect when selecting Hard Mode. Action is fast and frenetic, with enemies engaging you from all directions, with lots of twitch moments where an extra second of delay means the difference between shredding your foes into bolts or getting smashed to bits yourself.

The spider bot does have a life bar, but there are a number of insta-death obstacles such as lava and speeding trains, and it’s possible for the bot’s life to be drained almost completely when getting hit by multiple foes in succession. Going from fully charged to dangerously low can happen in an instant when a swarm of fast-moving kamikaze bots descends on you while your attentions are elsewhere, or when you find yourself knocked back into a spinning saw blade.

Checkpoints are generally frequent, but their placement is often nonsensical, leading to loads of needless frustration. Very often, getting killed will respawn the player directly in harm’s way, dropping the player back into the action less than a second before he takes heavy damage. A modern gameplay concession does grant the player a bit of extra health when respawning, but not a full health meter, meaning that one or two more hits can lead to another death. So, the player dies, respawns, and then dies again one second later. This requires the player to hold a direction or get ready to jump immediately upon respawning, or risk dying repeatedly.

Even more frustrating is loading a saved game, which sometimes does the same thing, dropping the player directly into the line of fire with less than a second to react, but more frustrating is when the loaded game places the player at a distant checkpoint, requiring that he replay huge chunks of the game. Even when the player completes a mission – which literally has the spider bot launching fireworks in celebration before displaying a summary screen – exiting the game may mean playing half of the mission again because the player’s progress was saved much earlier in the level.

When the game begins, the player’s ship is passing through an asteroid field in a forced scrolling sequence. Here, there is no gravity, so the player is free to move to any point on the screen and fire in multiple directions to slice his way through asteroids (as the protagonist makes a reference to Asteroids) and contend with some spinning laser barriers and turrets.

Upon entering the derelict starship, gravity is engaged and the spider bot drops to the floor, making use of a high jump and a double jump to access higher platforms. There are several instances throughout the game where the spider bot is temporarily ejected from the ship, returning him to zero gravity, as well as a couple of underwater sequences within the ship that operate similarly except that the player cannot fire his weapon while underwater.

There is a good deal of variety throughout the experience, as the player moves in and out of gravity, fights enemies and avoids crushers along huge conveyor belts, runs away from moving walls of lasers, floats through anti-gravity bubbles, dashes through ventilation ducts to outrun flowing lava, blasts through a few shmup sequences, and fights the occasional mechanized boss. However, for as many unique situations that the player is placed in, he is frequently asked to repeat the same actions multiple times before continuing forward…

Frequently, the player reaches a new area and encounters a swarm of enemies that move in from one side of the screen, followed by another swarm from the opposite side. The player remains locked in these areas for several waves, with enemies continuing to move in from alternating sides of the screen. Some areas offer several enemy-dispensing doors that open for a moment, drop an enemy, and then close, and these doors continue cycling through in the same pattern again and again, simply requiring that the player aim his weapon at the door that is about to open and destroy the enemy as soon as it appears.

The player faces some environmental repetition as well, as many missions involve activating teleporters and returning to previously-visited areas – although the game is a strictly linear mission-based affair – or stumbling across a previously-visited section, to which even the protagonist groans.

That said, the actual minute-to-minute combat is very satisfying and the action is chaotic and loud. Colorful enemies swarm in quickly and explode violently, plunking into bits as the player shreds them with his machine gun. Some enemies fly in formations, moving in a sine wave pattern while spinning around, and shooting these enemies causes them to crash and burn, bouncing off of other obstacles as they spiral out of control, and exploding if the player lines up another shot. While there are few puzzle-based sequences, most areas are filled with deadly bots, and most problems are solved through an extreme application of firepower.

Destroying enemies occasionally results in a drop, which can take the form of a health restorative or an ammo box (these also occasionally drop from destroyed crates). Ammo boxes give players a single shot with their limited ammo special weapons. While special weapon ammo is limited, players shouldn’t shy away from using them. Since players often need to survive several enemy waves within confined areas, causing maximum destruction in a short span is an important part of staying alive. In addition, ammo boxes are often dropped by every second or third enemy wave, allowing players to keep plugging away with their big guns as long as they stay mobile enough to collect the boxes. This is especially true during boss encounters.

In addition to the protagonist’s frequent quips, the player occasionally interacts with the ship’s semi-villainous AI sentry, which addresses him in a haughty tone. When initially encountering the sentry, Roughshot comments about it being yet another sentient AI cliche… which it is, showing up periodically throughout the experience and offering a generally gleeful attitude as it reveals its intentions to destroy the protagonist entirely. In a nice touch, the player can often choose to blast the floating annoyance to bits instead of listening to it, although he will continue to encounter replacement versions of the bot as the game goes on.

Players are scored on their efforts with a point multiplier that adds up to a maximum of 20x for killing multiple enemies in succession, while offering bonuses for kill streaks, loot collection, and time to complete each level. The score is tallied at the end of each mission and may be shared via an online leaderboard. Enterprising players can keep multipliers active by shooting at crates and light fixtures between waves of enemies.

RIVE was developed by Two Tribes, a studio based in Amersfoort in The Netherlands and founded by designer Collin van Ginkel and programmer Martijn Reuvers. Also working on the project were artist Meinte van der Spiegel and writer Niels 't Hooft, with music and sound design by Sonic Picnic. RIVE was originally conceptualized as an on-rails 3D shooter for the Nintendo DS in 2005, but the concept was shelved for many years before being revisited in 2013 when the studio encountered financial difficulties after the release of Toki Tori 2 failed to meet sales expectations. This nearly resulted in the closure of Two Tribes, after which the founders restructured and drastically reduced the studio’s size, and turned to the development of a more action-focused experience with RIVE.

Two Tribes has been around a long time and is probably best known for their Toki Tori series, the first of which released on the Game Boy Color in 2001 and was later enhanced and re-released on computers and home consoles, and this was followed up with a sequel in 2013.