Hardware: Rivals would be reminiscent of the Twisted Metal series, if playing Twisted Metal was unsatisfying.
The original Twisted Metal was my introduction to the vehicular combat genre, and though I was pretty young when I first played it, I remember having loads of fun playing it with friends. Since the early days of that series I haven’t spent a lot of time with the genre, so when I saw Hardware: Rivals launching as free with PlayStation Plus, I wondered if those memories could in some way be relived. Frustratingly, this game doesn’t match that experience.
The gameplay is what you’d expect from a vehicular combat game. Players drive around as either tanks or “fast attack vehicles” (think Jeeps with machine guns on top) trying to destroy the other players driving around. There’s also a variety of special weapons scattered around the map, such as missiles, railguns, and lasers, which you can use to blow up your opponents faster. For how common they are though, a few of these weapons are significantly overpowered, ruining the balance of the game.
Take the heavy missile, for example, which locks onto opponents and is usually a one-hit kill against the fast attack vehicles. If you know where to look, and they aren’t hard to find, you can camp the spawn points and pick off anyone who gets within range with a decent success rate and little engagement. Speaking from experience, winning this way feels like a hollow victory, which just might be the worst feeling you could get from a competitive multiplayer game. Other weapons like the bombs require better tactics, but the game makes it too easy to resort to the cheap approach.
It doesn’t help that the controls are a pain to get used to. It’s not necessarily that the control scheme is bad, because I think it actually makes sense. It’s just that there’s so much the player needs to do at any given point that the control scheme is bad by necessity. When you’re engaged with an enemy and aren’t equipped with something overpowered, you have to simultaneously: steer with your left stick, aim your turret (and therefore your guns) with your right, fire with R1, fire any special weapons with L1, and accelerate or reverse with R2 or L2 respectively, all while somehow not driving into a wall and becoming a sitting duck because, did I forget to mention, the right stick you aim with also controls your camera, so you have to not only focus on targeting your enemy but also pay attention to where you’re going even though you can’t see, while at the same time contemplating if maybe you should just drive off and pick up those heavy missiles after all because this isn’t worth the frustration. And that’s just assuming you’re going head-to-head against a single opponent. Every once in a while it comes together and it works, but being functional and being fun are two very different things.
[Note: Shortly before publishing, Hardware: Rivals was patched to add a “Basic” control option, which among other changes removes the ability to control your turret. This does alleviate some of the mental acrobatics described above, from what is now called “Advanced” controls, but at the same time it puts the “Basic” player at a disadvantage because they can now only aim straight ahead.]
The maps themselves aren’t much better. Each of Hardware: Rivals’s arenas are multi-leveled, so there’s a vertical aspect to the action which sounds good in theory. It’s certainly more interesting than everything taking place on a flat plane. But the maps are also larger than necessary for the 5-vs-5 combat, so while it’s fun to explore all their nooks, in practice matches end up feeling barren, especially if all 10 roster spots aren’t filled. It also felt like most players congregate in the same few areas, so the unique sections of each map end up ignored.
That being said, there are some really enjoyable player-triggered events which create some welcome chaos to break up the monotony. In each map it’s implemented a little differently, but the premise is the same: once the event is triggered, you have seconds to get to a small spot on the map where everyone else is also heading. If you don’t make it, you die. If you do, good luck surviving the close quarters combat. Unless of course you’re the one triggering it, these events seem to come out of nowhere and force you to drop everything. It’s quite the adrenaline rush and is a smart way to change the tempo of an otherwise rote experience.
But that excitement is fleeting. Those events happen only once or twice per match, and nothing else quite lives up to that high. Considering too that the in-game characters and limited vehicle selection at times feels bland (Twisted Metal games aren’t always great, but they ooze personality), the end result is that Hardware: Rivals somehow manages to take the vehicular combat formula and make it boring. There’s some good ideas in there, but as a package it’s a disappointment.
Rating: 2 out of 5