The top-down, cooperative shooter Livelock, developed by Tuque Games and published by Perfect World Entertainment, is finally available after a minor delay. Although Tuque Games is a relatively small studio, Perfect World is known for publishing a variety of fairly popular MMOs. Livelock is definitely not an MMO but the company appears to be branching out with games in other genres such as Gigantic, which is currently being developed by Motiga.
Another thing that separates Livelock from the rest of the PWE titles is that it’s going to be available on PC, Steam, and Xbox One as a buy-to-play game. It’s scheduled to be available at a fairly reasonable price of $19.99 or $44.99 for a three-pack. Additionally, at least in the review copy, there were no in-game purchases and all available upgrades were acquired by simply playing the game. There’s no need to senseless grind resources; simply buy the game and everything else is obtained by through gameplay.
The End of Man
So what exactly is Livelock about? Apparently, sometime in the 21st century, humanity learns about the end of the world. The great cataclysm is coming and in order to save a part of ourselves, we learn how to upload human consciousness into machines. The plan was to save as many human minds as possible before the cataclysm happens, and then leave the aftermath in the hands of a specialized A.I. called SATCOM.
Unfortunately, not everything went as planned. The damage caused by the cataclysm was greater than expected and SATCOM couldn’t handle the cleanup on his own. Furthermore, three hives of corrupted machine clusters engaged each other in a seemingly endless war.
This is where the players come in. In addition to SATCOM, three Capital Intellects were constructed by combining the minds of humans with powerful, mechanical bodies. Together with SATCOM, it is up to the player to rid Earth of the corrupted clusters so that the rebuilding process can begin. However, things aren’t always what they seem.
Twin Stick Glory
In a world of MOBAs, MMOs and shooters, it’s not often that we get a solid twin-stick shooter anymore. Livelock manages to combine twin-stick controls with action RPG elements, and it still manages to keep things simple and smooth. One of the most important aspects of this genre is control responsiveness, and there are definitely no complains with this one. Controls are smooth and precise.
Of course, there were still a couple of gameplay bugs during my playthrough, but only one of them required a level restart. The occasional enemy would get stuck or randomly stop firing back, and the only major issue was when a map objective wouldn’t update; the second time through the issue seemed to resolve itself.
The pacing of Livelock was also very refreshing. There was rarely a lull in the action, but the screen was never so flooded with enemies that things felt impossible. Through proper use of abilities, cover, and dodging, most fights relied more on skill than luck.
In addition to very responsive shooting mechanics, Livelock has a very accessible progression system. You simply play through the missions earning experience and collecting carbon. Carbon allows you to upgrade your current weapons while experience unlocks new weapons, skills and modifications.
There are still plenty of secrets to be found, but these usually consist of audiotapes, additional carbon, or cosmetic items. This means you won’t miss an awesome ability or weapon if you just want to power through the levels; meticulous players are simply rewarded with more lore and subjectively cooler looking Capital Intellects.
During each mission, players can bring three different weapons and skills. Primary weapons can never run out of ammo but usually do the least amount of damage or have some type of drawback. Secondary weapons are either upgraded versions of primary weapons or have some sort of specialization. The final weapon slot is occupied by a mine or rocket launcher, which does heavy damage and has limited ammo.
Vanguard, for example, fills the role of the tank and has access to a hammer, gauntlets, assault cannon, shotgun, mine launcher and rockets. Each of these weapons fills a specific role, so it doesn’t necessarily feel like the game is throwing linear upgrades at you. Based on your selection, Vanguard can either be a completely front-line fighter or he can have a short, mid, and long-ranged weapon.
Initially, I was worried about the lack of in-game loot, but to be honest it was a little refreshing not having to worry about gear optimization. I simply took the skills and weapons that I felt comfortable with and went along each mission smashing as many corrupted robots as possible. I didn’t have to worry about sorting through salvage for epic items or health potions. This will likely limit the longevity of the game, but it wasn’t really designed for 100+ hours of play.
If you like action RPGs or twin-stick shooters, chances are that you’ll really enjoy Livelock. It’s simple, yet rewarding game design is a nice break from the min-maxing and gear optimization of most RPGs. The 21 levels are well-designed with an assortment of enemies, and each of the three classes feel unique. The controls are smooth and the game constantly throws out waves of enemies to keep players on their toes.
There’s an obvious breakdown between tank, DPS, and support, but the three Intellects can very easily operate independently. This is emphasized in cooperative mode because there are no restrictions on class selection. Everyone can play Vanguard, Hex or Catalyst if they’d like, although that’s probably not optimal. A well-rounded team will probably be the most effective, but I’m sure players will find all kinds of interesting combinations, such as stacking multiple Vanguard shields or chain healing with three Catalysts.
The end of the world scenario has been used quite frequently and the idea of implanting human consciousness into machines isn’t terribly unique either. However, it does provide an adequate backstory for a game that’s more about smashing robots than anything else, and I’m okay with this.
Tuque made it clear that they weren’t attempting anything crazy with the gameplay mechanics, but that probably worked out for the best. Reusing concepts from some of the best games out there has a tendency to produce positive results. The only problem is that it’s hard to say anything unique about Livelock. It was a fun experience but it also felt very “safe.”
Learning Curve 6/10
One of my biggest issues with Livelock is that there doesn’t really seem to be a learning curve. This doesn’t mean that enemies don’t slowly ramp up over time or that new class mechanics aren’t introduced. The problem is that there isn’t any real punishment for death and that doesn’t force players to learn.
As far as I could tell, death during a campaign mission simply meant a lower score multiplier. While playing cooperatively, my team managed to rack up at least a dozen deaths during a specific mission but we still managed to complete it. As a competitive player, I always try to stay alive as long as possible but there’s significantly less pressure if there are no real repercussions. This also diminishes the feeling of accomplishment for taking down particularly difficult enemies.
Livelock is a decent-looking game, but it’s certainly not revolutionary. The environments range from destroyed urban neighborhoods to arctic wastelands and each new setting is a welcome addition. The unit textures have enough detail to stand out while not becoming distracting, and many objects in the game are destructible.
For a game that can have dozens of enemies on the screen at a single time, it can be distracting if the units have too many details or colors. Livelock finds a nice balance in this aspect but there was never any point where I was in awe at the landscape. Furthermore, the game feels well-optimized, and I never had any frame rate issues even with the settings maxed out.
Most of the music includes a soothing, almost eerie ambiance, but it’s generally overshadowed by the sound of bullets and laser beams. This can, of course, be adjusted through the settings menu but I happen to find the sound of exploding metal to be rather satisfying.
The voice acting, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. Instead of being represented as a cold, calculating artificial intelligence, SATCOM comes off sounding like a whiny know-it-all. The Capital Intellects aren’t much better. Obviously, they’re supposed to have human minds, but they felt more like stereotypes than actual personalities. Moreover, you’ve got the almost sadist with Hex, tough girl Catalyst, and the stoic Vanguard, which creates a very odd team combination that mostly comes off as trying too hard.
A single playthrough on Emergent (Normal) difficulty took about 6 hours. So that’s nearly 20 hours of game time to complete the game with every class and potentially longer on the higher difficultly setting. There’s also the Open Protocol: Survival mode, which lets players faceoff against endless waves of enemies. A few individuals have already taken the competition to a pretty high level, but this will likely add at least a couple more hours onto the game for the average person.
Due to the relatively short nature of the campaign, a $20 price tag definitely seems reasonable. I would love to see more content and game modes in the future, whether included in updates or purchasable DLC. The world in Livelock is interesting enough that the story could easily be expanded upon in the future, however, the development team said that future content would be determined by player interest.
Livelock is very much ‘what you see is what you get.’ There aren’t a lot of hidden surprises or crazy customization options. It’s a well-designed, top-down shooter that can be a lot of fun solo or with a couple of friends. If you enjoy twin-stick shooters and/or action RPGs then you’ll likely enjoy it. For the meager price tag, I definitely recommend picking it up and trying it out.
+Excellent twin-stick shooting mechanics
+Music provides a pleasing ambiance
-Voice acting leaves much to be desired
-Minimal replay valueRelated: Livelock, Perfect World Entertainment, Shooter, Steam, Tuque Games, Twin Stick