Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Midgar Studio, Fusty Game
Publisher: PLAYDIUS Ent., Plug In Digital, The Sidekicks
Review code supplied free of charge by the publisher.
When everything comes together Hover: Revolt of Gamers is beautiful, a neon-colored blur of fluid movement across rooftops, walls and massive gaps that makes you feel like an ultra precise badass. It becomes even better when you take part in a race that uses the environment well, crafting a wonderful course that clicks with the controls to lull you into that awesome state known as flow. This spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio has run onto the Steam store after several years in Early Access, so now that we can finally get our hands on to it there’s just one question: is it good?
The problem with Hover is that it’s one of those frustrating games where everything coming together is a rare occurrence, and the rest of the time can leave you feeling underwhelmed or, in my case, even angry. You can feel the potential lurking underneath the surface in much the same way that you can sense the potential within government, but sadly just like governments that potential is never fulfilled and instead we’re left with a bitter taste in our mouths and a slightly dirty feeling. Okay, okay, maybe Hover isn’t that bad, but as we’re going to discuss there are a lot of good and bad at war within parkour platformer.
Before anything happens you’ll need to create your first character by naming them and then….well, that’s about it. You can alter the colors, but you’ve got no other visual customization options. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock DNA kits, letting you add clones of the characters you meet to your team, each with their own stats that push them toward being just plain fast, able to jump higher than me when somebody sneaks up when I’m wearing headphones or be better at Gameball. It would have been nice to have a full-fledged customization system, but considering the small studio size it’s understandable that they opted not to go down that route.
A basic tutorial guides you through the opening minutes before you’re dumped into an open world with little direction to get you going. This initial slum area is somewhat over-designed, piles of little huts and other things giving you plenty of places to clamber around but little in the way of satisfying flow, but as you clamber upwards the world becomes sleeker and more advanced looking, the cluttered slums giving way to much more enjoyable spaces and massive gaps between buildings where a single mistake means hurtling back down the slums, unless you use the handy rewind feature which doesn’t rewind time but does send your character hurtling backwards along their previous path.
So here’s the gist of how it plays: as your created gamer you can run at a pretty good pace, but that speed can be increased by hitting the trick button in mid-air to perform one of roughly eight tricks, as well as performing grinds, wall runs and sliding on the ground, all of which pumps up the Hovermeter that dictates how fast you can go. Got that? In other words momentum is everything as the meter slowly drains, so you want to keep your speed up by pulling off as many tricks and grinds as you can along the way. It’s also possible to expend your energy bar to perform a bounce that brings you back up to the height you were at.
There’s a floatiness that underlies the mechanics, granting you a huge amount of air-time along with a reasonable amount of in-air control. It takes some getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of judging distances and how precise you can be in the air the game feels great, largely thanks to an impressive sense of speed. There are some issues surrounding the fact that wall running and hanging off of things are automatic which can lead to your character doing things you didn’t intend, especially if you’re trying to shave precious time off of your run, but you quickly learn to work around these problems.
Navigating the world can be more troublesome than it needs to be. Given the style of the environment and the verticality it’s not surprising that the developers opted to avoid minimaps and instead implemented a system where you hold a button to “scan” the area, highlighting all the available missions in colors that aren’t very easy to see amidst the neon scenery. However, there’s no way to mark one of these missions in order to keep it up on the HUD while running around, so you have to stop and double check where it is. Sometimes when you finish a mission an arrow will pop up guiding you to the next one in the series, but this arrow will inexplicably disappear after a while with no way of bringing it back.
As for the design of the city itself it feels conflicted. On the one hand the layout clearly wasn’t drawn up with creating a believable, working city in mind as anybody trying to go about their daily life would have to spend at least half of the day carefully studying a map. On the other hand it doesn’t seem to have been built purely for the parkour mechanics either, as a lot of it feels clustered, there are jump pads that don’t go anywhere, oddly placed rails, walls that look perfect for a wall-run but that don’t lead anywhere and much, much more. It’s a clumsy blend of the two that never works as well as it should.
While you’re navigating the rooftops of the city you’ll need to deal with the E-cop security which mostly comes in the form of cameras that will detect your presence if you run past them, dispatching a drone to hunt you down. If they catch up with you these drones will lock you in place for a few moments, and after being caught enough you’ll be sent to a rehabilitation booth, which means absolutely nothing except for the inconvenience of being relocated. While it makes sense to have these cameras and drones keeping an eye on the city I have to admit that their inclusion mostly just served to get in the way of running, jumping and sliding.
The missions you can pick up start with basic checkpoint races where you’ll also discover the game’s odd difficulty balance: the A.I. opponents are almost insultingly easy to beat to the finish line in most cases, but if you want to acquire the medals, which grant better upgrades, then the game is surprisingly vicious, the times needed being very, very quick. A single mistake or deviation from the optimal route can mean missing out even the basic cardboard medal. The other problem is track consistency as some of the courses play beautifully to the game’s strengths, while many others contain awkward sections that bring your momentum to a grinding halt.
There’s also events where you deliver packages, graffiti to sprayed over government propaganda, drones to chase and collectibles to find. Finally, there are Gameball events which pit two teams against each other, the objective being to grab a ball and toss it into a goal stuck on a wall. The game’s controls are designed for fast movement and smooth parkour so these tight events can feel a bit messy, but they are a lot of fun, even if they do have the same inconsistency in design as the race courses.
You aren’t the only one running around the city because while Hover can be played in solo mode it’s primarily meant to be experienced online where a bunch of other players will also be doing their own things or going up against you. Whenever you start a mission other players can join in, competing against you or even with you in the case of Gameball events. It’s a cool idea unfortunately undermined by poor implementation. There’s no way to track another player, so if they’re moving around meeting up can be more of a pain in the ass than it should be. Nor can you form groups or invite people to events. All of these things make it harder to get together, and as a result I did find a general lack of interaction happening. Most people were focused on doing their own missions, only occasionally getting together to compete. When they did finally come together for a race or Gameball even, though, it was a lot of fun and a welcome break from facing off against the A.I.
There’s a reason for all of this weirdness, as crazy as it might be. You see, you’re playing as a Gamer, a rebel amidst a society where the Grand Admin has somehow managed to ban all forms of entertainment, the E-cops arresting those found to be enjoying themselves in any form. As the new Gamer on the block you’ll be parkouring around the city, doing races, tossing a ball about and spraying graffiti on walls in a bid to earn the trust of the resistance before moving on to bigger concerns. It’s tripe, to be honest, a very thin coating of story that exists solely to provide some vague context. Still, despite the lack of voice acting and a number of spelling errors the game manages to imbue its characters with a touch of personality.
As you complete events you’ll be awarded upgrades that can be slotted into your character’s upgrade screen, with some slots offering bonuses for having two upgrades of the same type next to each other. These upgrades increase things like your jumping, speed, hacking (for getting into containers containing loot) and slide speed. While one upgrade doesn’t typically have a very notable effect their cumulative boost is pretty cool to feel. However, these upgrades do also wind up contributing to some of the game’s problems. You may find certain events require you to have gathered up more upgrades in order to be competitive, for example, but then you might also run into races where you’re almost too powerful and end up having to reign yourself in so that you don’t overshoot checkpoints.
Now we get to the very negative portion of the review as there is quite a lot of problems to discuss that don’t have positives balancing them out. One section inside a prison about half-way through the game ditches the parkour fun where Hover shines in favor of sneaking about, dodging lasers and bland scenery. For a game all about speed and flow it’s strange to have a good chunk of the story deliberately slow you down, forcing you to use the lousy stealth mechanics instead. Thankfully you can get through this segment quite quickly, but it’s still the worst part of the whole game by far.
Controller support hasn’t been fully implemented yet, so when navigating the menus the analog stick moves the mouse cursor very, very slowly around the screen. This is a shame because a controller, at least to me, feels like the natural choice for playing Hover. With that said there’s a first-person mode included which feels great and does suit the keyboard and mouse quite well.
While the options menu includes ultrawide resolutions they aren’t actually correctly supported and will end up cropping the image, leaving you unable to access bits of the menu and thus stopping you from playing the game.
Then there are the glitches which include events randomly ending if you aren’t playing in solo and being unable to speak to characters which stops you from doing the next mission in a series. There are also some performance problems with the framerate dropping massively every now and then, which is obviously a bit annoying in a fast-paced game, and several crashes.
If you create a new character using one of the DNA kits you’ve unlocked you’ll be forced to play through the tutorial section again. How this was never fixed during the Early Access phase I will never know.
Oh, and if you use the rewind feature while carrying a package said package will be dropped. In other words, if you accidentally jump too far or something and end up falling down from the very top of the city to the bottom using rewind is utterly pointless as it will just result in the package being dropped all the way down instead, forcing you to go get it or hope it will be reset.
But it’d be nice to get another positive into this review, so it’s worth mentioning that I found the cell-shaded art style to be really rather pretty, and the soundtrack is absolutely brilliant. When you look closely there’s a lot of low-resolution textures, but the speed of the game and the art-style help to cover up the
For a game that has been in Early Access since 2014 Hover: Revolt of Gamers has a lot of problems that simply shouldn’t exist. The fact that controllers don’t have full support in menus of this or that you have to replay the tutorial when making a new character is are prime examples. It’s all the more frustrating when you consider that there’s a potentially brilliant spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio here just waiting to bust out. When you find a race with a well-designed course and get into the flow of the gameplay it’s massively enjoyable, but too often you get let down by awkward tracks, glitches, your avatar deciding to wall-run instead of grab or a security camera in the middle of a race. Toss in multiplayer that can be quite fun but ultimately suffers from poor implementation that should have easily been fixed over such a lengthy Early Access time and what you’re left with is ultimately…disappointing. There is something good here, something wonderful that deserved better. It’s still fun. It’s just not as good as it should have been. But to the developers credit their passion shines through clearly, and maybe, just maybe, that’s enough of a reason to pick this up and support them.
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