Review: Receiver

There’s something about modern shooters I’ve always found a bit strange. After the initial amazement and novelty of being able to reload our own guns with the press of a button in Half-Life, I noticed a bizarre habit developing in some players, myself not least of all.

Some shooter fans seem more compelled to hit the reload button than the fire button. Seriously – I’ve seen some players shooting two or three rounds, getting a headshot, reloading, getting another head/upper-torso kill, reload, another kill, reload… But think about that for a moment: say you’ve got a 30-round clip – you’ve just fired three rounds and tossed the remaining 27 over your shoulder. Yes, I know that somehow the discarded, un-fired 27 rounds magically find their way into the pool of ammo you have available, but… what? Do modern shooter protagonists each have a leashed gimp following them around, consolidating all the un-fired rounds into fresh, brimming clips? In reality, you’d have just thrown 27 rounds on the floor.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered why nobody ever made a game with that in mind. Well, guess what? That game has been made, and it’s an indie title called Receiver. Apparently this game was made for some 7-day FPS Challenge development contest that I’d probably know more about if I kept up with gaming news (or any news at all). This is one of – or possibly the only – game that claims to do something new with the FPS concept and actually means it.

The premise is quite simple. You’re a lone guy in a condominium block full of killer robots, and the only thing you have to keep you alive is a single gun and a remarkable will to expose some kind of Matrix-esque truth about reality that is conveniently contained within several cassette tapes hidden in the building. The interesting thing about this quest is that you have one life, one hit-point, and if you die a single time, it’s back to the start. Oh, and the building is randomly generated every time. Now that’s hardcore.

The star of the show is the realistic gun mechanics. At the start of each session, you are randomly endowed with one of two types of pistol, or a revolver, each of which works slightly differently. You have complete control over this weapon and can do anything you can with a real gun. You can pop the clip out, pull the slide back, clip the safety on and off, pull the hammer back, gently let the hammer back in again without firing… you name it. The interface to do this takes a bit of getting used to – but it’s only about six or seven keys, really.

Using the weapon for combat is just as realistic. There is no ammo counter. You have to keep track of how many of your revolver’s six rounds, or your colt’s seven rounds you’ve fired. If you’ve forgotten, you can flick out the revolver’s chamber to see how many primers are blackened, or pop out the pistols’ magazines to look through the little holes in the side to see how far the spring has pushed the rounds up.

Reloading is just as involved. The revolver is the simplest. When you need to reload, you simply flick out the chamber and dump the spent casings (sometimes you need to wiggle the spring to get a stubborn casing out, just like in reality) and load in six new rounds one by one.

The pistols are a bit more involved. While you can carry a few spare clips in your belt, you don’t have the clip-reloading gimp following you around like you do in other shooters. So you have to holster your gun, take an empty clip and literally push each new round into the clip yourself until it’s full. Luckily you find plenty of loose rounds lying around, and they’re displayed along the top of the screen during reloading. You want to know how many you have? Well, count them!

The game itself is short, sweet, and monstrously addictive. It takes a while to learn, but once you’ve got it down, you’ll find it has that “one more go” factor, because of the cruel and indiscriminate one-chance gameplay. I can imagine that many of you fans of “hardcore” shooters like Modern Borefare and Twattlefield would be entirely lost without a big arrow telling you where to go, regenerating health and the aforementioned ammo gimp. Receiver is also very, very tense. I actually caught myself yelping in horror when I heard the robotic beep of an enemy that had seen me before I saw it – which is almost a guaranteed death. And it only gets more tense the closer you get to victory.

I think there might be something to this, when this indie title with its rudimentary graphics has me more terrified of what’s in the next room than any big-budget horror game. I’ve certainly never yelped in terror playing a horror game – well, except for that one time, but that was because my dad banged on my bedroom door to get my attention while I was playing the original Silent Hill with headphones on and not because of the game itself.

This is the kind of thing you’re supposed to be doing, indie developers. You’re supposed to explore the scary, uncharted territory of new gameplay mechanics – not play it safe and rip each other off with mountains of retro-style platformers, point-and-click adventures, unbalanced strategy games and crap MMOs that nobody would honestly ever pay for after trying the free-to-play variant.

Unfortunately, I don’t think these realistic gun physics would ever fly or even be entirely necessary in a big-budget AAA shooter. But I’m sure there is something to learn here – even if it’s just a way to make players respect the un-emptied clips they cruelly toss over their shoulders. In the end, Receiver is more of an experiment than a game – but it’s really cheap and it’s an experience like no other. If you fancy yourself a shooter connoisseur, then I challenge you to give this a go.

You can buy Receiver on Steam, or directly from the developers, for $4.99 right now.