Okay, so here’s the thing: I’m more of an action-adventure gamer, and should get that out of the way first and foremost. That is to say, shooters are not my first-choice when I’m checking out new games. But, like a lot of people, I was mildly obsessed with COD: Black Ops for a while, and really enjoy Halo’s beautiful graphics, so I was pumped to review Rekoil: Liberator. The trailer looked action-packed, like a high-end first-person-shooter at a fraction of the price ($14.99 on Xbox Arcade). Perhaps the following review can chock up the game’s shortcomings to user deference. Having said as much: I have repentantly recoiled from Rekoil.
Rekoil–capitalizing on the success of other games that take place in a post-apocalyptic, ravaged new world–is set in a landscape devastated by an “unrelenting pandemic”. Scenery ranges from bombed-out city centrals to abandoned subway terminals, and characters are suited for combat in fatigues, bullet proof vests and gas masks, and the now-common, salvage-style makeshift armor (bowed tin chest plates and a ragged, battle-stained ripped tee). I personally was pumped to see a female character, “Alice”, to choose during character selection–I don’t come across that as often as I’d like. I noted comically that while other characters had names like “Dreadlocks”, “Tattoo Guy” and “Alpha”/”Bravo”/”Charlie”/”Delta”, the battle gal was the only character sporting an actual name.
From the jump, there are 11 maps (game specs say 10, but I counted 11) and 40 different weapons to choose from. Every character comes equipped with a knife and an arsenal of guns, and players can choose their teams (and change them, indiscriminately, in game, I discovered) and up to two weapons before the start of and during each mission.
Rekoil’s foundation rests on the platform that every player’s individual skill is what sets them apart–everyone has the exact same tools and chance to be successful. Games last up to 10 minutes; team matches are 10 minutes or 750 points per team, whichever comes first.
Rekoil has no ranking system outside of kills, either team or individual. Developers say this is at the heart of Rekoil’s design; the first-person shooter isn’t really in need of a revamp, and other games have given players so much that Rekoil is designed to be a simple, kills-based shooting game in which players can run and gun or team up strategically without all the bells and whistles so many FPS’s tout.
Where creator Jason Brice of Plastic Pirhana is hoping to really stand out is in the mod-heavy features of the game. Features that, for the purposes of my review, were inaccessible. On the PC, users should be able to create custom maps, as well as freely modify their character and customize their weaponry, and even game servers. While that sounds awesome, I was unfortunately unable to attest to Rekoil’s modding glory. The only customizations available to me was the option to pick my mission and map and to invite players to my match–only PC users have access to these in-depth modding tools. Boo.
When you start playing, you’re thrown into a random game already in progress. In my particular case, that was Rekondite. Rekondite mode is actually pretty cool: one user is “it”, and that user is invisible, Predator-style, and moves stealthily across the map trying to avoid capture, the only weapon available being a knife, a flash grenade, and–in my case–a rudimentary understanding of your surroundings in a game that offers no in-game map. When you’re the Rekondite, you can run faster, and your screen wavers to let you know that you’re it, just in case you missed the message flashing across the screen briefly indicating “You’re the Rekondite”. Once someone kills you in Rekondite mode, that user then becomes the Rekondite. A fun fact: when anyone kills you in any game mode, the screen pans to your assassin and follows them for a short period while you re-spawn. This is so that you know you whereabouts they’re headed next and their user name in order to easily exact revenge.
I didn’t select that mission, and I didn’t know what I was in for: the game just had me select a weapon and a character and go for it. That was kind of jarring. The only options upon signing in were “Play Now!”, “Help”, and “Custom Game”. Clicking the most appealing option (Play Now!) took me directly to whatever was being played by users at present.
I mentioned that there was no in-game map for Rekoil. As I stated initially, I don’t play shooters a whole lot, but I guess I’ve learned to take the in-game mapping for granted. Without it, I didn’t know who was on my team, where those characters were at, and where on the map I should go for missions (such as Capture the Briefcase). That was mildly frustrating. Admittedly, a better player could have overlooked this, but a better player I am not. And this made it harder to enjoy game play. Did I get it eventually? Yes. And did I feel like a fool for the first 15 minutes I bumbled around? Definitely.
Team matches were as to be expected–kill-based wins, players can run-and-gun or perform tactically or as a group. The missions include two “capture the flag” style missions, unimaginatively entitled “Capture the Briefcase” and “Hold the Briefcase.” Domination was a familiar take on capture the base, with teams competing for spots in enemy territory. Death Match was a team-based killing spree with the team boasting the highest frags being the victor. Pretty straightforward stuff. While boring after awhile, I will give developers credit: the game lives up exactly to it’s name, offering no more and no less than the point-for-point, skill-based shoot-offs.
As for game play, the area where this game excelled was in sound effects and maps. I thought the attention to detail was almost on par with the COD–grimy subway, gritty, damp-looking prison, sun-lit and battle damaged outdoor city park and slightly more dismal street map were all beautifully rendered. The character movements, however, were not on par; the assassins and soldiers themselves seemed underdeveloped, bulky, and a little lagging. Guns were unimaginatively depicted, and the skins for these were equally disappointing.
Also, I know the name of the game is Rekoil, but wow. The sights on the guns were absolutely pointless, and the recoil was oppressive, making secondary shots–especially using the sights–almost a matter of luck. I’d say I felt like any kills I got were a matter of half luck at the end there, after playing diligently for almost 2 hours.
While sounds of grenades, footfall, reloads and shooting were really pretty awesome, the other audio in this game was almost downright annoying. For example, in capture the briefcase, the announcer’s voice could be heard almost constantly, informing players–sometimes overlapping itself: “The enemy HAS our briefcase”; “We HAVE the briefcase”; “We’ve dropped the briefcase”. Possibly unrelated note, but one of the terms in the game that I got an enormous kick out of was “headshotted”. As in “Player A headshotted Player B.” I didn’t know we were saying that, now. Mild language–I think the announcer says “ass” at some point–does not correct for ill-begotten and painfully repetitive script…unless this was a nod to Quake, in which case, I guess I retract my criticism. If the game had one flaw that made me want to shut it off, it was this.
Just to recap, I enjoyed the maps themselves, which offered players great detail both visual and auditory, and even some moderate level interaction–i.e, jumping out of windows or off overpasses, tires and metal responding realistically to shots fired, items flying off when shot at (such as a keyboard that went flying in what I think was the Refinery map, and ledges and empty drums being mountable during play). However, the actual characters were just not as intricately rendered, and almost looked kind of bad in a lot of places.
While the skill-based shooter was a refreshing concept and a return to the roots of what FPS’s are all about, the flip side to that was that Rekoil doesn’t offer much replay value. With no ranking and no level-ups, and every gun and skin being available from the get, I found that ultimately there’s no real incentive to continue to play. In Black Ops, you can level up, get better guns; even in 505’s Takedown: Red Sabre, missions are varied and offer some unique attributes per play that Rekoil just doesn’t bring to the table. If the game had been $5, it might be $5 well spent. But at almost $15 on Xbox Marketplace, I think it’s generous to give Rekoil a rating of 2.5.