“You see reality painted in shades of black, but beyond your world is another, bathed in radiant light. We have reached out to you with a warning. If you are able to hear our message, then you are one of the few we can help. We call you ‘Receivers’.”
I picked up a complementary copy of Receiver up with the Wolfire Overgrowth alpha. Released in June 2012, Receiver was the finished product from the seven-day FPS challenge, featuring a procedurally-generated levels and, most significantly, portrays the operation and handling of firearms in a far more involved manner than any other FPS I’ve played. The story is revealed as players find audio tapes scattered throughout the world; the firearm players are supplied with are intended to deal with killtrons, which take the form of stationary sentry turrets or mobile hover drones that will attack the player. Initially, it was little more than a curiosity, and attempts to play the game were met with quick deaths at the hands of the killtrons. I spent a fair bit of time looking through the help menu as I fumbled around with reloading my firearm; ineptitude meant that there were several occasions where I failed to pull the slide back after reloading from empty or engage the hammer to allow the weapon to fire. However, in the time that has passed since the Steam Summer 2014 Sale, I’ve sunk in around nine hours into the game, and have finally attained a reasonable proficiency with the weapons, enough to reload and operate all of the weapons (Smith and Wesson Model 10 revolver, Colt M1911A1 semi-automatic pistol and the selective fire Glock 17) from memory alone. With this done, I began diving deeper into the universe Receiver builds, set in a vast, uninhabited building somewhere in Hong Kong following the Mind-kill. Individuals in the Receiver cult have access to the Clear-tapes, which explore more of the story as the player accumulates them.
- Receiver is a procedurally generated game: every game is different, with a different map layout and character equipment. Some days, players are lucky and will spawn with plenty of ammunition, a flashlight and be close to some tapes, while other days, the game will give the player no flashlight, no bullets or even spawn them right behind a turret.
- The first main challenge in Receiver is learning how to reload each gun efficiently. It took me around two hours in game to fully memorise everything, but it was well worth it. The revolver is the easiest to reload: one merely needs to open the chamber, shake out spent cartridges, insert new ones and close the chamber, then pull back the hammer. As a double action revolver, pulling back the hammer isn’t necessary, but it does make shooting a faster action.
- Originally, the M1911 was the only weapon in the game. To reload it from empty, one must eject the magazine. Then, they may hoister the weapon and insert fresh rounds, or a new magazine, then insert it back into the M911. Releasing the slide and chambering a new round typically will follow. A similar process is observed for the G17, although both weapons have differences.
- The M911 has a hammer and a safety, while the G17 has a fire selector, allowing it to go between semi-automatic and full automatic fire. Early on, I found myself dying because I failed to chamber a round or because I left the safety engaged, but experience is an effective instructor. Consequently, I die less frequently from carelessness at present, although Receiver is immensely unforgiving: taking a single bullet, exposure to even a second of the hover-bot’s taser or falling from a height will end the game and result in a restart.
- Receiver has simple graphics, but its procedural level generation means that moving between some areas may lead to a bit of lag arising even on a rig as powerful as mine. This lag is only noticeable for a few moments, and the remainder of the game handles very smoothly at 1080p on the “fantastic” graphics settings. The building includes sparsely furnished apartment complexes, empty rooms, large warehouses, rooftops and open courtyards. Tapes are typically found in roughly similar areas (such as in the bedroom here), or in the corners of the larger rooms.
- Large stairwells and corridors dominate some parts of the building, and the killtrons are usually found in predictable areas. What is not predictable will be their numbers: sometimes, killtrons appear alone and can be easily disposed of, while other times, even the most skilled of players will suffer a quick death after being fired upon by several turrets while being pursued by the hoverbots.
- For the screenshots, I’ve deliberately increased the distance the player holds the gun away from their eyes to give a better sense of what’s happening on screen, but for most games, I have the gun a little closer so I can better aim down the sights. Even with only iron sights, I’m capable of shooting out a killtron from across a room or courtyard, or even shoot out the signalling lights at the top of a building from across the map. One of the more subtle things in the game that few will have attempted is the fact that light fixtures can be shot out. This is, naturally, not a good idea, given that ammunition in this game is exceptionally limited (some games, players start with one bullet left in the chamber).
- Those with a careful eye may notice that the massive building in Receiver is actually set in Hong Kong: the Jardine House and the lower half of the Hong Kong Bank of China are visible. This subtle touch, coupled with a music track that progressively intensifies as one approaches the tapes, adds to Receiver‘s atmospherics. With that said, Receiver is an excellent game that also simulates a sense of loneliness: the player is completely alone inside the building and never engages or aids any other humans.
- The unique environment in the game allows players to devise their own stories as to what happened prior to the game’s events. In my case, I enjoy thinking that the Mind-kill was introduced by TV Tropes’ administrator and moderators, destroying self-awareness and forcing the population into a no-negativity, mindless consensus. One individual, who had arbitrarily been “Google-banned” from TV Tropes, was spared of the Mind-kill. As a Receiver, they must now must venture back into the labyrinth that is TV Tropes and retrieve the data tapes that will allow them to overcome TV Tropes’ influence, while evading TV Tropes’ ban-enforcement measures, attempting to locate the source of the issue and putting an end to it for good.
- The most tapes I’ve ever collected so far is six, just a little above the halfway point. Some tapes, I’ve heard more frequently than others, and the mention that individuals who listen to them repeatedly may transcend humanity is a clever bit of meta-humour: those who play the game frequently will doubtlessly hear these tapes repeatedly and even memorise some of the tapes.
As I progress through the game and track down the tapes, the story starts to take shape. The recordings on the tapes produce a vague story, and a part of the joy in Receiver lies in ambiguity, leading different individuals to interpret the story differently. Wolfire intended the story to add to the immersion within Receiver and ultimately succeeds, adding depth and promoting curiosity to what would otherwise simply be the world’s most involved firearm simulator. In my case, I see Receiver as dealing with media influence over human thinking. Society’s general tendency to accept what the media presents as truth to be a problem; the media is a form of business, and as such, is concerned with profits, rather than merely giving their viewers the facts. This leads to sensationalisation, and in some cases, projection of bias, leading to stories that deviate from the truth and impart on viewers a misconception of the issue. I’m not one to blindly believe everything I’m told (in fact, this is why I never got along with individuals who were part of popular cliques), and will carefully assess something before deciding on a position, whether to align with or against something. Back in Receiver, individuals immune to the media’s effects are referred to as “Awakened”, and are tasked with collecting all of the tapes. With a basic mastery of firearms and some understanding of what the tapes entail, my journey to delve to the bottom of the mystery behind the Mind-kill continues.