Is it just me, or do top-down shooters tend to select the most generic of topics to house their gameplay in? Zombies, aliens, and now with Livelock, it’s robots. Whether intentional or not, Livelock feels like a Transformers game without the branding. This comes complete with one-dimensional robot caricatures, references to a never ending cyber war, and a generic apocalyptic antagonist.
To be fair, it’s clear that Tuque Games have committed to accompanying the robot-on-robot action with some meaningful context. The fairly well-realized conceit is that you’re the last of the uncorrupted machines, tasked with restoring humanity from the devastation it brought upon itself. This kicks off the events of the main campaign.
This narrative framework, however, doesn’t change the fact that the campaign isn’t really concerned with telling an engaging tale. With the story told indirectly via audio-logs and a sort-of narrator who guides you through the 21 missions that make up the campaign, it’s hard to care about Livelock’s ultimate outcome. It’s serviceable enough to facilitate the action, but nothing that science fiction hasn’t seen before.
Speaking of the action, this is where the game finds its raison d’etre. The combat is punchy and fast-paced, and is tied together by a neon colour palette. In the heat of the moment, the screen can look like a stupendous firework display of chaos, even amidst the typically drab environments that we’ve come to expect from every dystopian future earth.
The three playable classes ensure that this action is as strategically oriented as it is explosive. With the exception of Catalyst, the starring robots boast great design work, with Vanguard in particular looking brilliantly like Optimus Prime on steroids (sorry for the continuous Transformers comparisons, but they really are hard to shake). Each class offers a different means of play, which can essentially be defined as the roles of damage, tank or support. There are more nuanced forms of variation within these roles, however, as you are able to upgrade and tinker with your abilities in the loadout menus, or change to a different character altogether, to accommodate the situation you’re about to jump into.
All three are fun to play as, and exhibit enough variation to warrant trying them all out at some point if you can. Booting up your shield as Vanguard will be gratifying to anyone who’s played as Reinhardt in Overwatch, for example, whereas Hex’s mines are a great way of covering your back, considering enemies tend to emerge from any corner of the screen. The diverse range of attack styles and qualities of the enemies themselves ensure that you’re never lost for a challenge, whether you’re playing solo or with friends.
That said, Livelock is a game that is inherently more enjoyable when played with friends. The character roles complement each other in a way that was clearly designed for co-operative play. In fact, playing alone is a rather boring and lonely experience that I’d recommend avoiding, even if it means playing with strangers online.
With that considered, it’s a shock that Livelock doesn’t support local co-operative play. You can play with friends online, and the lobbies and menus are easy enough to navigate. Still, it’s a real shame that you can’t enjoy couch co-op in the same room. On top of the campaign, Livelock includes an endless wave-based mode for players to test their mettle against dynamically generated hordes of enemies. This doesn’t offer anything particularly new that the campaign didn’t already feature, but it’s a good time-waster if you just want to cut to the chase.
The real disappointment of Livelock is that it doesn’t do anything particularly original or interesting. Everything works well enough, and there are definitely moments of fun to be had when you’re making scrap metal out of your foes. However, there’s nothing that lets it truly stand out amongst other top-down shooters on the market. There is some intelligent and thoughtful design work to be applauded here, especially with regards to the gratifying dynamics of combat, but the game never manages to genuinely impress or engage you. If you still get a kick out of giant robots shooting each other up, or simply just want to pass the time in the twilight weeks of summer, then Livelock may be able to do something for you. Otherwise, you may want to invest your cash elsewhere.