Livelock is one of the best examples of its genre. It’s an impressive package that expertly balances its setting, mechanics, difficulty, pacing and visual prowess to provide an isometric twin-stick shooter that’s superb fun to play alone or with friends.
You play as one of three Capital Intellects; human minds uploaded into towering robots armed to the teeth with weapons. You are a failsafe, designed to fix any problems that occur over the eons between Earth being irradiated with gamma rays, destroying all organic life, and the time humans can return to the planet, their minds having been stored digitally in several massive storage servers. Of course, something went wrong, with the planet now embroiled in a war between robotic factions. You and your two fellow Capital Intellects must bring an end to the corrupted robotic forces and secure the stored human minds.
It’s an intriguing story that spins a pleasant tale with a handful of twists and revelations over the course of the 6-8 hour campaign. Furthermore, your robot foes have their own leadership and elite forces for you to exchange dialogue with in a Saturday morning cartoon fashion that’s hard not to enjoy. Of course, the Transformers comparison is inevitable, this is especially so with the voice-work, which is largely excellent and some notable one-liners serving up a chuckle or smile, however, it’s treads a darker line than that of everybody’s favourite robots in disguise, therefore it soon differentiates itself enough to become its own original thing.
Whilst an intricate tale is being spun, this translates mechanically to shooting and bashing copious amounts of robots, and it’s terrific fun. The isometric view makes everything looks so small yet at the same time, thanks to detailed environments with derelict buildings and vehicles as well as natural features such as trees and rivers, also provides a wonderful sense of scale. Whichever of the three robots you choose – Hex the ranged weapon specialist, Vanguard the melee specialist, or Catalyst the support specialist – you’re inhabiting a hulking great metal beast of a machine. During the explosive fire fights you’ll knock cars incidentally and send them skidding across the battlefield. Meanwhile, you can walk through most walls, suffering the slightest of slowdown to your gait. You absolutely feel like a huge, unstoppable robot, which is excellent.
The sound design further sales your metal might, with thunderous steps as you walk and shriek of steel on steel as your shred your enemies component from component. Additionally, absolutely stunning visuals and enemy design provides unique robotic monstrosities to combat, a strikingly saturated colour palette, and some of the most impressive particle and weapon effects seen in the genre. But it’s the shadows that really pull you in. Everything onscreen casts one, with framerates largely staying smooth and fast. As the battlefield is changed by the destruction of walls and scattering of debris, new shadows are formed dynamically. It’s marvellous.
However, as previously hinted, there are occasions when the on-screen action compromises the framerate, but it’s thankfully rare and short-lived when it does occur. Additionally, Livelock supports up to three player cooperative play but online only, which is a bit of a shame for couch co-op fans.
If you do venture online for cooperative play you’ll find excellent difficulty scaling to match the player count. Whether playing alone or with others, the challenge is ideally crafted to offer you an intense fight that is often barely winnable, keeping the satisfaction of victory always high and rewarding.
Shooting and smashing robots in intense battles across a variety of locations ends up feeling more akin to Diablo than any traditional twin-stick shooter. The inclusion of melee combat options as well as a host of different special attacks on cool-downs, of which you can only have three equipped at one time, further this similarity. A secondary mode to the story-driven campaign, Open Protocol, builds on the comparison, allowing you to take on levels without the narrative threads and concentrate on high scores and gaining more experience. With experience comes more weapon options to unlock and upgrade, allowing you to customise your characters to a significant degree, even to the point of changing their class specific specialisation, such as equipping Vanguard with ranged weapons instead of his default melee ones. It’s superbly customisable and allows you to shape your characters however you feel or to what best suits your team if playing online.
With weapons and abilities unlocked with experience, loot is kept to a minimum and comes in the form of Firmware for your characters, allowing you to customise their colour, their head and their cape. Collecting capes may sound daft but seeing it flap in the breeze as you tear through hordes of mechanical foes is both heroic and awesome.
Indeed, Livelock is excellent, from the hugely satisfying destruction from the environment and enemies, the complex and unique enemy design – to the point where they’ll limp under the weight of their arsenal – to the thematically excellent soundtrack with unexpected layers of instruments that gives Livelock a one of a kind musical score. It’s a tremendous title and a champion of its genre, hurt quite a bit by a lack of local coop and ever so slightly by the odd hit to the framerate.
Thanks to Xbox and Tuque Games for supporting TiX