I’m a huge fan of top-down shooters, and part of the reason for that is how simple and fun they are. One of my favorites was Super Stardust on PSP, because of its colorful, vibrant aesthetic and its explosive action. I’ve always liked games that make the action very intense, and so I was really interested in checking out Livelock. Did it live up to the reputation of the greats? Let’s find out.
Right off the bat, Livelock is actually not quite as arcadey as most top-down shooters. It’s a story-driven game, and you choose a character in the beginning that you then customize with upgrades and abilities as you process. The game opens with a cutscene that uses comic-book style stills to tell the story of a human race ravaged by gamma radiation, only to learn that fate was going to kick them while they were down and send them a great cataclysmic event that was going to wipe out all organic life. The people of Earth, anxious to protect their species, decided to harness the power of technology and upload human consciousness to machines. Of course, things don’t go as expected, and you awaken after everything goes belly up to find a post-apocalyptic world where machines with the minds of humans. You are a machine with the mind of one of the first humans to be turned into flash drives (the other two are the other two playable characters obviously). Now, the original plan was for the human hard-disks to get transferred back into flesh bags after things blew over. Unfortunately, the cataclysm was so powerful that it corrupted the data, and humanity’s proposed saviors created a post-apocalyptic waste-land with roving gangs of killer robots that were smart enough to be way better at killing. Your objective is to try and set things right.
The game’s story is a mix of sci-fi and Saturday morning cartoons, as the plot grapples with very big questions about the nature of man and machine, but the heroes and villains are torn out of a 90’s cartoon that you may have watched in your pajamas. I ended up being fairly immersed in the plot, and while I found the voice acting to be a little over-the-top (hence the Saturday morning cartoon vibe), I liked the motivations of the various characters. You get a pretty clear idea of who the final villain is going to be, but I still liked the way the plot unfolded.
In terms of gameplay, Livelock isn’t your typical top-down shooter. In fact, it doesn’t even start off as a shooter; your first weapon is a set of gauntlets that you use to knock out enemies. You go through the ruins of an apocalyptic city and take on gangs of robots to fulfill various objectives. Your guide is Satcom, the super-intelligent AI charged with protecting the earth. It’s a good while before the game gives you a ranged weapon, and even then they don’t quite hit the mark. Your weapons are customizable, and you pick up new ones at various intervals, but I feel like the game almost didn’t want me to do that much shooting. First of all, reload times on all the weapons is criminally long, and second of all, you have limited ammo that you need to conserve. I’m in favor of both of these mechanics in doses, but I feel like Livelock overdoes it. Seriously, I’ve played survival horror games that are less stingy with the armor. Shooting is a big part of shooters (obviously) and Livelock does tend to drop the ball in the gun department. None of the guns ever managed to feel truly fun for me to use.
It does, however, does an amazing job in the combat. Enemies are fast and vicious, and they can quickly gang up on you, so you’ll need to fire away and dodge when it gets overwhelming. While the guns could have been better, the game makes up for it with some really destructive special abilities like an earth shatter move and a reflector shield, which can deal massive damage in between cooldowns. There’s quite a bit to do when the going gets tough, and by the game’s third stage you’ll be knee-deep in awesome power-ups. You haven’t lived til you’ve called down an orbital laser to toast a giant robot.
The real star, however, is the game’s aesthetic. They really make use of the 2.5D format, as everything feels very detailed, and the physics effects make the levels feel very immersive. Additionally, I’ve gone on record before (especially during my review of RIVE) about how much I like shooting robots. Out of all the fictional enemies, I enjoy fake-killing robots the most because you really get a sense of the destruction as you see robot bits flying every which way.
In terms of length, Livelock could have been a bit longer for its asking price, but the campaign feels meaty enough. You have the ability to bring in friends for co-op. Sadly, the game missed a great opportunity to put in local co-op, so you’ll need to have a buddy online who owns the game. Additionally, the lack of a matchmaking system means you’ll really only benefit from the co-op feature if you have a friend who owns the game. I managed to test the co-op feature, however, and it’s pretty sweet on the whole. The character I played most was the Vanguard, and he was pretty good for brute force head-bashing, but there were also the Hex and the Catalyst, who were more ranged and support, respectively.
All in all, Livelock was a solid 2.5D experience that kept me engaged throughout it’s around 4 hour run. It looks and sounds amazing, and it keeps the challenge lively without making things too crazy. It doesn’t quit nail gunplay, but it’s still a great pick for fans of top-down shooters.
Livelock was reviewed using a PC downloadable code of the game provided by Perfect World Entertainment. The PC version was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 via digital release. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Stylish 2.5D aesthetic
• Varied enemy design
• Frantic levels
• Destructive, explosive action
• Game could have been longer
• Guns don’t feel that fun