PAX East 2016: Hands-on with Perfect World’s Livelock

    
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Robot unrock.
People who know me know that if there’s just one thing in this world that I’m passionate about, it’s probably robots. Robots are a big deal to me. I like robots. I also have no small amount of affection for shared co-op experiences and twin-stick shooters. In theory, Livelock should be, well, a lock. It’s not a hard sell for me to have customizable robots I can smash stuff with.

Whilst I was flitting about Boston for this year’s PAX East, I had a chance to actually play the game. And the end result was a game that I was not, in fact, quite as on-board with as I might have expected. But not because the game was bad — just because of lots of niggling little details here and there.

Livelock is a real departure from form for Perfect World Entertainment, a buy-to-play title that can at least theoretically be played completely offline and single-player. The demo on the floor, quite sensibly, was focused around players taking on a co-op level and smashing through lots of enemy robots together. The demo walked players through a number of miniboss fights, but it ended just before fighting the big boss, complete with some leaderboards for people who did well at the demo.

It’s important to note that some of my problem may have been more due to my character choice than due to the game itself; I was playing the melee-range and tanky Vanguard, the largest of the three playable characters and the one that seems to have a higher skill cap than I was perhaps prepared for. While similar styles of game have long been my wheelhouse with or without melee, it’s quite possible that I would have enjoyed my time a bit more had I been at range. (Or if I were just better at picking out what I was supposed to be swinging at.)

At a glance, Livelock‘s maps are very well-handled, with plenty of debris and detailed robots on both sides of the battle. Unfortunately, that proved somewhat problematic because it was not often easy to tell at a glance the difference between free-rolling debris that had gotten knocked loose from my swing and some of the smaller enemies. The high zoom-out angle in particular made it very easy for the scene to get muddled and the flow of battle to become disjointed.

If you’re at range, this is something you can fix a bit more easily by staying back and spraying in the right general direction. With a hammer, you don’t quite have that option. I did have other weapons, though, which could be cycled between with relative ease, although there were times I felt as if my firing cycle stopped with little on-screen indicator for reloading or the like.

The other big thing that put me off a little bit was the feeling of impact on both sides. There was no sort of hit stun or any indicator that I could see to tell me, “Here, you hit that guy,” or “You are being hit,” which is also fairly vital, especially for a tank-oriented character. I often found myself surprised and unable to tell when damage was coming in or how much damage was hitting me; it was also hard to tell when my attacks were having much effect.

For anyone else standing at the demo and having no problems with any of this, I am very happy for you. Some games just have less hit indicator than I am accustomed to, and that’s fine. If you look at the game and can unpack all of this information instantly, I envy you and salute you. But for my money, it feels like the game is in need of some UI and animation revisions so that it’s more clear at a glance just what is happening; a bit more color wouldn’t hurt, either.

Even the screenshots feel kind of overhurried.

With that kvetching out of the way, let me say that I did quite like the variety of weapons on display and the layouts of the stages. Rather than simply being presented a set of boxes, players did have layouts that did indeed force different reactions and tactics, and enemies could often come in from unexpected angles that nonetheless made perfect sense. I also quite liked the abilities at my disposal as the biggest and tankiest of the group, being able to both taunt huge groups and turn myself into a living wall for the rest of the team. And taunting a group while leading them down a corridor I lined with mines felt very satisfying.

It also helps that death is little more than a minor inconvenience, at least in this build. I was never more than a few moments out from getting back into the action. It did set me back, and I felt it when I died, but I didn’t feel like death was coming randomly and with no rhyme or reason. The environments are also quite reactive, although there doesn’t seem to be much of an effect from destroying various things; I could knock down doors, but I couldn’t send them flying into enemies as far as I noticed.

The game should offer players several hours of single-player campaign play, with the health and damage of the enemies scaling up based on how many people are playing at once. The game does have a leveling system, but it’s more along the lines of the levels found in first-person shooters than many MMOs; having more levels just means more options rather than letting you bring out more at once. Players can also diversify characters over time, so your Vanguard could be as tanky as can be, more of a melee damage dealer, or a more supportive sort. There are a variety of cosmetic customization options planned for each frame, as well as a plethora of different heads.

On that note, I should stress that none of the gameplay will be unlocked via microtransactions; once you buy the game, you have full access to everything contained therein. While the development team would love to expand the game in the future, it’s very much something for the future, and there is a sense that buying the game means buying the game rather than unlocking more over time. A great deal depends, of course, on how well the game does and how well it works out in the long term.

I suspect that most of the issues I encountered with Livelock come down to a matter of polish and UI improvements. There’s nothing wrong with the game by any stretch of the imagination, and while some areas could do with expansion the fundamentals do seem solid. As I played it, I was a bit let down by the technical issues, but all it would take is some fairly minor quality-of-life improvements to make the game sing.

That would be something I would welcome, at that, because I really want to like the game a great deal. I am, as I have mentioned, very fond of robots.

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