The first iteration of Receiver was Wolfire Games’ entry into the 7-day FPS challenge. The textures were very simple, the controls were complex, but for a game created in 7 days, it was not only a technical wonder, but it brought something unique to the table in the form of in-depth weapon handling. Receiver 2, programmed over a longer period of time, gives more depth to the game overall, while maintaining the core gameplay that made Receiver so enjoyable.
The story of Receiver 2 has a first and second degree to it. In this paragraph, I’ll be focusing on the first degree. The game takes place in a series of adjoining skyscrapers. You are all alone against robotic enemies that hide around the map, mostly turrets and drones. You must navigate the maze of offices, apartments and construction sites in order to find tapes, which teach you how to become a better Receiver. Receivers are a group of people that are trained to fight against The Threat, the omnipresent danger behind the Mindkill. The Mindkill is an invisible force that corrupts people from the inside until they totally isolate themselves and succumb to it. Those two entities are the antagonists of the game, and seemingly the reason why you are all alone. The tapes you collect around the level serve 3 purposes: to teach you about the guns you’ll be handling, to give you general gameplay advice, and a third purpose which falls into the second degree of the game. On its own, the first degree doesn’t bring much to the gameplay at all. Two metaphorical enemies that you never confront in person, and whose only effect on you is the eerie vibe that stems from your loneliness while playing the empty levels. However, it’s important to note that the 1st degree serves as a physical representation of the 2nd, which brings the game to a whole other level. I’ll talk about the elusive 2nd degree in the third paragraph of this review. Now, let’s take a look at the core of the Receiver series, gameplay. Or rather, gunplay.
Progress through the game is linear. Walk around the level, collect ammo, avoid/kill enemies, and level up once you’ve found 5 tapes, which are scattered across the level. The levels are randomly generated, but are always the same medley of building sites on rooftops and offices. As you level up, the difficulty is increased by introducing new enemies, limiting the amount of bullets found across the level, and by switching your weapon. The leveling system uses a frustrating gimmick that puts you back to the preceding level if you die, until you succeed and are allowed to progress. That mechanic is intended to make sure you’ve learned your lesson and earned your progress, but forgets that being thrown back to the start of a level is a lesson of its own. You begin every level with a pistol or revolver, and are assigned a new one whenever you level up. There are five levels plus a tutorial and 9 different guns. Since being leveled down a few times is almost a guarantee, you’ll get to experience all the different firearms available, and you’ll also have time to get familiar with their controls. The main feature of Receiver 2 is full control over your gun and ammunition. Long gone are the days of pressing “R” to reload, you must now remove the magazine, reload bullets individually, put it in the pistol, and rack the slide. You’re also expected to clear malfunctions, like a failure to feed or a failure to extract. If you can do it with a real pistol, you can do it in Receiver 2. The game starts with a straightforward S&W Model 10 revolver, showing you how to load a gun and cock the hammer, and more complex weapons are introduced in the late game, like a Sig P226 or a Colt SAA with a removable cylinder. Those complex weapons are more powerful but are given fewer bullets, so you’ll need to make every shot count. The game hammers in real-life gun safety precautions, like always assuming a gun is loaded, and only pressing the trigger on what you intend to destroy. There are two downsides to such a level of realism: first, every action is bound to a different key, so you’ll need to commit the keys to muscle memory in order to have a smooth operation or your firearms. The second downside is the way the game handles holstering and drawing. You must slowly draw and holster cocked firearms, and not doing so will result in you shooting yourself in the leg, dying, and being thrown back a level. While it’s important to carefully handle a cocked pistol, such a mechanic implies that guns go off at the slightest touch, which is not true. Those two downsides fade quickly, as you learn how to handle a firearm according to real life rules, and Receiver rules.
Warning, this paragraph spoils the true meaning of the game, which is best left to the player to discover for themselves. If the game interests you so far, it only gets better from here.
So, the 2nd degree. How could a game about firearm handling have any deeper meaning? The last tape found in the game mentions reality C, B, and A, and how your knowledge as a receiver can be used in all three realities. As previously mentioned, the tapes, at first, give advice about the game. Look around you, be aware, never underestimate your enemy, use all available resources, the Threat is all around you, and you must fight and never surrender to the Mindkill. Then, you encounter a Threat Echo tape. The person on the tape will comment on the futility of life, how they can’t take it anymore, and how they plan to end it. Upon hearing those words, the Threat starts taking control of you and you have seconds to react and unload your gun before the Mindkill takes over and makes you use your pistol against yourself. Then it clicks. Receiver 2 uses video game mechanics and weapon handling to teach the player about the dangers of depression. Look around you, be aware, never underestimate your enemy, use all available resources, the Threat is all around you, and you must fight and never surrender to the Mindkill. This is where the realities come into play. Reality C is about the game; fight robots, shoot guns, collect tapes. Reality B is about real life; be wary of your mental health, never underestimate the threat that is depression. Reality A is attained once you have completed the game and therefore your training as a receiver; you can go out into the real world, and help others against the Threat and the Mindkill. Receiver 2 is not the first game to tackle mental health. Just to give a few examples, The Last of Us shows how grief changes someone, and the new Wolfenstein games include PTSD in some characters’ arch. But Receiver 2 is one of the few games alongside Darksouls that succeeds in teaching important life lessons through meaningful gameplay.
The story doesn’t make too much sense at first, there are a lot of buttons to remember, the levels are confusing, the tapes can be literally, anywhere and you’ll definitely end up shooting yourself in the leg. But as you play, your weapon will become an extension of your character as you navigate through levels and tapes teaching you how to defend yourself from the Mindkill, in-game and IRL.