After a gradual falling out with Rocket League, I’ve been on the hunt for the next multiplayer phenomenon. Hardware: Rivals, despite its otherwise vibrant car combat, is … not it. The two titles share a fondness for vehicles doing the impossible (and occasionally going boom), but my expectations for Twisted Metal pretenders already plateaued with Star Wars: Demolition on the original PlayStation. How low must my standards go, Hardware: Rivals?!
Hardware: Rivals puts tanks and 4x4s – natural-born enemies – through destruction derby hell, yet settles for so-so. Passable. Meh. Initially, as the tutorial helped with my bearings, I stared in wonder at the animated vehicles and arenas (their bold, almost-cartoon appearances nip more from Mario Kart than Twisted Metal). The controls seemed second nature, too. I soon became confident in my reflexes, certain I could manage my weapons and maneuver my dune buggy about when confronted. You can even buy a waterbed for the jeep. Sure, I thought, I’ll endorse this absurdity.
Then I joined my first unscripted match. Two hostile tanks and a buggy greeted me – the lone member of my team – their crosshairs trained on my spawn. I left that massacre, yet on and on the cycle went. Hardware: Rivals provides classic deathmatch modes, plus domination, but the lobbies failed to fill up amid eight hours of cumulative play. Matches gain momentum, one team steamrolls the other with their secondary power-ups, and the losers abandon squad mates to a lopsided brawl.
Losing sucks, let’s face it. However, the measly player count endangers a dying breed, scaring away future car combat game developers. Hardware: Rivals should be the bridge to something more. Its skirmishes support several strategies, like using a 4×4’s mobility to beckon victims into allied ambushes, and I enjoyed exploiting each battlefield’s architecture. I roared in delight as a tank, lacking the velocity to clear hazardous jumps, chased me up a pyramid and tumbled into a vat of lava.
The jeeps depend on their agility and machine guns to dispose of pursuers, just as tanks bet on their armor and cannons. If you find yourself unable to utilize their advantages, you can switch roles before a match. More than that, each map’s alternate weapon pick-ups produce the most pleasure. Projectiles accelerate towards their prey like lustrous Roman candles, wherein EMPs shut down turrets temporarily, lasers incinerate metal in just seconds, and heat-seeking missiles allow players to follow the warhead’s path in first-person.
Hardware: Rivals reveals its brilliance when you bombard friend and foe with kaleidoscopes of colored plasma. On the downside, the dev team neglected a few gameplay amenities. Players cannot tweak their controller sensitivity. Although I adapted to the crosshair’s delicate touch, others rightfully complained about overcompensating their shots, especially on the move. Rookies will come to complete stops when going for kills, since the reticle lurches around the screen at the slightest input. Silly me, assuming targeting options became a basic necessity circa 2001.
Moving on, upgrades will improve your play, so long as you enjoy the experience grind. Drivers select one perk each from five categories. You could opt for a quicker lock-on, increase the crosshair’s lock-on radius, or use the ability that improves your aim assist, though none appear overpowered. And why would players require aiming assistance? Because you cannot target enemies above or below you manually. It seems smart to remove a whole axis of control, given how finicky the controls can be, but keeping pressure on roof campers made my impatient blood boil.
That’s not all, either. The absence of hit markers left me guessing. Without confirmation (beyond low-pitched dings) that I damaged a fast-moving jeep, Hardware: Rivals expected me to wing it with every fight. Should I lead shots when my victims round a corner? Do machine guns retain their accuracy when fired full-auto? I can’t test those theories when Hardware: Rivals lacks a campaign, AI bots, and split-screen play. Hardware: Rivals remains an online-only show, urging friends and family to buy a second PS4 and TV (don’t do that) to join the once-in-a-blue-moon mayhem.
While the viability of a multiplayer-only game is a separate concern, I always welcome custom firearms and vehicles. Drivers gain salvage from normal play and challenges, which unlocks cosmetic items for their cars. Pasting boomboxes to the side of a tank just speaks to me, you know? Jokes aside, I liked sprucing up my death machine to a small degree. I knew everyone’s eyes were on my obnoxious, pink truck whenever Hardware: Rivals did flybys of the winner(s) post-match.
Small victories, however, cannot resurrect the car combat genre. Hardware: Rivals deserves a bigger audience, but it also requires more content. Four maps, four vehicles (two jeeps and two tanks), and sporadic upgrades will not sustain a community forever, regardless of the game’s noteworthy looks. But maybe you can put those numbers out of your head. For an evening, Hardware: Rivals might not set the world on fire, so I guess your enemies will have to do.
This review is based on the PS4-exclusive version of the game.
Hardware: Rivals provides exploding jeeps and tanks aplenty, but in this online-only game, the small player population will end your car combat fun before it gains traction.