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RiftStar Raiders Review

RiftStar Raiders is a game that took me a couple of attempts to warm to.

You see, jumping into the game’s first mission, which could be considered a tutorial, I just couldn’t get my head around the decision to slow the movement of your ship down to a snail’s pace while aiming. As an often fast-paced twin-stick shooter, it seemed a like a ridiculous choice to me, even when I realised there was a boost button to help me evade enemy attacks.

My first mission, then, was a bit of a write-off. I struggled to dispatch the large groups of enemies thrown at me with any sort of finesse, and when I eventually encountered a minefield I ran out of lives because of my own stupidity. Unimpressed and frustrated, I turned the game off. But when I returned to it the next day, something just ‘clicked’, and I found myself liking the game much more.

Viewed from a top-down perspective, the left analogue stick in RiftStar Raiders is used to move your ship around the screen, while the right is used to accurately aim your weapons and also fly more precisely — important when navigating minefield or avoiding radars. Initially, your ship slowing down to a crawl when aiming feels atrocious; enemies will quickly swarm around you, and you’ll soon succumb to their fire and be left dazed and confused. With a little perseverance, however, you can learn to use the boost manoeuvre to good effect.

Using boost while precision aiming makes you quickly strafe from side-to-side which is great for avoiding fire coming straight at you, but boosting without aiming propels you forward with great speed. In time, and with a level head, you’ll perhaps learn to combine the two like second nature, strafing and dashing to avoid enemy fire and propel yourself out of harm’s way in a jiffy. And if you do, your time with RiftStar Raiders is likely to feel hugely rewarding. If not, however, it’s likely to just feel maddeningly frustrating.

If you find yourself able to get over RiftStar Raiders’ biggest hurdle — its controls — then you’re in for a challenging but rather enjoyable romp. There are ten missions to tackle in either in solo or co-op play, and with random loot to be collected in each mission, you’re bound to find yourself completing them multiple times.

Two weapons can be equipped to your ship from a selection of four, alongside a choice of three shield types, two boost modes, and a wide array of hulls and banners. That may not sound like a lot, but RiftStar Raiders is all about customisation, and by using the cash and perks obtained from completing missions, you really can make your ship your own.

Each part of your ship bar the hull and banner essentially has its own upgrade tree, giving you multiple options as to how to progress. You can also easily create variant builds so you can change your proficiency quickly and easily, providing you have the resources. As such, RiftStar Raiders becomes one of those games that can find yourself gravitating to again and again, caught in a gameplay loop of entering a mission, looting, upgrading your ship and then going into another mission to continue the cycle. Eventually you’re bound to get bored, but it’ll take a while.

Aside from the control issues, RiftStar Raiders’ biggest problem is that despite seemingly pushing its multiplayer features to the forefront, they’re not that good. There’s no matchmaking for instance, meaning you can only get into a multiplayer game if you invite a friend (or three). And there’s no local co-op option. Once you’re in a game, issues also arise when a player’s health is depleted.

In single player, you can have up to five lives to complete a mission with, restarting from a recent checkpoint when you die. In multiplayer, however, there are no lives. If a player dies they simply stay where they are, and another player is required to grapple the downed player and hold a button to revive them. If you have a group of four players it’s perhaps not too much of an ask, but if there are only two of you and one of you has died in the middle of a battlefield with enemies respawning all over the place, the other player is going to find themselves with a very hard task. Both die, and it’s back to the start of the mission you go.

RiftStar Raiders then, is a game that has to be approached with caution. Players need to be aware that danger lurks around every corner, especially when playing in co-op, and that death can come alarmingly quick. It’s also a game that requires patience; mainly to get to grips with the game’s convoluted controls. Aiming and boosting to fend off attackers while avoiding their fire becomes more natural over time, but then you also have to factor in grappling large objects and avoiding environmental hazards. It’s not easy.

Personally, I feel that RiftStar Raiders works best as a single-player game, where you’ve only got yourself to worry about, can take things at your own pace and have a nice stack of extra lives to fall back upon. When played in multiplayer, it just becomes too hard, too drawn out and too stressful. It’s just not fun. But even then, unless you’re prepared to to get to grips with RiftStar Raiders’ unintuitive controls, you’re probably best off steering clear.

RiftStar Raiders is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.

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