By Michael Sagoe (Mikedot)
Three years ago, an independent French game development studio called Midgar Studio, headlined by three ambitious game developers who call themselves “Fusty Game,” wanted to create a new kind of open world adventure title that combined the style and themes of Jet Set Radio, the movement of Mirror’s Edge and the presentation of Sci-Fi movies such as the 5th Element, all wrapped up into a neat and colorful package that can be enjoyed either solo or online with friends. Three years later, after a fairly successful Kickstarter campaign and multiple alpha releases, they finally finished their work on the game known as “Hover: Revolt of Gamers.”
The premise is simple: You along with a handful of cloned residents of Hover City must work together with a hidden gamer group to overthrow a tyrannical dictator who has banned video gaming, so basically your typical “fight the power” resistance story mixed in with the ideals of Jack Thompson. While many folks have been touting this game as the next Jet Set Radio, I would like to start off by saying that the game is nothing of the sort. While, again, it does borrow themes and elements akin to Jet Set, it manages to find its own identity while presenting a world that feels unique and original. As for the gameplay itself, well it certainly hit’s a lot of highs while keeping the lows to a minimum.
Whether you’re playing on a keyboard & mouse or with a controller, the control scheme for Hover is very simple and straightforward. You can run and sprint from point A to B, jump and bounce off the ground like you’re on a trampoline, grind on rails and perform tricks with ease, and even rewind your positioning in case you screw up a huge jump. There is a bit of a learning curve, however, as jumping feels very floaty and vertical movement is a lot slower than horizontal movement. I spent a fair amount of time playing the game with both a keyboard and a controller, and I’m happy to say that control play feels nice, which is good considering that they plan to re-release this game on consoles later this year.
In terms of cosmetics, the customization options provided are disappointing. You start the game off with one of two basic looking gamer characters, and later on you’ll also be able to unlock other playable characters that you’ll meet throughout the game’s main story. The only options available to tweak your character’s appearance is a limited set of color schemes and a height slider. There’s no option to change your character’s hair, googles, shoes or outfit in general. While it makes sense in the context of the game since your playable character is a “clone” of sorts, it would have been nice to have more options that will let us stand out from other players.
The other bit of customization comes from the stats system. As players’ complete missions or find crates throughout the city, they’ll gain chips that can be equipped on a limited number of sockets, increasing speed, bounce, strength and other stats. But since a limited number of chips can be equipped, you won’t be able to max out your character on every stat category possible, which is fine for gameplay balance, but there will be times where you’ll have to readjust your chips in order to handle certain mission. With that said, having to permanently delete a chip from your sockets in order to fit in a new one in is a very bothersome gameplay mechanic. While this game does try to throw as many stat chips at you as possible from missions and exploration, it’s quite obvious that they made it this way in order to artificially increase the game’s reply value.
Gameplay and Features
So Hover is all about helping citizens out and combatting against gaming tyranny, but how does one achieve this? By racing around the city, performing tedious errands that are just as fun to do in a video game as they are in real life, showing off with cool tricks, and… of course… breaking into a highly monitored security building to hijack data centers and what not. Pretty straightforward, right?
But really, there is a lot of stuff you can see and do in the world of Hover as you traverse the city, blazing your own path with no restrictions on what missions need to be done. Like with similar open world adventure games, however, there is a main goal that needs to be completed if you want to progress the story, which will always be marked on your mission list in bold, while everything else is considered optional. But these optional missions aren’t very optional at first as you need to start building up ranks in order to proceed with main story missions, but they’re simple enough that they won’t slow down your progress.
A large part of the challenge with Hover’s gameplay is simply trying to navigate through the world as quick and effortlessly as possible, and at first, it will be a frustrating experience since you won’t have much of clue as to where most path lines and shortcuts are. Things can get even more frustrating when you’re trying to climb your way out of the slummy part of the haven district for the first time to reach the upper half, as the game doesn’t make it very clear on how to get up there, as there is a lack of a GPS system for navigating through mission. Instead it gives players a small arrow pointing you in the general direction of a marked goal. Eventually, though, once you figure out every little nook and cranny of the haven district, you’ll be able to get up and down through the city with ease, but until then, expect headaches.
A major component to Hover’s gameplay is the trick system, which is said to take inspiration from the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. Players must alternate between two types which I like to refer to as “Tricks” and “Slips.” Tricks revolve around grabs and flips, while slips revolve around grinding, sliding and wallslides. Constantly performing these moves in one category or the other will have diminishing returns, so switching back and forth between tricks and slips will allow you to keep your score high. Although, the trick system isn’t too hard to figure out, as it’s quite possible to stay in one particular area of the city that has enough rails and walls close by, which you can trick off of and keep your combo going indefinitely. While it’s certainly not that much of an issue when playing solo, I can see this becoming a problem during multiplayer matches, and it just comes off as a glaring design flaw.
Racing missions and chase missions are the bread and butter of Hover as the amount of speed you can achieve in these missions is absolutely crazy, and it’s always satisfying to figure out a new path line that will shave off a few seconds from your previous record. Plus, these are one of the few missions that are a whole lot of fun to play with friends, along with gameball matches where two teams fight over a giant ball that looks suspiciously like a Nintendo GameCube which you’ll have to chuck into a goal like in a twisted game of basketball mixed with football. While all the other missions available have a lot of variety to them, many of them can get old and repetitive very fast. Delivery missions, spy drone capture, tagging missions, etc. You’ll start to get a sense of “Been here, done that” before long.
Speaking of playing with friends: Hover features seamless drop in, drop out online play where you can select whether you want to play solo, with friends or with complete strangers, and this is all achieved through the use of P2P connections. Surprisingly enough, the netcode seems very solid as I’ve hosted and played on many connections in the past and haven’t seen many latency snags when running missions, regardless of what district I was in.
While playing around in the haven district, you can very much complete a lot of the haven missions without the need of worrying about your stats. But as the game goes on and your reach the sewers, stats become a bit more mandatory as you won’t be able to complete certain missions without them. I know this all too well as I was trying to complete Veelan’s racing mission and failed multiple times in a row. Even though I had the run down completely, I was always a few seconds shy of reaching the finish line. It also doesn’t help that Veelen will flat out tell me “Maybe your speed stat isn’t high enough.” While I understand the design process behind it all, I can’t really help that they really wanted something to artificially extend the life of the game, and they simply choose mandatory stats to do it. I would have preferred that stats would be very minsicul when completing missions and left everything up to the player’s skill, but alas, this is what they stuck with, even though some users like myself were not too fond with this change during the game’s alpha phase.
Visuals and Presentation
This game takes a lot of inspiration from many other games and movies out there, but at the same time manages to come up with unique looking characters while adding a bright, neon driven color scheme that helps to give the title its own unique appearance.
That being said: While the game is nice and colorful, I’d argue that the game actually has TOO much color. With so many bright neon lights being used, the main hubs of hover city become a bit of an eyesore after a while. I would have preferred them sticking with a few main colors to make certain parts of the city feel more distinct, rather than throwing as many colors on screen as they could. Not to mention because of all the bright colors, the NPC residents of the city sort of blend into the background, making the world feel a bit hollow.
Speaking of NPCs, the way that NPCs and story dialog are presented is very much on the shallow side as they use still images of characters while having text lines deliver underneath their portraits. While it serves its purpose well, they could have spruced it up a bit more by creating multiple still images of these NPC characters, showing off different expressions according to their personalities and the situations. I don’t know about you guys, but I would have loved to see pictures of Greendy getting angry or flustered, since she seems like the kind of girl that gets pissed off very easily. Another problem with NPCs is that they seem so sparce and lifeless whenever it comes to moving around in the city. They barely react when you bump into them and they don’t seem to care when you’re completing missions for them. Well… they do expression themselves with dialog, but you don’t get to see your efforts make an impact on the world. I know that the world of Hover is supposed to be a playground for running and jumping, but that’s all it feels like. Hover, sadly doesn’t feel like a living, breathing world.
Now for the most important part of the game’s presentation: the music. When a game take inspirations from Jet Set, many players out there are expecting the game to have a soundtrack that carries the same energy and sprit, and surprise surprise, they managed to get Hideki Naganuma on board (one of the more popular composers to work on the Jet Set series soundtrack) to include his brand of high energy, electronic funk into the game. While Hideki only composed two songs for the game, they’re incredibly good. So good, in fact, that I honestly feel like they do not belong in the game. When compared to Cédric Menendez, the main composer for the game’s soundtrack, the difference between the excitement and energy levels between their music is like night and day.
That isn’t to say that Cedric’s work on the game soundtrack isn’t good, as I’m rather found of some of his tunes including Enter the City, Wata’s Lounge and Hi-Jump, but let’s be real here… How can this…
Really keep up with this:
Cedrics work is a lot darker or jazzy while Hideki’s work is lot quicker, more energetic in comparison, and the whole thing just makes the soundtrack feel… unbalanced to say the least. While this may not be that much of an issue for many, for me it’s a real conflict for the game’s atmosphere, and I wish they could have gotten another composer that could at least match up to Hideki’s level of goodness.
While I don’t consider this game to be a “spiritual successor” to Jet Set Radio like many other reviewers claim it to be, it does take the themes from Jet Set and works them well enough into this game in order to create its own unique spin on the hip-hop street style that made Jet Set so loved. While I have some issues with the overall presentation, the gameplay is exciting enough to keep on playing all the way up until the endgame and running around the city will only become more enjoyable once you’ve learned the lay of the land. So if you’re a fan of Jet Set and Mirror’s Edge, Hover will certainly be worth a look.