As I walked around the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center during PAX East this year, I saw a great many games. From small titles made by developers I had never heard of, to the bombastic fanfare and excitement surrounding projects by the usual powerhouse publishers, there was something for everyone. One of my surprises of the show was called Livelock, with publisher Perfect World taking a crack at their first non-free-to-play game. My demo back then was enough to pique my interest, compelling me to give the final product a look when it finally released last week. Unfortunately, Livelock fell far short of the excitement it instilled in me back in April.

Livelock takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. When a global extinction event became imminent, humanity found a way to upload people’s consciousness into robot bodies in the hopes of protecting what makes them human. With not enough time to upload every person into their own personal chassis, humanity’s population was transferred into three cores in New York, Tokyo, and Moscow. When the event hit Earth, however, it was far stronger than anticipated, decimating the failsafes that were put in place and causing many minds that had already been uploaded into robots to go mad. However, one failsafe not on Earth—an AI-driven satellite orbiting the planet—is still intact, and has taken it upon itself to find the Capital Intellects, three long-dormant prototype robots that served as the blueprints for the transference process. With players assuming the role of one of these Intellects, they must now travel to the remnants of each core city and collect pieces of a key to a last bastion called Eden in order to salvage what’s left of humanity.

Honestly, folks, these are the reviews I dread the most. Livelock isn’t necessarily a bad game or a broken one—it’s just boring. Bland beyond belief, Livelock doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, and never really became fun as I grinded my way across its two dozen stages. It’s a top-down shooter with RPG elements, and what’s most painful to see is the potential it held before ending up as something so vanilla.

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A prime example of this was the story. Sure, the post-apocalyptic scene isn’t terribly original, but it can be entertaining when done well. The problem here is that the game focuses so hard on throwing more and more robots at you—filling the screen to the point the game painfully lags in some instances—that it never properly fleshes out the details on how the world came to be as it is (or as it was). The only glimmer of character development we get in-game is the occasional quip from each of the three Capital Intellects, and audio logs scattered around the world that simply don’t provide enough background or go into enough detail.

Speaking of the world, levels also fail to capture the imagination. Considering the three cities the game takes place in, the game could’ve done so much more to make it feel like we were actually traipsing through their ruins, instead of just generic streets, fields, tunnels, or tundra. Yes, Russia has snow—but how about the Kremlin? Show us the Empire State Building in New York. Give us something to connect us to these places.

At least there are glimmers of creativity on display with the enemy types. Each has built new homes in the ruins of humanity that have unique themes to them, ones which are based around the enemies themselves. In Russia, the humanoid-like robots have built a village; in Tokyo, an insect hive houses bug-looking bots; and vermin-esque foes have carved out a rat’s nest in what remains of New York. A particular bright spot comes from many of the end level bosses, as they all aren’t just beefed-up versions of lesser enemies. Instead, they show some personality and attack with unique tactics, providing a welcome level of satisfaction upon defeating them.

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The only time it feels like the developers behind Livelock were truly inspired, though, were in the Capital Intellects themselves. There’s the tank in Vanguard, the damage-per-second specialist in Hex, and the support in Catalyst. The trio have distinct personalities that you catch glimpses of in beautifully animated cutscenes that, again, had me wanting to see more of this world. Combat-wise, each one has a half-dozen weapons to choose from (you can take any three into battle at once) along with special powers that grow stronger as you level up (until you hit the level-30 cap). There are even some modest customization options, including colors, robot heads, and capes that you can mix and match.

Livelock also falls short in the challenge department. A single playthrough on normal difficulty clocks in at about four hours, and will put you right up against the edge of the level cap. There’s no penalty for dying beyond resetting your multiplier, which only really affects you if you’re going for high scores in each level’s online leaderboards. The high score feature does at least offer a nice arcade-like touch, giving Livelock some much-needed replayability beyond three-player campaign co-op with friends. Finally, there’s an endless mode where you take on wave after wave of enemies, but it’s as generic as every other Horde clone we’ve seen over the years.

Livelock works as a top-down shooter—you fire away at enemies and they blow up and you can do this endlessly to your heart’s content. The three Capital Intellects you play with feel satisfying to use, and carry enough personality to make you grow ever so slightly attached to them. With such a lackluster world, uninspired story, and severe lack of challenge, however, you’d have to be an absolute top-down shooter fanatic—or desperate for something cheap to play—to add this to your collection.

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Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment • Developer: Tuque Games • ESRB Date: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.30.16
5.0
Livelock is as generic a top-down shooter as you can get. The locations you find yourself fighting through, the enemies you take on, and the story itself come together in a package that works, but one which fails to inspire any semblance of fun.
The Good Single-player leaderboards and three-player co-op offer a modicum of replayability.
The Bad The story, gameplay, and challenge never quite reached their potential. Lots of lag.
The Ugly You can figure out who the “surprise” bad guy is just from the voice acting in the opening scene.
Livelock is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Perfect World Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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