Way of the Gun: Receiver is a so-so game that treats guns as complex, mechanical tools
Guns are complicated, tricky things. That complexity is manageable once you’ve spent some time learning to shoot, just as the insides of a computer or the engine of a car begins to make sense once you know what you’re doing, but most games assume your character is a master of every weapon they lay their hands on. It’s a proficiency with guns that we take for granted in our protagonists and never earn as players.
Which is why Receiver is such an interesting experiment: The game forces you to understand your gun, and apply that knowledge in the thick of battle. The result is an uneven game with a brilliant central mechanic.
Finally getting to an interesting game
Receiver has been available for a while, but was only recently placed on Steam; you can read the fascinating story about the game’s travels through the Greenlight process if you’d like. The game was created in a 7-day FPS challenge, which explains some of the rough patches. It’s still more interesting than most shooters on the market.
You begin each round with one of a few different guns, a varying amount of ammunition, and a goal to find tapes scattered around the randomized levels. The graphics are blocky and bland, and it’s easy to get lost in the somewhat drab environments. Death comes easily, and then it’s back to the beginning with you. I have yet to “win” a round.
The fun comes from the gun in your possession, and the precision in which that gun has been simulated. You need to hit a button to remove the clip to check for the number of remaining bullets. You need to hit a button to work the slide and put a round in the chamber. You need to remember to remove the safety.
Reloading is a different process if you’re carrying a revolver. You can hit a button to see a menu with all the possible button presses, with the appropriate ones for your situation highlighted. Once you get the swing of things you can fire at one of the floating drones, drop your magazine, replace the magazine, work the slide, and continue firing in one smooth motion.
You may need to put more bullets in your magazine, one at a time. You run by tapping the W button in time with your foot steps, and you can only run when your gun is pointed down. The faster you move, the more likely you are to encounter a turret without having the time to react. One bullet ends your round, so slow and steady wins the race.
Whatever you feel about guns, good or bad, they’re tools. They can be used to protect or to harm, or to have fun plinking at some cans. They’re also machines that work via a series of mechanical and chemical principles. Anyone has gone to the range knows the amount of time it takes to build up the muscle memory necessary to operate a gun with a high degree of precision, and those of us who don’t spend much time around guns know how awkward firing one can be without the proper practice and training.
Receiver isn’t a great game, but it’s a wonderful way to get a small sense of using a gun as a mechanical object. Even aiming and firing feels good in the game, rarely have I played a game where the central mechanic feels so satisfying and unique. Game designers spend so much time dealing with what guns can do that they usually ignore what they are, and Receiver is a great example of going in the other direction.
It's worth paying the $5 to play with a series of virtual guns, and to master the complicated moves that are required to keep your weapon loaded and ready to fire. I'd love to see these concepts fleshed out in a more well-rounded game.