Back when it was just a regular planet, the indigenous peoples of the broken planet discovered that the its core generates Aleph, a mysterious energy that gave the inhabitants the ability to bend space. Bringing untold technological advancement, an extractor was built to tunnel to the planet’s core but, upon getting there, the Aleph caused a chain reaction that literally broke the planet into pieces. Some of the inhabitants, abandoning technology and adopting a peaceful culture, chose to stay in settlements dotted about the planet. Now you have to defend what’s left from human invaders in this four player cooperative third person shooter.
Aleph is basically a mcguffin, just a plot device that defies any real definition beyond “it does stuff somehow,” at least in the plot contained in the game so far. Reading too much into the game’s lore uncovers awkward sentences that begin “using their powerful science, they accelerated their evolution…” and a lack of explanation for sci-fi concepts that edges its genre closer to science fantasy. The lore can be quite interesting – there’s even an animated comic – but it’s a little rough around the edges.
The main story is presented through cutscenes that have a remarkably high production value, great graphics and mostly good voice acting, though basically every cut contains excessive shaky cam followed by a quick zoom on whoever is speaking at the time. It follows Harec, a previously peaceful inhabitant of the planet who is putting together a team to defend it against invaders from Earth after they murdered his entire village. This team is made up of the playable characters, currently sitting at seven in total.
They are entertaining enough, even if their actual designs are a little absurd – the woman whose dress stops above her crotch which is covered entirely by what seem to be tattoos, for example. There’s also a few archetypes you’ll recognise, like a big Russian guy, a gunslinger-looking guy, and another scantily clad woman, but they are interesting enough and voiced well enough to bookend the levels.
Between those cutscenes, you will be fighting a lot of enemies while completing various objectives. The objectives tend to consist of defending things while they charge, killing elite enemies to gain aleph and using it to overload something in the level, that kind of thing. There are a few novel mechanics, such as in one of the later levels where there is a sludge like enemy that, upon melee contact, pulls you into a small arena where you fight a shadowy version of your character, where if it beats you it becomes a larger, spikier sludge monster that is an instant kill at melee. Despite this, the vast majority of enemies are the same few types, all of them bullet sponges, and they spawn almost endlessly.
Each of the characters has different weaponry and skills – Harec, for example, has a rifle and can “stalk” enemies by teleporting onto a wall to avoid detection and shoot his prey, while Lycus Dion has short range Shotguns and a shield. Some abilities have a cool down between uses whereas some are regenerated via other means, such as Lycus’ shield being replenished via running, which actually means you can keep it going by running with it still active. Each character play quite differently, adding some variety to the game.
The combat itself is quite good, the controls are tight and gameplay is smooth, but the cover system is a mixed bag, as it is forced upon you. In addition to losing health remarkably quickly considering the bullet sponge nature of the enemies, aleph makes people visible through walls when they are stressed, and when you are not in cover your character quickly becomes stressed, which can only be fixed by going back into cover. This means that if you want to get somewhere without being seen, you have to go from cover to cover, which is a little dull and slows down the already quite sluggish traversal.
Melee combat is at least more interesting. There are three actions to take in melee combat: punch, grapple, and dodge. It’s rock, paper, scissors, so punch interrupts grapple, grapple beats dodge, and dodge avoids punches. This works quite well, except that you will always start with a punch, because it interrupts a grapple which is an instant kill. Punching takes multiple hits to kill and dodging doesn’t deal damage or avoid a grapple. Other than this, anticipating your opponent’s next move feels tense, but if you make the mistake of not punching against a grapple the instant kill can be frustrating.
There is also an antagonist mode, which puts you on the team of the AI fighting against the raiders, though still using the same characters. It’s interesting and results in a more challenging match for the team, but for the antagonist often just feels like an uneven battle. While playing as the antagonist you will level up your antagonist rank, which blueprints will require before you can craft them.
At the moment, there is a prologue available for free which contains a tutorial and a mission, as well as a four mission first chapter available for £7.99. There are also four(!) in-game currencies: gold is won by playing and used to recruit characters and build weapons from blueprints, which are also acquired by playing. Character and faction points are both used to unlock cards to customise your character’s stats and are also earned by playing. You have to pick one of four options at the end of each level, which makes earning these things slow and customising your character laborious.
The fourth currency is Mercury points and it’s purchased with real money. It can be used to unlock characters if you don’t want to earn the gold and can be used to unlock skins. This is where things get silly, as while the cheapest pack of mercury contains 550 for £3.99 and the cheapest skin is for Lycus at 250 Mercury, but the most expensive skin costs 2500. This just so happens to be the largest pack of Mercury available, coming in at £15.99, which is an absurd price for a skin in a game, literally twice the price of the pack of four levels.
There will also be three more chapters, currently just marked with a teaser poster and “coming soon” on the level select menu. As there are currently only five proper levels (the tutorial does not count), they get dull relatively quickly as there is no variety. The cutscenes need to be skipped each time, which involves a three second countdown then an inexplicable five second wait before it actually skips, then it often goes to another cutscene that has the be skipped again.
Raiders has some interesting ideas, but slips in its execution. While the gunplay is solid and the graphics and voice acting are both good, the repetition of the missions combined with the need to replay them for what little character customisation there is quickly takes the shine from it all. What remains is a middling game that misses its potential.
Version Tested: PS4