The apocalypse has long captured our collective imagination. Stories taking place after the end of the world aren't too unusual, but Livelock takes a different approach. In this twin-stick co-op shooter for consoles and PC, humanity has been wiped out and a team of robots wants to bring it back.
One live to lock
In computing terms, a livelock resembles a deadlock, in which competing processes prevent each other from completion. According to Wikipedia, a deadlock happens when "the states of the processes involved in the livelock constantly change with regard to one another, none progressing."
That functions as a metaphor for the state of our world in this game's dark future. All life on earth has been wiped out by a solar flare or something. Humanity detected the impending disaster and prepared as best it could. Rather than leaving the solar system as you might expect, they developed a method of recording human minds and emulating them on computers. Way easier, right?
A non-human computer intelligence known as Satcom was tasked with watching over the stored human minds, waiting for a day that life could somehow be restored to them. But the machines that Satcom created to maintain the planet surface have rebelled.
Now our protector has awoken three former humans and given them robot bodies. Their job is to stop the competing robotic factions occupying the dead world and discover the encrypted keys to Eden, a hidden location where humanity will somehow be restored.
Choose your robot
Livelock is a twin-stick shooter that supports online co-op for up to three players. Local co-op is regrettably not supported. That's almost always a mistake with games of this genre, but this is the rare twin-stick shooter that actually lets players roam wherever they want in the level rather than being tethered to the same screen. So the lack of local is a trade-off.
A three-player game needs at least three characters to play, and that's exactly how many Livelock has. The character selection interface could be a bit better, though. Instead of just naturally switching back and forth between the protagonists whenever you start or join a game, you have to select the Machine Lab option from the main menu.
From there, players can choose between five character slots. Why have more slots than there are characters? None of them have alternative development paths, so there's literally no reason anyone would use more than three slots – unless publisher Perfect World releases DLC characters down the line. Even then, the "slot" interface makes less sense than traditional methods of character selection.
Awkward user interface aside, Livelock's arsenal of characters are actually fun to play and quite distinct from one another. Multiple players can use the same robot if they like. Here's a quick rundown:
- Hex: The DPS class, he moves the fastest out of everyone and can even become invisible for a short time. Hex carries a sniper rifle and mines.
- Vanguard: The tank class. This hulking bruiser specializes in melee combat, but also wields long-ranged weapons. He can generally outlive the other classes when things get hectic.
- Catalyst: The support class. Catalyst is a female robot with thighs large enough to fit in with the ladies of Street Fighter IV and V (ugh, those monstrous thighs). Her main gun damages enemies and heals other players, so I used it almost exclusively in my playthrough. She also has the extremely useful ability to drop turrets.
Upgrading your tech
Whenever you beat a campaign level, your character gains experience. Every level unlocks a new weapon, "Function" (powers that have cooldowns after use), modifier for functions, or passive ability. Another UI issue pops up when leveling up and unlocking new items, though. The game shows an icon for the newly unlocked thing, but it doesn't display the item name or let you click on it.
We often returned to the lobby to look for the new equipment and couldn't tell what we'd unlocked. Passive abilities aren't even mentioned in the lobby/equipment screen. If you really want to know what you just unlocked, you have to completely leave the game and check the Progression screen from the main menu. That's silly.
Characters begin with one weapon, but can eventually unlock six in total. You can only carry three into battle, pressing the Y button to switch between them. Each weapon can be upgraded several times using Carbon found in boxes and dropped by enemies. Fully upgrading all of your weapons over the course of the game won't be a problem.
That said, Carbon and other pickups are not shared between players. And worse, they disappear from the screen faster than they should. You basically have to be close to an enemy when it dies or a box when it's opened, otherwise the items will have disappeared by the time you get there. In a co-op game that allows players to be screens apart, the quickly disappearing items tend to discourage splitting up.
Some tougher enemies and bosses also drop visual customization items. Each character has ten unique heads, chassis colors, and capes to discover. Some items are even sort of humorous, such as a cape that's actually an emergency blanket and a head for Catalyst that sports a robotic beehive hairdo and glasses. These decorations really help players stand out from one another.
Livelock's campaign consists of 21 levels spread across three chapters. Each chapter focuses on a robotic faction. The first group consists of robots primarily made out of scrap and junk; the second are sleeker and more futuristic to match the ruined Tokyo setting, and the third have a stereotypical Russian appearance. In total, one playthrough should take 5-6 hours to complete.
As players progress through the campaign, some of the story unfolds via conversation with NPCs. The current faction leader generally huffs and puffs, whereas Satcom mostly provides directions about objectives. Players will eventually encounter a recurring boss named Alpha who is sort of akin to the Warden in Halo 5. He has important information for you, but he'd rather fight (for no real reason) than spill the beans before the third act.
Alpha's voice actor is good. I can't say the same for Satcom, who sounds both condescending and sedated. Every time he speaks, I just want to punch him. And the late-game twist involving Satcom isn't helped by his unlikable disposition.
Each mission has three difficulty levels. When playing in co-op, you might as well play on Hard. The only penalty for dying is a smaller score bonus at the end of the level. Some levels can be failed though, if players don't successfully complete an objective (like defending a target).
Still, the lack of a meaningful death penalty hurts the game a bit. Score is meaningless outside of the leaderboards. If the game gave a letter grade based on score, dying would have a greater impact and we'd have more incentive to replay levels as well.
Open Protocol mode
On top of Campaign mode, Livelock also offers Open Protocol mode. When we first spoke with developer Tuque Games, we were told that Open Protocol would feature procedurally generated missions. Progress would carry over between the two modes, so Open Protocol would greatly extend the life of the game. It sounded a lot like the procedural levels of Helldivers, one of my favorite twin-stick shooters.
Sometime between January and launch, things must have changed. Open Protocol offers exactly one mission: a Survival mode. This can be played solo or in co-op, with separate leaderboards for 2- and 3-player games. Players simply try to last as long as they can while battling increasingly tough enemies. The longer you last, the more bosses it starts to throw at you.
Survival is fun, but flawed. You don't get any XP or Carbon (the upgrade currency) in this mode, so it's essentially a waste of time from a progression standpoint. Weapon and item unlocks from the Campaign apply to Survival, but not vice versa. Considering that players may not reach the max experience level of 30 in a single Campaign playthrough (I was 27), it would be nice if we could grind the rest out in Survival rather than having to replay Campaign.
Also, the game inexplicably has only one Survival map. Considering the wealth of unique environments found in Campaign, it makes little sense not to spend the minimal effort to add Survival maps based on those terrains.
Achievements and Audio logs
Livelock sports 50 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. These include beating the game on each difficulty (though you can just get them all on Hard), several co-op Achievements, and reaching Level 30 with each character. Hitting 30 three times will necessitate playing through the game at least three times in total, although grinding the final boss mission in co-op might be a faster option.
Five really annoying Achievements involve finding audio logs, the game's collectibles. The audio log implementation is just terrible. If you don't listen to one right when you get it, you won't have another opportunity to listen to it. Since Livelock is a co-op game, you may be mid-conversation with a friend when you find an audio log and thus be unable to listen to it. Practically every game with collectible audio logs lets players listen to them later from a menu.
To make matters worse, there isn't even a way to track how many logs are in a level or whether you found them. Unless the developers correct this in a future update, finding all of the logs will be a complete pain.
I wanted Livelock to be the Xbox One's answer to Helldivers. A hard sci-fi cooperative twin-stick shooter with both a real campaign and procedurally generated levels would have been amazing. Sadly, the procedural levels didn't make the cut and there are too many game design and UI issues for this one to stack up to Helldivers.
That said, it's not a bad game! The campaign featured a great mix of levels and terrains, with lots of colors and visual details keeping things fresh as players progress. The characters complement each other perfectly, which makes for a great cooperative experience. The graphics themselves look really nice on Xbox, too (other than some frame rate hitches and the lack of Vsync).
Livelock succeeds as a story-based co-op shooter. It just needs some tweaks and a little more content to sit with the best in the genre.
- Three distinct characters that work well together
- The campaign is a lot of fun.
- Great looking environments with lots of variety
- Good character customization options
- Copious screen tearing on Xbox One due to lack of Vsync
- Audio logs can't be replayed or cataloged.
- Survival mode is too limited and doesn't impact the main game.
- 2D cut scenes between chapters look terrible.
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