- Platform: PC
- Developer: Rusto
- Release Date: 10th October 2016
- Disclosure: Review code granted by developer.
On the surface Spareware could easily be mistaken for a generic top-down shooter. However, several interesting gameplay features and design ideas help Spareware stand out from the crowd. Set across three cities in the year 2186, heavily militarized robots must fight to save mankind from itself, slaughtering countless humans in doing so. Players can go solo or team up with up to three local teammates in co-op.
Spareware has no problem throwing players in at the deep end. After starting the game you’re given a brief control list and then you’re expected to just dive right in. This is one of the major issues with Spareware, it doesn’t tell you anything. In fact an entire game mechanic, the fuel mechanic, is never explained outside of loading screen hints. It was incredibly frustrating playing without much knowledge for my first hour or so.
When you are able to figure out the game’s systems they’re actually quite refreshing. Character customization has a decent level of depth, allowing you to change equipment and invest in basic skill trees. Depending on the level of equipment you select before deploying you are charged an amount of fuel, a resource you can replenish by collecting fuel cells in missions. This limited resource adds a real risk to failing a mission as you may end up having to approach the same mission again, but with less gear on account of a fuel shortage.
Fuel can be collected by completing side quests or by destroying environmental objects for fuel cell drops. Side quests will often offer other rewards, like unlocking a piece of equipment. The variety of equipment on offer is surprisingly expansive. Weapons in particular feature a lot of variety in Spareware, with each weapon feeling different and some having really interesting design ideas behind them. The ‘eBolas’ weapon is one of the most fun weapons I encountered, it lets the player fire two bolts of electricity that create an arc of electricity between each other, damaging enemies unlucky enough to be in it’s path.
The last facet of customization is the skill tree. Each time you level up you gain one ability point to invest in the skill tree. This allows you to unlock abilities like an area heal or mines, but also allows you to attain passive side-grades that boost stats like damage and clip size. These skill trees are simple, but engaging enough to keep the player’s interest and to offer real changes during gameplay.
With regards to control there are some issues with the PC controls. Weapon guidelines felt very loose to me, it was difficult to aim precise shots over medium to long ranges. I attempted to play solo with a controller, but found the game would glitch and spawn two players even when playing solo with a gamepad.
That said local multiplayer seemed to work a treat. A friend and I sat for a couple hours and attempted to clear the first city in the game, Helsinki. We struggled at first on account of the lack of tutorial the game gives, we were confused by the mechanics of play and control. Friendly fire cannot be turned off in Spareware, at first this was entertaining. When you can’t realistically equip certain weapons without damagin your allies however, that began to annoy us and eventually led us to quit the game entirely.
I continued through the solo campaign myself and enjoyed every minute of it. Despite some issues with control and mechanics Spareware managed to hold my attention with it’s RPG-like progression system and fast-paced moment-to-moment gameplay. The visuals, while tacky, enhanced the rather audacious on-screen action. Enemies exploding into chunks of meat as I tear through them with my eBolas gun was extremely satisfying.
Spareware is no masterpiece, bogged down by an inability to convey it’s mechanics and visually unimpressive on the whole. That said the fast-paced combat combined with interesting weapon design and a simple progression system kept me hooked. The game succeeds in being a great time. Co-Op can become frustrating after too long trying to succeed, but failing on account of friendly fire. However, for the most part it’s a fun experience to tear through waves of enemies with friends with some crazy weaponry and skills. I have to recommend Spareware as a fun experience that you could sink maybe eight or so hours into, either on your own or with friends. It’s a silly sci-fi romp that scratches the top-down, twin-stick, bullet hell itch.