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August 2022

Risk System

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Publisher: Hidden Trap
Developer: Newt Industries
Release Date: 2022-01-11


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PS4 Review - 'Risk System'

by Cody Medellin on July 11, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Risk System is a horizontal shoot-'em-up with a unique core mechanic where you boost your ship's firepower by performing stunts and weaving between enemies' fire.

Some players expect that a new game in a well-worn genre needs to offer something new or something that hasn't been seen in a long time. Critics aren't immune to this, as we often look for that one different thing to make a title stand out from a sea of others. There comes a title that eschews something new in favor of doing something well enough, and that's what we're getting with Risk System.

In the distant future, humanity has figured out how to use a device called the Dimensional Gate to replicate almost anything. It leads to a long period of peace that is eradicated once energy beings come through the gate and take over the replicated materials. To make things worse, the parasites emit a force that takes over the minds of the humans controlling anything that was made from these replicated materials. Enter Alys, one of the rare humans who seem immune to this mind-controlling force. Piloting one of the few old but functional ships that were made without the use of replicated materials, she's sent on a mission to destroy the parasite forces, including her former friends, who have now been infected.

Most people will dismiss the story. Aside from the opening crawl when the game boots up, the cut scenes throw characters at you, and you have no time to care about them or their plight. The other information contained elsewhere in the game helps little when it comes to fleshing everyone out, and the presence to skip cut scenes shows that there is some awareness in how most people will receive these scenes. That said, the game has two endings, and those character portraits are done well enough that players who value characters will find it to be pleasing enough.

Risk System plays out as a side-scrolling shooter that straddles the line between traditional and bullet hell. The number of enemies and bullets on-screen are about equal, instead of slanting toward either direction. Your ship automatically fires whenever you're in line with an enemy, and while there is an option to make it more traditional where you manually fire your gun, it frees up your fingers for your ship's other functions. Doing a barrel roll is essential to surviving, and there are two face buttons dedicated to this; one performs a downward roll, and the other performs an upward roll. Having a simpler system where the barrel roll can be executed with one button and a direction would be nice. In the heat of the moment, you can move in one direction but hit the button to roll the opposite way, and that nullifies the roll in the process.

There's also a button to unleash the barrier breaker, the game's equivalent of a bomb that eradicates simple enemies on-screen, deals damage to bosses, and provides you with a brief window of invincibility. You have an unlimited supply of them, but they can only be unleashed once your barrier breaker meter is full. The meter replenishes slowly, but to fill it faster, you'll need to graze bullets.

The mechanic isn't that new, as several bullet hell shooters in the past have used it as a means of scoring bonus points. This acts in a similar manner but is more multifunctional. Aside from filling up your barrier breaker meter faster, staying close to enemy bullets means being able to dish out more powerful bullets of your own to compensate for the overall lack of power-ups. Killing enemies with these powered-up bullets also produces essential health icons, so you can take three hits before dying. Compared to other modern shooters, dying is a bigger deal because you'll restart at the beginning of the level when you die instead of respawning in place.

The game alleviates this a bit. Dying in a boss fight has you respawning at the beginning of the fight instead of the beginning of the level. Those who aren't used to classic shooters will find this to be challenging. The boss fights also come off a bit differently than in modern shooters, as they all revert to patterns, something that classic shooter boss fights did often. It means that the best way to deal with bosses is to keep retrying to see that pattern, but those fights are still devious enough that you'll enjoy them once you get past so many close frustrating deaths.

All of this comes together to make a shooter that seems more strategic than expected. You wait to pick up health items so as to not reset the score multiplier. You determine when is the best time to unleash the barrier breaker in hopes of gaining another one quickly. You figure out how to lead lock-on cursors so they fire onto enemies instead of yourself. It's neat and something that we'd like the developers to expand upon should a sequel emerge.

There's little else to the game once you defeat it the first time. Going for higher ranks by replaying levels opens up the final boss, so you can get that aforementioned alternate ending. There are also online leaderboards, something that feels essential for a modern shooter. The extra Trophaeum mode is a time attack mode that tasks you with finishing the levels as quickly as possible. It would've been nice to see more modes and options, but it isn't all that bad when you consider the low price of $9.99.

The overall presentation is quite good. Graphically, the game goes for a 32-bit sprite look, akin to something like a Saturn or GBA game but cleaned up to accommodate the higher resolution. All of the alien craft look nice and animate well, while the bullets and other attacks are easy to read. Backgrounds look gorgeous with some good parallax effects and some wave distortion in a fiery stage, making it hit well with retro fans. Sonically, the music is fine but forgettable. The vocal performances are good, even if some of the lines don't make for great-sounding dialogue.

Risk System is well done once you know what you're getting into. The game is tough compared to even the busiest of bullet hell shooters, but the combination of infinite lives with no respawning gets you acclimated to the classic shoot-'em-up tactic of memorization. The focus on projectile grazing and knowing when to deploy your barrier breaker makes the game feel strategic. Even though the experience doesn't last that long, an alternate storyline path and online leaderboards are enough to keep you motivated to continue once the credits roll for the first time. Shooting fans who want something more cerebral will find this to be right up their alley.

Score: 8.0/10

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