Receiver 2

released on Apr 14, 2020

Receiver 2 simulates every internal part of each firearm based on manufacturer schematics and gunsmithing resources. Learn exactly how each sidearm works, including how to load and unload them, clear malfunctions, and operate their safety features.

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tap, rack, bang.
essentially an extended exercise in bullet meditation. its arcade-esque structure belies how much rigor and alertness receiver 2 demands of its players regardless of how uncompromising the randomized threats can be. most games become faster as you improve, but receiver 2 instead gets slower; refining your play here often means being methodical, taking your time, steadfastly running through your keyboard rituals as though they were rosary prayer beads, surveying environments carefully, and retaining a stalwart level of composure against the odds. brilliant map design evokes a constant dread & claustrophobia by endlessly looping hallways of industrial boiler rooms, penthouse apartments, and construction scaffolding, suggesting both subconscious impermanence and familiarity ('you' have had gunfights here before, sometime, somewhere else). you're thirty floors up in this intensely alienating, inescapable nightmare realm and the only one who can save yourself is you. and things continue in this genuinely frightening way until you learn to start flipping the script and turning the stringent limitations of its level design into opportunity. whether that means having a quick exit plan between floors, shimmying across ledges to avoid detection, or bolting and jumping through a window to avoid a barrage of turret fire. this isn't even yet digging into the intensely granular gun mechanics - the long and short of it is that by so sternly forcing players to abide by its ruleset, receiver 2's simulacrum is one of the sharpest games to ever transpose ideas of mindfulness onto a set of mechanics. a good few too many games about mental health only demand faux-resilience through narrative affect or through memorizing sequences of buttons in simplistic twitch platforming fashion, but receiver 2's interweaving of constant repetition and punishing failure reveals a strict & cohesive prescription and regimen: your mind and body have to be in sync if you're gonna stand any real shot out there.
tap, rack, bang.
generally speaking, in martial arts, a weapon is an extension of your body. it's cliche, but holds true. the only way to master a sword is to consider it as a limb. and in other games this is, i would argue, felt as a guiding philosophy. thinking and problem-solving is abstracted across these body-oriented mechanics. lavish one-button reload animations in games have conditioned players into seeing a gun as an extension of the player; i've argued in the past that leon in resident evil 4 is a particularly good example of this. a rifle to leon is as central to his kit as a knife, a grenade, a herb, a roundhouse kick, all executed with more or less the same mechanical apparatus.
tap, rack, bang.
receiver 2 brings guns and mental health to the forefront, but it shrewdly elides the easy question or metaphor regarding the grisly culture surrounding firearms in the united states to instead focus on your simulated gun as an extension of your mind and the implications of that idea in a diseased sociopolitical climate. reloading has been calibrated across not just one key, but several, and each gun will have different quirks or tics to master in this regard. revolvers are simple and reliable, but slower to reload and less equipped to deal with multiple threats, whereas the automatic pistols have more complex inputs in tandem with more versatility, but similarly present more opportunities to malfunction (and yes, your guns will jam in multiple different ways - good luck diagnosing and treating that while threats have their watchful eyes on you). likewise, dozens of other minor nuances are present: a colt m1911 has a safety switch, but when using a glock that same key is utilized to turn the glock's full-auto feature on, so holstering unsafely with a glock you attempted to make safe means your thigh is about to eat two or three bullets. without weapon acumen you are every bit as likely to kill or incapacitate yourself as a turret or drone is likely to gore you.
tap, rack, bang.
the central structure of receiver 2 revolves around the collection of analog tapes concerning firearms history, media representations of guns, common logical and emotional fallacies, and tips for maintaining a more lucid mind. these tapes are randomized and don't explicitly spell out their associations given how wildly varying they can be, but its lessons and mantras all hone in on a few key ideas which are subsequently internalized over the unfolding hours. the act of physically pointing and shooting has been entirely stripped of context and weight - what has this gratuitousness and gratification done to us? we live in a fractured environment which has the potential to fracture ourselves in turn - how can we safeguard ourselves against these negative influences? just as there are rules in place for the safe operation of a firearm, so too are there rules for the exercise of one's mind. and if you can safely train to have a mind impervious to adversity, you can begin to survive and aid others in survival.
tap, rack, bang.
receiver 2 is mechanically, narratively, and artistically sympatico in a way very few games have achieved. its prescription of an analog remedy for the digitized nightmare we've slowly come to inhabit over the past couple of decades is novel and commendable, regardless of a couple of minor issues i have with the game's prose (that said you will find no other game which explicitly draws a parallel between the birth/subsequent expansion of the universe and a chambered round shot in the dark). and it is a game presented with total earnestness and clarity regarding its subject matter. few sequels expand on the core concept as meaningfully as receiver 2 - a third game would be redundant, but its ending gracefully reminds us that the work we've set in motion doesn't end with our investment in these abstracted life-or-death scrambles. we break free, and we are made to live with the lessons we have slowly accumulated and grasped. "perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time". excellent stuff.
tap, rack, bang.
your mind's eye sharpens.

an expanded version of the novel concept that the first game had, which honestly..... i mean its what i asked for. the first game was a barebones idea that was cool but didnt really amount to much else, but this REALLY expands it. its just a shame that the difficulty is a bit artificial at times, especially with the whole "every time you die you get thrown back to the previous level" system, which is piss annoying.

Gun mechanics are kinda neat for a little bit.

CW: Light discussion of suicide
When you think about it, it is a little odd how uniform the controls for guns are across games. It’s not even limited to shooters - any game where a gun is in your hands for more than a minute or two will probably have you (on keyboard and mouse) shooting with left click, aiming with right click, and reloading with R. It’s so commonplace that games that dispense with this control scheme tend to stick out in your memory as One Of The Things That Game Does. To be fair, Receiver 2 does still bring back some of what I just mentioned - you shoot with left mouse, aim with right mouse, and R… kind of reloads? Well, it racks the slide. It’s a fairly minor part of reloading given that you don’t do it every time, but it counts. Depending on how you want to break it down (and the state that your gun is in) there are several additional steps, but don’t worry, those all have buttons too, separate buttons.
One of the interesting things about having to press forty goddamn buttons to reload your gun is that it becomes a kind of meditative practice. If you’re able to avoid going “fuck this” after shooting yourself in the leg on three consecutive reload attempts, you begin to develop muscle memory. This is usually a good thing, but you will have to adapt to different guns or you will go to put your Glock on safety and shoot yourself in the leg in full-auto. This isn’t all about the buttons you press, though, because Receiver 1 had fucky controls too, and this isn’t a review of Receiver 1.
Receiver 2 takes things to the next level in a number of ways - the most obvious is that the game has actual textures now (instead of vaguely gesturing in the direction of “graphics”), but there are also more guns, more tapes, and additional mechanics. Receiver 2 is about diligence. Better textures and lighting means those turrets are better able to blend into the background. More guns means you need to remember additional quirks for each gun. More mechanics means that you can no longer just autopilot once you’ve figured the game out - bullets will richochet, negligent discharges will happen. You will need to listen to the tapes to figure out if it’s safe, or if -
I also mentioned shooting yourself in the leg. This will happen. A lot. It happens significantly less frequently as you get the rhythm of the game, and then you will get the Single-Action Army and you will remember what shooting yourself in the leg is like. I said it’s a game about diligence - the tapes are not joking about understanding the lethality of the tool and "anchoring yourself in the moment". It is not about autopiloting, it is about understanding the process so thoroughly that you can make the correct decision under pressure without hesitation.
So what are all those other tapes about? Why does the dude always sound like he's about to cry? While it’s not very clear if the Receivers are a cult of some kind, they’re at least some kind of movement dedicated to fighting The Threat, a nigh-supernatural force that preys on unsteady or unfocused minds. When its effects are at their worst, this can result in the Receiver taking their own life... and this is where my feelings on the game’s themes become a little mixed. Suicidal people are generally treated with dignity in the game and are still granted agency in its story, despite the influence of “The Threat” on their decisions, but mixing in lore elements when talking about actual suicide feels a touch wrong, even if the message is generally right. It does help the themes of the game come full circle - themes that initially only sound like they’re about a spooky ghost that places turrets everywhere, but transform with time into warnings about taking care of your mental health. The Threat Echoes - another new game mechanic - are also a bit indelicate unless you read the reward(?) tapes afterward (they don’t automatically play) where their purpose is made clear: highlighting how easy it is to lose sight of the people who value you and your company when things go south.
It’s not a perfect way to send this message, but it’s very clear the developers put a lot of care in and are sincere about it, and I do think it makes a lot of good smaller points on the way to painting its grander picture. It’s an interesting message to attach to an extremely mechanically unique game, and - in addition to wishing more people played it - I wish there was more exploration of the themes it contains, because I do think there’s a lot to talk about that’s just being left on the table when Receiver 2 does find its way into the conversation.

Receiver 2 is The Witness for gun people, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

I beat level five with a cowboy gun I'm gonna cum