Hardware: Rivals is the latest entry in the increasingly small and niche vehicular combat sub-genre. If there's anyone who can bring it can back, it's Sony considering they were responsible for putting out the Twisted Metal series in the 1990s, which caused the first and only vehicular combat boom. However, the first Hardware game, Hardware: Arena Online didn't make much of an impression back in 2002, and the spiritual successor Fired Up is only remembered for being an early PSP game and not much else.
Hardware: Rivals. on the other hand, is fairly successful at what it sets out to do. It looks very nice, plays fairly well and generally has all of the features that you would expect. However, it's one of those games that is generally "just alright", it never pushes itself beyond that. That, and the lack of content severely hurt any chance of Hardware: Rivals being a mainstay PS4 multiplayer game.
The modes are very standard. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Team Domination (which is your standard control point style mode) and Team Elimination which introduces lives to the proceedings. All of those modes are fine but it would be nice to see some more interesting variants on what is a very standard game. The developers have been adding time limited events, which is something at least. There are also only four maps. Yep, four!
The gameplay is reasonably fun, at least for a while. The game is nice and accessible, you're never going to get lost on what to do or what button to press, it's all very straightforward, which is a big plus for a game like this.
The controls are great too but the actual handling of the different vehicles leaves something to be desired. The physics are overly floaty, which negatively impacts the game in multiple ways. You would think that a tank crashing into a dune buggy would feel really hefty and impactful but in Hardware: Rivals, that usually just results in both vehicles pinging off each other in a ridiculous fashion. The driving just isn't that much fun in general, if this was a standard racing game, it would be pretty shitty.
The actual combat aspect of the game is actually quite fun though. There's lots of different power-ups, again, nothing out of the ordinary but they are all fun to use and just look cool. It's really satisfying seeing your cool homing missiles swoop in and kill a tank in the distance, causing it to become a smoking chassis. All of the secondary weapons are mostly different types of rockets but there's also a rail gun, a laser gun and two different types of EMPs, one which disables the enemy's movement and the other disables the enemy's weapon.
There are only four vehicles (yep, four!), two buggies and two tanks. Now this one of the main problems with the actual gameplay, buggies feel completely outclassed by tanks. Sure, buggies are much faster but that doesn't mean much considering most of the game types revolve around kills. The standard machine gun that buggies have are just rubbish compared to the main tank gun, so buggies feel under powered in comparison.
As you play you do level up, which unlocks a range of upgrades you can take. But like most modern multiplayer games, most of these feel inconsequential in order to maintain balance. You also earn Salvage Points which are then used to purchase cosmetic upgrades to your vehicles. A nice touch but the customisation options are pretty low.
Hardware: Rivals is one of those games that does exactly what it sets out to do and nothing else. There's something to be said for a game that's focused on nailing the fundamentals, but this game is just lacking. It is fun for a while and it is well made but the lack of overall content and shallow gameplay will kill off the multiplayer community, which is fatal considering this is a multiplayer-only game.
I am glad that Hardware: Rivals is a "free" game on PlayStation Plus because I wouldn't have played it otherwise.
THREE OUT OF FIVE
(A balanced game that has a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, meaning that it alternates between being good and bad in mostly equal measure.)