Hover is a light hearted game that invites players to explore and discover different free running routes, racking up high scores and experience points. Set in a fictional city, filled with different alien races milling about their day, Hover combines a retro colour pallet with modern day cel-shading technology. While the massive city offers plenty of options for the player, there is a question of the game’s movement mechanics really allowing for true leverage of the environment.
Hover – Release Date Announcement Trailer | PS4
For developer, Midgar Studio, Hover’s story was not the prime objective. For a smaller studio to have designed the massive colourful world they have, allocating resources to story design may have stretched them too far. As a result, all character dialogue is in written text, with no in-game speech to be found. These pop up on the screen as text boxes and, given the game’s many callbacks to an older time for gaming, this thankfully fits.
Although the way characters speak to you tends to come off as hammy and the banter between other Gamers usually falls flat. As a new Gamer in the revolt, a vast majority of other characters relentlessly praise you and throw words of encouragement your way. This may seem like a petty gripe, but when all characters ever say is jolly little anecdotes, the game’s tone ends up leaning more heavily towards younger players.
Emerging into the city for the first time, I was surprised to learn there was no primary objective to work towards. No narrative push to trigger when I felt ready. This is a small problem in that the game, now asking you to complete ‘missions’ with other Gamers, has no real sense of momentum (ironically). With this feeling of a lack of beginning, middle or end to Hover’s veiled story beats, the player may feel like they’re being forced to complete side quests with no main quest in sight.
This is why it would almost be justified to say there is no story in Hover. Almost. However, this framework for ticking boxes and levelling up just to tick more boxes, gives this brilliant cartoon world very little context and little to invest in. Put bluntly, there’s never an incentive to do anything. As a result, the story will drip on by in pointlessness as the player apathetically runs and jumps across environments.
Like I said, storytelling was never Midgar’s prime objective. As the player enters the city for the first time, they are encouraged to explore and get a feel for the game’s jumping mechanics. On their way to one place or another, they have the option to run, jump, grind, slide or wallrun to their chosen objective. Between these movements, tricks can be performed to increase a combo meter leading to more speed and more options.
Mastery of these movesets will be required as you take on delivery missions or race other Gamers through checkpoints. They may also be needed to escape from the authorities should a camera pick up on your position. The floating drones seeking your arrest however… are nothing to be wary of. Should you get caught by one of these things, an angry text box pops up reminding you that having fun is illegal and… that’s it. No respawn, no punishment of any kind. That’s when it dawned on me that Hover basically never punishes the player. There’s no penalty for messing up a run and when dealing with a race, players can press a rewind button that puts them back on track. The old saying “no risk, no reward” comes to mind and with Hover’s complete lack of risk permeating its every moment, there’s no sense of satisfaction for completing any of its challenges.
Admittedly, at the start of the game I was impressed and felt like perhaps the developers did a good job creating a world that felt like it was from the PS2 era (in a positive fond memories kind of way). I also had a good few hours of genuine fun with it. In those hours, I was prepared to ignore the wobbly movement system that seems constantly at odds with how fast/slow the Gamer moves. Climbing to the very peak of the city and trying to chain one flowing combo of freerunning madness all the way to the bottom was undeniably fun. This involved grinding on a tram track, briefly wall running on hovercraft traffic and sliding down stair sets. This was a fun learning experience, albeit a brief one before all I’ve discussed so far began to sink in. Imagine Spiderman with no combat or story and you’re about there.
That’s not to say Hover doesn’t make some attempts at depth. Depending on how well you complete a challenge, different sets of rewards will come as a result. The world of Hover, oddly, doesn’t have money. Instead it has upgrade tokens, all with varying buffs to hacking and movement. As a fun little thing, players can also collect graffiti designs to spray over state propaganda. For the most part, through hacking containers of varying levels (all you do is hold is hold triangle) and completing objectives it won’t be long before you have piles of these tokens. As an answer to the money problem, we have shop areas where we can trade in these tokens for a chance of a rare one resulting from the transaction. Like a free lootbox.
There are plenty of other little design choices in Hover’s gameplay that seem great on paper but fail to execute with any kind of finesse. Ironic, given the game’s premise. Stumbling into a first person camera mode, I briefly imagined a cartoon Mirror’s Edge on an alien planet. Sounds good on paper, but the new perspective just compounds the fickle movement system, now having to content with all sorts smashing directly into our faces.
Graphics And Sound
After contending with the gameplay, it was becoming clear that Midgar perhaps spread their ambitions too thinly. The number one redeeming feature of this title is the environment. With low texture, brightly coloured cel-shaded environments, Midgar didn’t need to worry too much about bespoke detail across their world. This works in the same way that Windwaker’s cel-shaded graphics mean that it really hasn’t aged badly at all. Visually, the same could said for Hover as its massive free running environments are clearly the result of unthinkable amounts of hard work from a small studio. No segment of the city, be it in the junkyards below or the shopping centers above, feel copy and pasted. Although, occasionally, this aspect can make Hover’s environments feel like a victim of their own success. To run a race means getting through orange highlighted checkpoints. But if everything around them is brightly coloured neon, it can be hard to identify them, with no subtle pointer towards the next in these huge zany places.
The game’s soundtrack is as you would expect after all this. A kind of hammy pseudo-dance / drum and bass kind of music you expect only to hear at a twelve year old’s birthday party. While that may sound harsh, the hamminess of the music fits Hover perfectly but there only seem to be three tracks for each major location (so far as I can tell) and they’re defaulted to a very high volume. It’s likely that, after so long, you’ll end up turning them down or off altogether in the settings.
Hover’s heart is in the place and clearly is the end result of a passion project. For their work on the world they have created, I commend Midgar Studios. This cannot have been easy. Lots of ideas that serve as a tongue-in-cheek throwback to the supposedly better days of gaming are in here. As an older gamer, it was a direction that I appreciated. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be enough gameplay variety to fill out the massive world created. As it stands, we only have the one form of gameplay (running and jumping around like a loon) to steer us through. On a closing note, it would be fair to say that Hover could be the precursor to a future game that, with handling and design issues remedied, could be great.
|+ Impressive world design||– Fiddly movement mechanics|
|+ Moments of parkour madness||– Odd sense of momentum through the game|
|+ Tons to do||– Lacking in gameplay variety|