Coming from Snow Day Software is a new entry in the twin-stick shooting genre, a game that goes by the name of Hovership Havoc. Now, it’s not entirely business as usual here though, as despite the fact that the gameplay takes place from an isometric viewpoint, with the left stick moving the ship and the right aiming the weapons of the titular Hovership, there is a twist in the tale. So come with me to a future world of vibrant colours, sizzling laser death and hoverships that cause havoc.
Upon starting Hovership Havoc you’ll find that there is no deep narrative, and there’s certainly no justification for what we are about to do – personally I find this very refreshing. What you do need to know is that there are some space spider robot-type creatures (amongst others) and we need to make them go away. That’s about it: we just need to get rid of them.
But hold up just a moment, and before we can go and introduce the baddies to the business of a Hovership, we have choices to make. There are four different flavours of Hovership in play here, and they all have different weapons with which to attack. Now, being of the firm belief that if danger has to happen, that it should happen as far away from me as possible, I initially decided to go for the Pulse Cannon ship, which has a kind of dual laser arrangement. The other options though are the Devastator, which feels a bit underpowered and despite its name it is certainly writing cheques its guns can’t cash in on. Meanwhile the Plasma Gatling is nice enough but has very poor range, and the Laser Blaster just seems to have one big laser as a weapon. The Pulse Cannon is definitely the steed for me and it is with this which I sallied forth into the space station where the enemies appeared to have taken up residence.
Each ship has its own signature style, but they do have a few things in common. Firstly, if you constantly hold down the fire button, your weapon will overheat and you won’t be able to fire for a few vital seconds. Aim, shoot, release – before rinsing and repeating – is very much the order of the day here. Each ship can also equip two special weapons that you can find in your runs through enemy territory. These, on screen, look like nothing so much as spinning WiFi symbols, and when you pick one up you can choose whether to map it to the LB or RB button. You can only carry two of these super weapons at once though, so if you pick up a third you can either replace one of the existing ones or drop it again. These weapons can make the difference between life and death on some runs, and vary wildly. One fires a big laser from the sky to the ground, for instance, while another dispatches a circular disc that shoots in all directions as it travels across the arena. The pickups are random, but it is possible to find a loadout that suits your playstyle. Of course, whether those particular weapons drop in the levels is in the hands of the RNG…
The twist in the tale I alluded to earlier in this review comes in the form of the boss battles. You see, just when you are used to the isometric viewpoint, along comes a boss and the view switches to a third person shooter, with the action now taking place in a “behind the Hovership” viewpoint. The change the first time it happens is pretty jarring, but the more you fight, the easier it comes to switch between the two views. These stages do add a bit of novelty to the game, and help to break up the action. Of course, the bosses aren’t keen on you going to visit, and do their best to make their displeasure felt.
If you’re anything like me you’ll probably find that the first few runs come across as being very hard, I’m not going to lie. This is partly down to design, as the game has a kind of rogue-like twist to it, where you only have one life, but skill points can be earned for each ship that can then be spent on upgrading the various areas of the ship, such as health or shot damage. As you go on, the ship gets stronger, you stay alive longer, you earn more points, the ship gets stronger… you get the picture. After a few runs, I was able to cruise through the early stages, destroying waves of baddies with ease. This is however where the second type of difficulty begins to raise its head.
The arenas that you have to fight in throughout Hovership Havoc are randomly generated with each run, so you never have to play the same run each time you enter the game. The problem is that some of these layouts are quite hard to overcome however; there are objects in the levels that you would swear are just part of the backdrop, but they intrude into the playing area enough for you to crash into. Or if you are really unlucky you get caught between the object and the side of the screen. A couple of times I’ve actually managed to get the ship completely stuck, and only an ignominious death sufficed to free me from my jam. This did stick in the craw a little, and it served to make me very wary of anything in the level that might cause me to get stuck again.
The shooting mechanic is another thing that takes some getting used to. The shots you fire have a certain range and that’s it: they stop dead when that range is reached. This is unlike any other twin stick shooter I’ve ever played, where getting some distance while continuing to shoot is a viable tactic. Not so in Hovership Havoc: if you back away, you will cease to do damage. And the annoying little spider enemies never stop trying to close in on you, whether it be the yellow ones who attempt to headbutt you into oblivion, or the purple ones that fire bullets that are hard to see amongst the chaos. You soon learn that movement is your friend (and a very useful dodge function has saved my bacon more than once), but just make sure that you don’t move too far away from the opposing forces.
The aiming of the weapons seems oddly imprecise as well, despite the presence of an aiming reticle on the screen. Quite often the sight would be right between the eyes of the scuttling menace, but the shot would seem to go wide. You almost have to aim near an enemy, not at it, in order for your shots to register, which is a bit weird. Luckily you don’t need to kill everything on a level to progress, as the ultimate goal is to shoot a kind of glowing pole, or possibly more than one, that will teleport you to the next stage. If you can get close to it despite all the opposition, then shooting it allows you to skip potentially harmful combat.
All in all and despite some issues Hovership Havoc on Xbox One is a pretty fun game. The hook of getting your ship into a stronger state, allowing you to progress that little bit further each time, proves to be quite successful, and with the boss fights breaking up the flow of the levels the overall result is quite pleasing. It’s not going to set the world on fire, but Hovership Havoc is certainly worthy of a closer look. And if you like spaceships and twin stick shooters with a twist of rogue-like action then this will fill a gap.