Hovership Havoc looks and feels like it that needs more time in the oven. The game is a step in the right direction to make something memorable—even for being developed by mainly one person—but many aspects are missing or not done well enough to stand out in the twin-stick shooter genre. Players follow a simple path: they pilot one of four different hover ships, take down robots, and try to reach the end boss. However, this core gameplay loop is far from polished. Out in the wilds of gaming storefronts are many great twin-stick shooters that people would be justified in choosing to play over Hovership Havoc.
Each of the four hoverships comes with unique stats and firing modes. The Devastator shoots like a shotgun and overheats quickly, leaving the player defenceless. The Plasma Gatling may fire quickly, but does not deal enough damage to be worthwhile without upgrades. The Laser Blaster shoots a tri-beam attack at close range, but the spread makes it hard to use as a shotgun, and the ship therefore has a learning curve. The Pulse Cannon is the most productive right off the hop, being able to deal damage at a longer range than the others. To get the most out of each ship, much time is needed to level up specific aspects to make them feel more balanced and worth the while. If progression was paced better, trying to level up each ship would be more enjoyable and make the game feel fairer.
Whether failing or passing a level, the player gets upgrade gears with which to improve the various stats and sub-weapons. The fact that the gamer always makes progress in upgrading the ship and subsequently doing better is a great incentive to keep playing. The problem with the gears mechanic is the player only gains access to upgrades if they successfully pass the level or back out to the ship select screen where the loadout can be edited; this set-up is unwieldy, but not a major issue. Many times when going to upgrade at the ship select screen, previous changes seemed to have been reverted but not enough resources were available to fix what was changed. Why this happens is not specified, as is the case with many other aspects of the game.
For example, seemingly at random, a blue Wi-Fi symbol appears, providing access to a sub-weapon or, even better, a free upgrade to one of the stats. Luckily, these upgrades are persistent and will not be lost later on, though they only improve stats and not sub-weapons. Picking up upgrades or new weapons is a bit like gambling, as the gamer hopes to get their favourite ability; even if not, the pick-up can be discarded without consequence. Furthermore, each sub-weapon can be upgraded and will hold those upgrades for when they are picked up again, saving gears and letting players focus on their favourites. If upgrading changes cooldown, damage, or even lifetime, none of that information is shown. Furthermore, many abilities do not have much impact or are hard to use, such as the Sky Beam, which is so stiff that it is practically useless. The Speed Burst (an ability all ships have) cannot be changed and covers such little ground that it is easily forgotten. This ability could have been more useful if it had two or three times the distance, even if it does come in handy in particular situations. The ability makes the player invincible and can destroy small robots, making its potential high. Sadly, the possibilities are squandered thanks to its short range.
Gameplay-wise, Hovership Havoc is a mixed bag. Though the controls are never explained, the core systems are easily figured out, as the abilities displayed at the bottom of the screen show what button to push. Also, players will likely reach the end of the game without realizing they can focus their aim because that mechanic is not expressed.
No clear story is present, but the game appears to be about a quest to take down a corporation. The player travels through randomly generated zones, from the first called The Research Facility, into The Industrial Zone, and then The Core. The barebones story is not helped by the lack of indication in progress, which ends up being one of the most confusing aspects of the game. After finishing a level, the game seemingly puts the player right back at the beginning. Hovership Havoc does not specify if the level is Part 1 or Part 2, but instead gives both the same title, making players not realize the progression they are making. Each level comprises a set of pre-made rooms with random enemy spawns. To pass each stage, the player needs to destroy a number of generator-looking objects that light up after what seems like an indeterminate amount of time. Once they are destroyed, the player is teleported to the next stage, even if enemies are still alive.
Proportioning does become a problem with some of the stages, creating tight areas that look like someone can go through when they actually can not. Some of the levels feel too small thanks to large numbers of enemies. Getting overrun happens often, resulting in annoying deaths, so increasing health could make the game more forgiving. Meanwhile, opening up the corridors would allow the player to manoeuvre more freely, avoiding what can sometimes be guaranteed damage. Such tight spots are few and far between, as most stages are open, with large areas to move. Sometimes objects such as idle helicopters blend into the background. These confusing environments can lead to the player getting stuck. Normally, the level design is sufficient aside from these few hiccups.
While progressing through the levels, the player faces off with a few bigger, stronger enemies, though not much variety is showcased in the enemy design otherwise. Even in the absence of diversity, the enemies are well-designed, with turrets, randomly moving robots, tanks, and various other foes. The robots make for more intricate battles, where movement and awareness are important to survive. In some regards, the enemies are reminiscent of Doom’s monster/gameplay linkage. The adversaries present can make the player’s strategy change or even make them focus on a new target, showing that Hovership Havoc has depth. The enemy robots also contrast well against the background, ensuring players are able to see them and know what is going on and then show what carnage has happened with their remains.
Unfortunately, enemies do not react to being hit: no colour change nor animation. The only visual indication is small numbers that show how much damage was done, and they can be hard to see, leaving doubt as to whether the player is affecting the robots. The fact that the enemies do not react to the player’s attacks also makes the sub-weapons feel like they are useless or underpowered. Not understanding the attack radius can make understanding how to use them harder. Furthermore, this lack of feedback makes supposedly powerful attacks feel weak.
Boss battles transpire differently to the rest of the game. While the normal gameplay is a top-down twin-stick shooter, boss battles lower the camera to be more of a third-person shooter without sacrificing the core gameplay loop. The bosses are not too hard, so long as players focus on them. The way the bosses work feels somewhat similar to Tower of Guns, but they still fit with Hovership Havoc’s style.
The gameplay for Hovership Havoc is barebones, with a solid central gameplay loop. The ability to play with four different ships is a nice touch, changing how encounters play out. With some adjustments, the game could shape up to be something people keep coming back to. Hovership Havoc is making a full release but the game could do with more development time to hammer in the nuances and subtle aspects that would make it shine. By no means is Hovership Havoc a bad project, as the gameplay and enemies are well designed, but aspects that relay information to the player are missing. Better communication regarding the game’s mechanics, a bit more variety, and larger levels might push to make Hovership Havoc more noticeable among other twin-stick shooters. For anyone looking for a game to play while listening to a podcast, Hovership Havoc is great. The game is solid and worth putting a few hours in, but maybe waiting for further updates would be best.
Reviewed on PC.