Hardware: Rivals shares few similarities with Rocket League, but somewhere in the build-up to its uneventful release, someone deemed it unlawful to mention Sony's unneeded car combat reboot without tacking a reference to Psyonix's soccer smash on the bumper. That opening sentence is Exhibit A.
The resemblances that it does share are comparable to those between your uncle and Daniel Craig; both games feature vehicles, for example, just like both parties of the aforementioned analogy possess male-centric anatomy. Where exactly are we going with this? Oh, right – Hardware: Rivals and Rocket League aren't really that similar at all.
And that's unfortunate because we'd probably all like to see a "sleeper hit" release more often, and so the comparisons probably stem from wishful thinking more than anything else. But alas, we can only review what's put in front of us, and Sony's latest dip into the car combat well is disappointing – even in spite of its seemingly honourable intentions.
For those not familiar with 2002's hottest bargain bin filler Hardware: Online Arena, this is a vibrant vehicular action title in which 4x4s face off against fierce looking tanks. It's a fine idea: the meatier machines are methodical but pack much more of a punch, while the nimbler Jeeps do less damage but are easier to manoeuvre.
The problem is that none of the four included vehicles are all that fun to operate.
Ultimately, the game feels like a greyhound struggling against a fixed length lead: it wants to stretch its legs, but the developer just won't let it. Even when you're using the fastest vehicle, acceleration is painfully slow, and while you can eventually unlock a perk which improves this, it still lacks the pace of the genre's superior series, Twisted Metal.
It could be argued that the developer – a new internal studio within Sony, apparently – drew inspiration from more deliberate titles like World of Tanks, but the bold primary colours and pick-up power-ups discredit any down-to-earth ambitions; Hardware: Rivals is an arcade game without any of the energy that you would expect of one.
Accentuating this are the gigantic health bars, which mean that you can be tailing a competitor for an eternity without scoring a single point. You'll be snatching up an array of generic armaments from heat-seeking missiles to EMPs, but try to unload them into a well-armoured competitor and you could have boiled a kettle by the time that you'll get a kill.
Again, the studio would probably contend that it wanted to give players time to escape and turn the tables, and it is satisfying when you pull this off – but it also makes most of the arsenal outside of the OP laser feel like it's doing next to no damage at all. For a game that's all about blowing up other cars, it sure does make proceedings uninteresting.
The modes are not much more exciting: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination – you get the drill. They all get the job done effectively, but the enormous health bars mean that a lot of your kills will be nicked – although, in fairness, you'll be stealing plenty of sneaky one-shots, too. It's just the way that the game's designed.
It at least looks good visually, proving yet again that Unreal Engine 4 has atoned for its sins of the previous generation and is now a gift from the gaming gods. The maps are allegedly re-imaginings of the ones from the original game – a bit of unnecessary Hardware trivia for you there – and tend to revolve around a single, central chokepoint.
The one thing that the title does have in its favour are stage-specific specials, which trigger a countdown before the playing surface is covered in molten lava or a particularly potent frost. During these events you'll need to rush to catacombs or underground bunkers, and these are a great way of forcing all players into tiny, enclosed spaces – a recipe for rare chaos.
But even with customisable car unlocks and perks which can be equipped as you level up, the loop simply isn't strong enough that it will convince you to collect them all. Credit could be attributed to the little leaderboard-regulated challenges that prompt you to complete mini-objectives while you're going about your destructive business, but even they don't add much to the bland and bubble-less broth.
Hardware: Rivals is slow and safe – it's a far-cry from the high-octane vehicle eviscerator that we'd anticipated. Its slightest of similarities to Rocket League may have hurt it, but even if Psyonix's excellent on-wheels outing didn't exist, this would still be a pretty darn tedious title. It's a shame because it's not hard to imagine a faster iteration of the exact same game being ten times more satisfying, but ultimately Hardware's only real rival is its squandered potential.