You'd be hard-pressed to find a game as fixated on guns as Receiver 2. There are plenty of blockbuster shooters that love their military hardware, yes – but it's hard to imagine any of them asking you to load individual rounds into a magazine or manually clear a weapon malfunction. But, as with its predecessor, this sort of thing is Receiver 2's stock-in-trade.
Instead of just hitting R to reload, the button might pop out a revolver's cylinder or rack the slide of a handgun, one part of a four-step process that has to be followed carefully. Each of its guns is simulated right down to the springs and screws of its inner workings, developer David Rosen proudly tells Edge magazine, all based on hours of reading through police forensics manuals and manufacturer's schematics, plus a little hands-on time at a gun range – the first time he'd ever actually touched one of the things.
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"Our culture, especially in America, is defined largely by guns," Rosen says. "Every TV show and every movie seems to be about guns. But living in San Francisco, they're very alien to my everyday life. So I can't really understand what it would actually be like to use them, or what's true and what's Hollywood fantasy." The original Receiver – which was made in just seven days at a game jam back in 2012 – was his way of closing that gap.
This sequel, on which Rosen and his team have been working for the past two years, takes everything a step further. The guns are more complicated, he says, with fewer simplifications and abstractions from the real thing. But all of this doesn't mean that Rosen, or the game he's making, necessarily like guns.
"Sometimes games attempt to tackle some big topic, like racism, but they do it poorly," Rosen says. "They present it without comment, and just model it. And most games about guns are like that. They might be trying to be about gun fetishisation, but they end up being another example of it." He points to Modern Warfare as a game which presents as though it has something to say about war and the military-industrial complex, but mostly just wants you to admire how shiny its guns are and how nice it feels to shoot them at people. It's another case of "gun worship", Rosen says. "In Receiver, I want to take that as far as it can go, and see what would happen if you made a religion that actually is about worshipping guns."
Piece by piece
The game's Roguelike-adjacent structure has you exploring a sprawling industrial space, hunting for cassette tapes. Find one, and you might get filled on a little more of this underlying lore: the gun-centric belief system of the Receiver cult and their warnings of an "information apocalypse" known as the Mindkill. Then again, you might get a brief lecture on gun handling, or a reminder of how many gun deaths are tragic accidents.
"In Receiver 2 I wanted to focus on trying to teach the basics of gun safety," Rosen says. Not exactly the kind of bullet-point (no pun intended) feature you'd put on the back of the box, perhaps, but probably the biggest change made for this sequel. The first game's unexpected success has made Rosen aware of the potential audience for Receiver 2: not just the usual suspects you'd expect to play an indie game, but also real-life gun enthusiasts who appreciate its commitment to getting the little details correct.
He wants to use that platform responsibly, working cautionary tales not only into the story but also the simulation itself. Holstering a gun without setting the safety can result in shooting yourself in the leg, for example; fire at a hard surface while standing too close and you'll get hit by bullet fragments. That's not exactly what you'd expect from a shooter – but then, maybe this isn't one.
Receiver 2 is not merely a game that features guns. It's entirely about them, the good and the bad, the complicated awkwardness of their mechanisms and how quickly maintaining and using them can become second nature. "When I play this for a while," Rosen says of his own game, "and then I play something like Battlefield, the guns really feel like toys." Receiver 2 is a useful reminder that they're not.
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