Oh how I hate reviewing a game that’s as shallow as this, yet one that I’ve not managed to overcome. I’m not even going to beat around the bush. Socketeer is as frustrating as they come, plugging together several gameplay elements that just don’t add up. We’ll get to that shortly. Socketeer is described as a frantic randomly generated top-down shooter in which the protagonist (a cutesy robot) cannot shoot. Instead, players will need to hack into nearby bots to take over their bodies and utilize their weaponry against their bot-friends. Sounds simple, right?
Well, on paper it’s exactly that. In practice, however, it’s the polar opposite. I’ve plugged several hours into Socketeer and I simply cant bring myself to reach the end game. It’s not a huge game, in fact there’s several achievements for completing it under different scenarios; complete the game without collecting scrap, complete the game without taking damage, play through and defeat Cranium in under ten minutes, and so forth. What’s frustrating is that the core concept works pretty well. However, the perma-death feature just feels way out of place here.
Starting up the game, players are thrown into a randomly generated environment and must find an exit to proceed to the next level. Every exit is gated by a locked door, and oftentimes the key to open this door is found behind another locked door that requires a key-card. Littered throughout each level are a range of different robots that will gun for you if you touch their fields of view. I’ll praise the game on its enemy variation, there’s quite a few foes to best within; dogs, snipers, grunts and so on, each bringing their own unique attacks and movement patterns.
There’s a few things to be mindful of, however. The protagonist robot is completely harmless on its own. Sure, it can hack terminals to recharge its battery or posses crates and spoil-spills to harm or bypass opponents, but that’s about the limit of its compatibility starting out. The core gameplay loop sees you moving from A to B, hacking robots and then using their weaponry (which drains the aforementioned battery) against other foes. Do this three times per-location and you’ll move to the next environment, which will put you a step closer to the boss.
Again, this all sounds relatively simple, so what on earth is the problem? The amount of things that go wrong that are just out of player control is the main issue here. Several times did I touch an object or try to gain control of another bot for the game to slap me to death in an instant, with no reason given whatsoever. The game has a tendency of choosing when it wants you to control another bot, despite how many times you hit RT in rapid succession. This only leads to moments in which you’re stood facing a hostile bot, for it to soon realize your presence and start harming you.
Due to how swiftly the protagonist’s health will deplete, there’s very little room for an escape in these situations. It also doesn’t help that your health status carries over from level to level, and no matter how far you get, if you die, you’re going way back to square one – losing everything in the process. Shop keepers can often be present in specific generated levels and you can indeed possess these too. They’re by far one of the most powerful bots in the game, so much so that if you exit a level in the body of a shop keeper, the game will offer you full health in exchange for the bot.
When you kill hostile bots, they’ll always drop scrap parts that you can collect and spend in the shop. Though, I did this very little, seeing as though possessing a shop keeper allows you to pick up all of its helpful wares, free of charge. Whatever the case, if you want to chase the achievement of spending 100,000 in the shops (many achievements have glitched for me) then you’ll need to kill, kill and kill some more. The game boasts that there’s some hidden secrets tucked deep within the game, but in all honesty, most of what I tried to interact with just killed me.
This made me care less about the secrets. In fact, I made it a habit not to interact with anything that wasn’t a key-card and a locked door. Most levels can be completed in about a minute or so, but if you want to explore and possess every bot to see how they play, you can add another minute or two on top of that. The first set of levels don’t pose much of a risk but as you move deeper into the game, environmental hazards start flowing thick and fast. This includes lethal substances that will kill you immediately, space-vacuums that will suck you into space, and more.
I cant recommend testing what does what, because the last thing you want is to be slapped back to the beginning of the game in return for something as simple as curiosity. Irrespective of what level you find yourselves on, the general aim of the game remains the same; find a key and make your exit. The complexity of each environment does indeed rise as you make progress, for instance, come location three you will be presented with multi-floored levels that are filled with the hardest enemies in the game, so the pacing here is at least decent.
One of my major gripes with the game is that the aiming – which is very much twin-stick, is imprecise for the most part. I lost count at how many times my fire would skim an enemy’s head for them to turn around in an instant and start accurately hitting me in return. It’s little moments like this that are dominant throughout the entirety of play, making for a game that could have worked well, but ultimately only tends to piss you off. I made it as far as the second to last location after hours of attempts, only to be blown up for interacting with a seamlessly innocent object.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is where I threw in the towel, and I admire my own restraint for not punching my television soon after. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some admirable mechanics that Socketeer offers up and I did initially enjoy the game’s core functionalities. It’s just a shame that much of that enjoyment was completely chased away by the game’s petty and cheap deaths. The achievements do add a nice touch in regards as to how you play; escape without being seen, escape in a crate and other like-minded scenarios. I wonder why the game itself didn’t incorporate these opportunities.
In regards to how the game handles, outside of its imprecise controls, it’s a simple and straightforward gig. You’re afforded bombs and EMP blasts to disable or destroy nearby bots – as well as pieces of the environment. The EMP comes in especially handy when you’ve got several bots on your tail and you need to make a rapid escape, or indeed, when you want to possess a particularly nasty foe. When you do possess a station or a bot, you’ll need to use RT and LT to guess a sequence of inputs correctly (LT, LT, RT – for instance), which is signified by color coordination so you can keep on top of correct commands.
Fail three times and the equipment or bot will reject you, but you are indeed able to dive back in for another immediate attempt. Simple stuff, really. The game’s visuals and audio is passable to say the least. The audio cues are exactly what you would expect them to be for a game of this type. Visually, Socketeer is a very colorful and cutesy experience. There’s a nice degree of variation as far level design goes, which helps to keep repetition at bay. I wish I could say the same about the gameplay loop after an hours worth of playtime, but unfortunately, I cant stretch it that far.
Socketeer is fun to begin with, I’ll credit it with that. The problem, however, is that the game is littered with cheap deaths and frustrating elements that punish you for merely being curious or even just slightly careless. This is an unforgivable design choice for a game that incorporates perma-death functionality and boasts hidden secrets. Enjoyable in short doses, yes, but even then you’re likely to leave annoyed.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.