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A Quiver of Crows (PC) artwork

A Quiver of Crows (PC) review

"Fly-by Crowing"

Quiver of Crows has a sadistic streak that runs roughly a mile wide. Itís unforgiving, making every encounter a frantic scramble for survival from the second you boot up the game until the eventual ending Iíll probably never see. Itíll take days to nurse my ego back into shape after publicly admitting that Quiverís beaten me, hands down. Itís pummeled me into submission.

Hereís the obligatory bit where I talk about how Iím not adverse to challenge. Iím not! Games that kick your arse in a largely smug fashion have made a bit of a comeback, after dying out a little to the "press X to win" crowd that grew larger with each new console generation. The return of more challenging fare is a welcome one, reclaiming that sense of satisfaction that meant more because you had to earn victory rather than obtaining it simply by showing up. Still, itís a fine line to walk, and what it really boils down to is how you attribute blame to your failures. If you eat a death because you were a split-second too slow, or you made the wrong choice and you paid for it, then itís your fault and the challenge seems surmountable. Quiver of Crowsí many, many deaths sometimes donít feel that way; it goes in the other direction, presenting you with a slew of game over screens you donít feel you had any way of avoiding. It offers an unstoppable rush of enemies that never lets up, never stops spawning and ensures that shooting down one wave is not progression; itís a mere momentís respite.

Quiverís kind of a scrolling shooter in appearance, but more of a twin-stick shooter at heart. Both styles are notoriously challenging, offering sub-genres like bullet hells whose entire point is to bludgeon you senseless while still showing a very clear means of progression towards which you need to strive. The mindless waves of rushing enemies play away from that particular salvation, and that only make some of the gameís other design choices seem all the more unfair. Any power-ups you can obtain can be literally beaten out of you by the unending hordes, meaning that a besieged crow can quickly lose their only means of fighting back and get buried in an avalanche of enemies in a split-second. Itís possible to rally, to regain what was lost from the wholesale slaughter of your opponents. But with your offenses neutered and your screen filled with hostiles, itís unlikely.

Punishing you with weapon banishment is hardly a new development for the shooter stables, but itís rarely been such an insurmountable handicap. R-Type, for example, remains coeval with the rise of the shooter but offers both a very harsh difficulty curve as well as a similar mechanic that robs you of all your weapons should you suffer a hit. The difference there is that you progress by chipping away at the game; the levels and enemy placement, heartless as they often are, follow the same blueprint. Beating the game is just as much about learning each levelís quirks and how to get around them as it is reliant on twitch reflex and skill. You plugged away at R-Type, and you got a little further and a little better each time. You log into Quiver of Crows and you just hope the random nature of the mass enemy flood isnít overly harsh on you.

Random is a good word when talking about the game. It also employs a physics engine of note, wherein killed enemies do not just explode or vanish from the screen, but become solid corpses which tumble from the sky. That mechanic is often the perpetrator of many a cheap death as they either fall onto your crow or act as unwilling shields from your projectiles, but itís a little slice of chaos that harmonises with the constant enemy rush. Mainly because there is no way you can control it and are thus even more at the mercy of chance. And so deaths come aplenty. Deaths I canít avoid and am not at fault for. It doesnít take long before I stop caring.

And so my apathetic trudge onwards continued, tinged slightly with the discovery that thereís a lot of little things that Quiver does well. Much like that other bird-based shooter, Kolibri, exploration here becomes a large part of the game, as you search out other captured crows and free them from their cages. But itís hard to explore the scrolling map with a huge army of pests constantly swarming around you. Much unlike Kolibriís dream-like watercolor pastels that depicted the rolling countryside, Quiver uses the Indie go-to of Limbo-esque silhouettes to illustrate a dead world filled with rotting corpses and derelict buildings. But itís hard to enjoy their depressing splendour with a huge army of pests constantly swarming around you. The music is understated, creepy and melancholy, but itís hard to get lost in the ambiance with a huge army of pests constantly swarming around you.

Being so reliant on elements outside of your control, the gameplay quickly grinds you down, and the admittedly interesting premises Quiver of Crows that frames it all isnít enough to justify weathering the mounting indifference that is born out of impotent frustration. Thereís a good game to be found behind it all, and Iím sure it will find a niche in the more sadistic corners of the shoot-Ďem-up crowd. But itíll take a player with a lot more patience than me to truly embrace the feeling of powerlessness that crow-based warfare seems to suffer from.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 14, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Nightfire posted November 14, 2016:

Hooray, finally some reviews! It's been nearly a week! I was beginning to think that the site had gone catatonic after all that election nonsense.

Good read, by the way. I, too, have little patience for games that simply rely on RNG for their challenge. There's a little too much of that out there these days. I think this may be because some players are quick to deem a game "too easy" if there is even a single easy way to master it, a way that is easily communicated via the internet to all the other gamers out there who will, of course, immediately employ it. I touched on this a little bit with my Darkest Dungeon review and how it can potentially ruin an otherwise viable title.

I kinda miss the days before everybody had an internet connection, where there was a certain amount of personal discovery involved in finding out how a game works, finding its flaws, developing workable strategies and beating it on your own terms. Nowadays all you have to do is plug in a single google search or look up a FAQ and all of the work is done for you.
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EmP posted November 18, 2016:

Managed to rise out of my post-horror burn-out to finally spit this one out. There's more on the way from my side, and I'll be more active in the Steam group once more once I regain my bearings.

That said, I really wanted to like this game. There's a lot about it that's very well realized, but it also constantly feels like slamming your head against a wall because you often have so little control in how and if you progress.

Thanks for reading!

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