By Chris Picone, 25 May 2023
The incredible success of Vampire Survivors has led to a sudden influx of Survivors-like games recently, which I've been enjoying, although there's a clear risk of the game feeling the same even though the theme is usually drastically different. Rift Rangers may share a lot of similarities but there are some core gameplay mechanics that set this one apart from the crowd.
The game itself is visually similar to most Survivors clones, except with demonic aliens instead of fantasy monsters. The levels are a bit more detailed too, with traps and obstacles surrounding brain zones, holes in the ground, other environmental challenges such as vehicles careening across the screen at high speed. It's surprisingly polished for the genre, with flashy UI and cutscenes, tons of special effects, and some cool epic TV-styled shouts and music.
As befits the genre, the core gameplay revolves around killing the monsters and collecting the little gem things they drop in order to level up, increasing your power so you can destroy the ever-growing swarms as the game ramps up. Survive for 20 minutes and you beat the level, unlocking the next. And of course there are stacks of characters, weapons, special abilities, and other upgrades that unlock as you hit achievements across your runs. Where Rift Rangers differs to its peers is that Epic has striven for less passive gameplay, making it slower but more interactive. Instead of simply shooting your array of weapons on a timer, you have to place your weapons as turrets, aiming to set them up in such a way that they strike your enemies at the short, middle, and long range along likely approach routes, creating synergistic kill zones and leaving you free to capture brains or collect loot. Capturing a brain triggers additional upgrades separate to your level-ups; once captured, another brain opens up. So it's a mad dash across to the next one, ready to lay down new turrets and face the next threat. In addition to turrets, your other main weapon are mines, which regenerate over time for regular placement, but you only get for weapons in any run so you have to pick carefully. Your characters also come with some sort of special ability; for example, the yellow ranger has an invincible dash to break enemy lines while the black ranger can detonate all mines on the field at will. Finally, every now and then you'll find a special powerup on the field that leads to a cutscene where some giant space ranger gives you some unique power boost - it only lasts a short time but it's super powerful and exciting when it happens.
If you're a fan of the survivors-like genre, Rift Rangers is definitely worth a look. The unusual focus on turrets and traps slows the game down, making it possibly more kid-friendly while also being refreshing for genre veterans.