Hardware: Rivals, currently in beta on PS4, entered my consciousness recently not so much with a fanfare but with a low, persistent rumble. The majority of the people I've spoken to so far about Sony's drivey-shooty title have been more than happy to play the soothsayer, each saying the same thing; this game might be onto something special. This, they say reverentially, could be the next Rocket League.
It won't be, but I can see why you came to think that. (I think this privately, because I'm not a very nice person.) The presentation of Hardware: Rivals is clearly skewed toward the Rocket League audience, tempting them with the promise of a similar experience - fast enough to get your heart pumping, brief enough that you've always got time for one more match and losing never hurts too much. But that's about as far as it goes.
While I'm certain Hardware: Rivals was already some way into development when Rocket League swept in, I get the distinct impression its presentation was retrofitted to emulate that of its noisy, sporty cousin. That's a shame, really, because they're two very different beasts; Rocket League is a sports game, Hardware: Rivals is a multiplayer shooter. Beyond the breezy presentation, the only similarity in the DNA of these games is that you're driving a car.
To be perfectly honest, Hardware: Rivals has probably done itself a disservice in trying to link itself to Rocket League because that inevitably leads to comparisons, and Rivals doesn't emerge from those looking too good.
One of the many great things about Rocket League is the elegant balance between the sports bit and the driving bit. The football element adds something challenging on top of a game about maintaining momentum in a silly looking supercar, whereas the driving element adds a layer of tremendous unpredictability on top of a pretty robust football game. Personally I'm not really a fan of driving games or football games, but Rocket League takes these genres and makes something greater than the sum of its parts.
Hardware: Rivals, meanwhile, is a multiplayer shooter made a bit fiddly by the fact you're driving a vehicle. The modes themselves - team deathmatch and domination - are fairly bog standard, with an overlong duration leaving them prone to dragging on a bit. Personally I found it hard to get a tangible sense of contribution or teamwork with Hardware: Rivals, even when the end-game stats told me I made a decent contribution to a convincing victory. The game has a curiously sluggish pace which certainly isn't helped by the oversized maps, often contributing to a sense of turgid isolation as you trudge over to where the action is.
While the numerous power-ups on offer in Hardware: Rivals are fun, I can't shake the feeling they occupy too much of the foreground - effectively reducing the combat down to who has a decent secondary weapon to hand at the crucial moment. During my time with Rivals I either found myself ambushing some poor sap lacking a decent power-up, or getting blown up and thinking 'oh, they had that power-up did they? Fair enough, play on'. Each map also has a unique emergency state during which players have a certain amount of time to reach a particular part of the map, or face annihilation at the hands of an airstrike, volcanic eruption or some, erm, alkaline dust. Rather than interesting set pieces, these moments are more disruptive caesuras; putting the action on hold for a bit while the game shows off a little. Clutch gameplay this decidedly isn't.
Ultimately, Hardware: Rivals is fine. It's a competent vehicular shooter that's clearly doing a good job of attracting some loyal fans. The problem is that the aesthetic driving it promises a bright and chirpy experience, while the game itself doesn't really deliver. What it does deliver is fine and is certainly fun in its own way, but parking its tanks on Rocket League's lawn strikes me as a bit of a mistake - constantly reminding the player of a very different game that, quite simply, makes more of itself.