Game review: Relic Hunters Rebels for Netflix (Android)

Ages ago, I played Relic Hunters Zero and was not a fan. A three-quarter top down twin-stick shooter, it had convoluted controls, repetitive levels, and weapons that all ended up feeling the same near the final levels of any given stage. The titular relics were okay, but not really game changing or worth experimenting with to find the sweet build right for me.

Relic Hunters Rebels is a sequel that does a better job of world building and crafting an interesting story, as well as making all of the weapons feel unique. The relics in this version all have powers that can be leveled up by playing the game, so all the way around, this feels like a better game. It even has better controls, and the auto-aim is more helpful than I’ve seen in many console and PC games.

And yet, it’s a mobile game, so you just knew something had to be ruined by the mobile game economy. We’ll get into all of that soon enough, but just know that the short version is, this game is pretty good if you can get it on Netflix instead of the free version.

From the opening cut scene, the relic hunters are attacked by a new ally of the Ducan Empire. Separated from his crew, Jimmy must rely on the local Forrester tribe leader Baru to guide him in unfamiliar terrain back to his friends. Along the way, he gathers blueprints and parts that Baru can craft to make better guns, and beating the first boss rewards the first relic, which ends up being real handy real fast.

Partway through the forest region, the game also unlocks Patrols and Dungeons. Patrols are short remixes of the region’s features, with a slightly higher chance of scoring better loot. Meanwhile dungeons feature forty floors of enemies that get progressively more difficult, with a series of powers offered to make the run a little less of a slog. The right combination of powers and guns can make the dungeons the best place to pick up loot, bounty points and runes to use in the shop, and unlock new relics.

Even with so many options available, the early levels are rough, mainly because one of your starting weapons is weak against the enemies you’re facing. Which is frankly idiotic because “Oh yeah, metal is weak in the forest.” METAL IS WEAK IN A FOREST. WT ACTUAL F.

Get used to this level of elemental stupidity, because every area has a similar elemental weakness that just defies any attempts at logic. It doesn’t help that blueprints for new weapons are doled out in fragments, because of course you have to grind in a mobile game for new weapons. When you get the new weapon, you can quickly upgrade it, right? No, this is mobile, so you need to grind for materials that grow increasingly rare to improve the gun’s stats. For the first two levels, every gun you unlock and grind feels pretty awful. It’s like finding a straw with a load of spitwads, and for the longest while you’re investing in the size of the tissue wad and the level of spit in the load.

But mostly, grinding doesn’t yield enough of the needed materials, and you have to visit the shop to buy them using two currencies, runes and bounty. (Because it’s mobile, so of course there’s two currencies.) Getting the Netflix version at least means the second currency is more readily available, but it’s still just as much a grind to get the items needed to make a level two weapon. Advancing weapon levels grants more skill points on each gun. A starting gun can only have five points invested in it, with the next level offering 20 and 35 points. But past the first two points spent in any category, more uncommon and rare materials are needed, and they get harder to find. There’s a lot of overlap in what each gun needs, so for the longest time, this is the sticking point to advancing past the hard setting and getting to the next tier, Rebel. (Note, while Hard levels unlock upon beating the region, to unlock Rebel 1 difficulty requires beating the whole game on Hard. Then it’s all rinse and repeat to keep unlocking higher difficulty tiers.)

There comes a point when you have the right guns to advance through the first region and maybe manage to eke out a win in the optional dungeons. At this point, the game introduces Hard Mode, and don’t even think about trying it yet. I made the first few levels with a lot of dodging and swearing, but I realized at a certain point that I wasn’t meant to get any farther without getting in a hamster wheel for a long, long grind to get prepared for the slog.

The real kick in the metaphorical dick is that grinding on higher difficulty levels doesn’t offer anything at all over the lower difficulty setting. (Yes, the first time you run them, the loot is better, but even by the second run, it’s the same stuff you’d get on Normal difficulty.) There’s no better chance of getting rare or epic loot, and to me, this feels like a serious oversight. Why would you not provide some incentive to play at higher difficulties? Why make the grind even less attractive if you want to keep players locked in this loop?

That’s where Relic Hunter Rebels will become a make or break deal for you. Are you okay with grinding the same level over and over for a low chance of unlocking a new gun or getting the loot needed to upgrade the guns you’re already using? If yes, then eventually you’ll reach a point when every gun feels useful and powerful. The relics will level up as well, offering more raw and elemental damage, as well as other perks like more health or better critical chance and damage. By the end of the game’s 5 areas, you’ll likely have an arsenal and build for every area, and the last boss fight will be fun and satisfying.

But if you hate grinding, you’ll likely end up dropping this game with an annoyed “fuck off.” I wouldn’t blame you because several times, I felt the same temptation. I haven’t even covered other irksome details like the bad level design of the mountain region, where someone thought it would be fun to move in narrow corridors while enemies fire through walls with lasers and mortars, and then some random enemy runs up the same corridor to spray automatic weapons that are damned near impossible to dodge. The other levels all have some combination of cover that characters can get stuck on or trapped in, and I’ve frequently seen enemies glitch out trying to move around the same objects. It’s just frustrating to try and strafe away from bullets, only to get stuck on a bush and lose half my health, you know?

Still, in the spirit of my Versus series, I downloaded the first game to see which felt better, and despite the grind, this is still the more fun experience. The characters feel more distinct from each other, and the collection of weapons opens up to favor your own play style. The story isn’t bad, if a bit too foreshadowed, and is loads better than what passed for writing in Relic Hunters Zero.

As I said before, it all comes down to your tolerance for grinding, but if I have to give Relic Hunters Rebels a score, I’d call it at 4 stars. It isn’t perfect, but it a vast improvement over the previous game that rewards the time you spend with it, rather than offer up more variations of spitwad shooter. So if you’ve got a Netflix subscription, give it a try.