Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Mr. Robot Review

Mr. Robot, developed and published by Moonpod.
The Good: Combination of platform puzzles and excellent RPG battles, unique setting, easy to learn, good graphics, level editor, non-violent gameplay that is suitable for children
The Not So Good: Simplified controls result in confused instructions, puzzles become tedious, save points are infrequent enough to be annoying, lack of in-game voice acting
What say you? A good concept and solid battles, but the game’s puzzles become too repetitive to hold the attention of most players: 5/8

I think we can all agree that it’s just a matter of time until the robots take over. I mean, countless movies wouldn’t lie to us, would they? We must act now and rise up against our machine oppressors! Burn them all! And by that I mean it’s time to review Mr. Robot, an action/puzzle/RPG game from Moonpod. Mr. Robot takes puzzles similar to those found in adventure games and combines it with RPG battles comparable to those in the Final Fantasy series (or really any other role playing game). Will this amalgamation work? Or are we doomed to a lifetime in servitude benefiting our metallic overlords?

For a game with independent roots, Mr. Robot looks pretty good. The game is presented in a fixed isometric perspective, but all of the levels and characters seem to be rendered in 3-D. The lighting effects are probably the most noticeable aspect of the game, as the shine coming off the metallic robots is impressive and varied. The battles take place in a computerized environment like DEFCON. Due to the fixed perspective of the game, sometimes objects below ground level or behind other objects become obscured, but this is rarely a major issue. Overall, the graphics are effective in promoting the general theme of the game. The sound, however, is very underwhelming. The background music is too subtle to be noticeable while playing the game. In fact, I didn’t really remember there being any music until I loaded the game again. Of course, this means that the music is not annoying, but presenting an unremarkable soundtrack is almost just as bad. The sound effects are also disappointing. While the introduction movie is voiced, none of the in-game story is accompanied with any voice acting. This hurts the game, as a much more convincing environment could have been produced if the characters were given more life through voice. Some would argue that no voice is better than bad voice, but having robotic voices shouldn’t be too terribly difficult. Far more could have been done with sound in Mr. Robot.

Mr. Robot features a single player campaign that is fairly lengthy, following the story of a robot on his journey to save his spaceship from impending doom. In order to extend the life of the game, the developers have included a level editor. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to use, but if you devote some time to it, creating some puzzles is not terribly difficult. The gameplay of Mr. Robot consists of puzzles and battles. The puzzles mainly consist of moving objects by pushing them or avoiding enemies. The level design is not very inventive: just a collection of elevators, object placement puzzles, jumping puzzles, and scripted enemies that you will encounter along your way. Since we’ve seen this in countless games before, Mr. Robot falls pretty flat in this aspect of the game. The puzzles are not very interesting and repetitive, which makes playing this portion of the game quite boring. The game also only saves at certain intervals (by downloading your hard drive to the ship mainframe: pretty inventive); typically, you’ll have to solve two or three puzzles in a row before saving. This makes the game unnecessarily difficult, and I think we’ve reached the point of PC gaming where you should be allowed to save the game at any point. We have the technology! A lot of the puzzles require precise movement, which is difficult to attain with the game’s simplified control scheme. You control your robot by using the directional keys and just two input keys (primary and secondary). While this makes the game easy to learn, sometimes you can run into trouble, especially if you like using the mouse. The secondary action button (the right mouse button) is used for both jumping and activating things. Most of the time, instead of opening a crate or interfacing with a console, your character will just happily jump instead of doing what you intended. This gets quite annoying, as you can imagine. What’s the harm in binding the middle mouse button? You can’t reset the controls in the game, so you’re stuck with what the developers thought you should use.

Thankfully, Mr. Robot becomes far more interesting in the battles. You will routinely have to enter “ghost mode,” where you will fight against computer viruses inside a computer. Here, the game takes a RPG-like turn. The battles themselves consist of choosing an attack and picking an enemy in a turn-based environment. The game features a lot of upgrades and special items you can use in addition to basic attacks. You can use energon (collected during the game) to purchase new weapons, items, and programs. There are both offensive and defensive programs available. You can load up to four defensive programs, which do things like decrease the amount of energy lost during battle or the likelihood of a successful enemy attack. The offensive programs can increase the amount of damage caused per turn by your attacks. There are also other programs that provide bonuses to attacks, defense, or energy levels. After you have accumulated enough experience during a sequence of battles, you’ll be able to execute an “extreme” attack, which generally eliminates an enemy in one hit or provides a powerful bonus to friendly units. You will collect a number of useful items after a successful battle, which can replenish energy lost during confrontations. Likening the items to computer programs is a nice touch that helps to promote the theme of the game. There are a good number of different strategic decisions available during the battles, which make them far more appealing than the strictly linear puzzles. The enemy AI during the turn-based battles is good enough to be challenging, although they tend to spread out their damage rather than focusing on the most vulnerable team member (although if they didn’t, the game would be quite difficult). The battles provide some much needed variety from the tedious puzzles, and their inclusion in the game is much appreciated.

Featuring a combination of puzzles and battles, Mr. Robot features just enough variety to make the game slightly interesting. The linear nature of the puzzles, all of which have usually only one solution, becomes tiring after a while. There are only so many ways you can jump over, manipulate, and avoid objects. And since we’ve done this in computer games for quite a number of years, the puzzles feel stale. While the puzzles are neither unique nor interesting due to their lack of variety, the battles save the game from being completely dreary. The RPG upgrade elements of the game along with the strategic variety of the battles result in some interesting gameplay. The battles are clearly the highlight of the game, and they alone are almost enough to make this a recommended title. If the game consisted solely of battles, however, I would imagine the game would become too much of the same thing. So, the addition of puzzles between the battles (or battles between the puzzles, depending on how you look at it) varies the gameplay enough to keep you occupied. Unfortunately, the puzzles are not interesting, and you have to complete them in order to get to the next battle. And while the graphics are good, there is unused potential in the sound department. This is the dichotomy of Mr. Robot: something good in the game is balanced by something bad in the game. Ultimately, Mr. Robot will appeal to people who enjoy (or can tolerate) the puzzles enough to get to the superior battles.