Sunday, August 10, 2008

Martians Vs. Robots Review

Martians Vs. Robots, developed and published by Tommy Twisters.
The Good: Several multiplayer game modes, random and custom maps, multiple weapons to research, supports Windows and Mac
The Not So Good: Tedious single player, asteroids require way too many hits to destroy, default weapon stinks, no AI bots for multiplayer
What say you? Asteroids goes online with unexciting results: 5/8

One of the more iconic video games is Asteroids. Sitting in your triangle, shooting squares at large blobs, two-tone music in the background: good times. There have been numerous attempts at recreating this arcade classic, and now you can add Martians Vs. Robots to the list. This title takes the action online, adding in classic first person shooter game modes, and also contains a single-player campaign for those who like to do it alone. Will this new game innovate the classic mechanics?

Martians Vs. Robots puts 3-D graphics in a 2-D world, and the result is decent but certainly not overwhelming. All of the objects in the game are detailed well enough, but they become repetitive very quickly: the same sized asteroids all look the same. Even the original Asteroids had different colors. The weapon effects are nice, in addition to the trails left by the ship engines. The backgrounds are disappointing, though: just a stark (but realistic) black instead of the artsy nebulae that usually populate space-based titles. On the sound front, we receive the typical array of effects: weapons blasting, asteroids exploding. This is set against stereotypical but not terrible background music. Martians Vs. Robots offers up exactly what you would expect for an independent arcade title: not a great presentation, but not terrible, either.

Martians Vs. Robots takes the arcade gameplay of Asteroids and kicks it up a notch. First, the game introduces some multiplayer modes that have been borrowed (stolen) from first person shooters: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and a cooperative mode. These modes fit the style of the game well enough, although it’s very difficult to find anyone to play against and the game lacks AI opponents for the multiplayer modes. The single player campaign features more traditional action-oriented gameplay: shooting asteroids and eventually enemies. The campaign isn’t very exciting, especially early on: your single objective is to destroy everything in a short amount of time. Levels can be randomly generated, which may sound impressive but the obstacles (asteroids, electrified barriers) are seemingly easy to place automatically. It’s also very easy to make your own custom maps: a simple text script (explained in the manual) places all of the objects. In addition, Martians Vs. Robots is available for both Windows and Macintosh systems, so almost everyone can experience the hot shooting action. While the game lacks a tutorial, the manual does a good job explaining the interface and the mouse-driven controls are easy to learn.

Where I feel Martians Vs. Robots trips up is in the gameplay department. There are a number of things that the game gets right, but overall the result is disappointing. First, the good news: you can research a lot of different weapons (missiles, cloaking, teleporters, EMPs) over time that will make dealing with the enemy units much more interesting. The way you research is by collecting ore from destroyed asteroids, which, unfortunately, is a very tedious process. The problem is that it takes a lot of shots to destroy the smallest asteroid (around 20): that’s boring. It would have been a lot better to quicken the pace of the game by allowing for only a couple of shots to dispose of an asteroid and grant less ore for a single asteroid. As it stands, most of the game involves sitting there, endlessly pounding on asteroids until they give up their precious ore cargo: no strategy, no excitement. The game features a variety of enemies, from stationary turrets to moving UFOs; these tend to make the gameplay a bit more interesting, but you’ll still have to pound away at those stupid asteroids. The game’s physics engine allows for very quick movement across the board that tends to promote chaotic (and almost fun) multiplayer matches. The arduous pace of the single player maps makes playing alone much less desirable.

Martians Vs. Robots lacks the chaotic fun of Asteroids, and is instead tedious and subsequently boring. The overly strong asteroids take an undue amount of damage before being destroyed, which slows the pace of the game down dramatically. I’m no expert (am I?), but holding down the mouse button and aiming at slowly moving asteroids is not very stimulating. The game picks up in multiplayer, where the focus changes somewhat to defeating enemies in addition to slowly destroying asteroids. The selection of weapons to choose from is nice, but research occurs so slowly that you won’t get to experience most of them in a single sitting. I like the idea of adding research to the game, but the method of researching is a bit too drab. Martians Vs. Robots does offer up random maps and the control scheme is intuitive, but the basic gameplay is too slow and actually goes against the high speeds of the ships you will pilot. In summary, Martians Vs. Robots attempts to add some variety to the arcade space shooter, but several aspects of the gameplay are lacking in the intensity we’ve come to expect in the genre.