Robocalypse (DS) review
"Robocalypse is much easier to grasp than it sounds and includes a very thorough tutorial (interwoven with the first few missions) to ensure that gamers know what they’re doing. The instruction booklet is quite helpful in this regard, as it details almost everything you’ll need to know to get started. And though you can accuse Robocalypse of playing it safe with standard RTS features, the execution is above average for a handheld game."
In the real world robots are used to make our jobs more efficient. In the world of entertainment they’re used to obliterate anything that moves in a battle to save mankind. Star Wars made them cool, Terminator made them tough, and Robocalypse – a new RTS designed exclusively for Nintendo DS – makes them an unstoppable army while being tame enough to achieve an E (10+) rating.
Robocalypse begins when a group of extremely polite killer robots (who knew there was such a thing?) invade the world, supposedly because of a freak accident at a local lab. To eliminate this evil-but-well-mannered threat, an old professor, a dumb blonde and a geek with glasses turn to the only defense they have: three retired veterans. They’re old, clueless and are about to become guinea pigs for a device the geek developed. Using a brain pattern scanner to mimic the veterans’ former skills, new robots are created to combat the enemy.
Those robots are Heroes – the most elite combat machines available – and include Joe Commando, Sergeant Payne and Pyro Assault. Each Hero possesses a special ability, such as rampage (rate of fire increases), stealth (invisibility) or the comical WMD (drops an anvil). Even without these powers, Heroes are considerably stronger than the standard robots and are a vital part of every mission. But they can’t survive on their own, hence the inclusion of the all-purpose Soldier (a basic combat unit), the ultra-strong Heavy Soldier, and the extremely useful Medic units, which will automatically heal those who are injured.
Resource management is very much a part of the experience, and that’s where the Builder units come in. They’re offered at the start of most missions and will automatically gather scrap metal to increase your construction capabilities. Build factories to produce new units and Heroes, create a radar system to locate the enemy, design a workshop to upgrade your team, or construct a resource bank to increase the production of scrap metal. Not surprisingly, you’ll need more than metal to run a factory. Energy is also required and will be collected slowly (but automatically) from every control point you command. Control points are small white flags that are accompanied by a generator. If the flag is red, that means an enemy already commands that point and must be taken by force. Now the real fun begins.
Up until now, Robocalypse may sound typical to the average RTS player or overwhelming to those who are not used to the complexities of the genre. Neither side should be worried. This game is much easier to grasp than it sounds and includes a very thorough tutorial (interwoven with the first few missions) to ensure that gamers know what they’re doing. The instruction booklet is quite helpful in this regard, as it details almost everything you’ll need to know to get started. And though you can accuse Robocalypse of playing it safe with standard RTS features, the execution is above average for a handheld game.
Outside of the camera view and menu interactions, every mechanic is exclusive to the touch screen. Heroes are commanded very easily by tapping their amusing (though sometimes goofy) bodies, which start to glow instantly, letting us know that one of them has been selected. Tap anywhere on the screen and that Hero will head in that direction. If an enemy is nearby, Heroes will start to attack automatically. The same goes for control points, which Heroes will attempt to snatch whenever one is near. You can also choose to manually select a specific enemy to attack by tapping it after tapping your Hero. These controls are fairly standard for the genre, minus the ability to draw a box over units and command them as a team. But they work really well and should appeal to most strategy fans, as well as those who are new to the genre.
The non-Hero unit controls, however, were not produced with the same level of quality. For reasons that make no sense whatsoever, the developers decided to add an additional step to make your soldiers attack. Thus, you can’t tap a solider, tap an enemy and enjoy the fireworks. Oh, no... You’ve got to tap a solider, tap an action flag icon (located on the bottom of the screen) and place the flag somewhere on the field. Then, if you’re lucky, a soldier or two may eventually walk in that direction and follow your orders.
While that extra step may sound harmless, action flags are more suggestive than they are specific. The flag’s location is supposed to influence what a soldier will do (e.g. placing an action flag next to a control point should tell the soldier to take command of it), but with more than one flag on the map, soldiers are frequently confused. They may not go where you want them to, even though they are supposed to head in the direction of the flag that is closest to them. Because of the small size of each soldier, it could take a couple of taps before you’re able to perfectly pinpoint the unit you wish to select. It’s a system of fumbles that could have crushed Robocalypse if it had relied solely on these units.
Thankfully, it does not. Thankfully, the developers were smart enough to include a squad feature for two of the Heroes, Sergeant Payne and Warlord General, which surrounds them with three soldiers (regular or heavy) and one medic. The additional units follow every move the Hero makes, allowing players to control them as a group, which produces more of a true RTS feel than the gameplay mechanics of controlling each unit individually.
After the first few missions, you’ll learn to let the weak soldiers wander on their own most of the time. They can be useful in a pinch but are often more trouble than they’re worth (unless formed in a squad, of course). The Heroes make up for this, primarily because the battles are very cool and exciting. Your eyes won’t pop out at the SNES-caliber visuals but you may find it hard to blink when enemies start spawning all over the place. Which, as it turns out, is one of the challenges you’ll have to endure--along with the destruction of enemy bases, the protection of specific allies, and the production of large quantities of scrap metal--while fighting to stay alive.
With so many familiar gameplay elements, Robocalypse tries to differentiate itself with a comedic storyline. Or at least that was the plan. Without any voice-overs or animation sequences to drive home the hilarity, Robocalypse is left to tell its tale with a series of still images that could be described as a very weak comic strip. The dialogue isn’t the worst ever produced for a game, but… Hmmm, what falls in between “sucks” and “blah”? Whatever word that may be, it should be used here. Surprisingly, the artwork isn’t much better. The robot designs are okay but the rest are tired and uninspired. It’s possible that these designs are purposely generic to parody various stereotypes. Sadly, the joke is on the game, not on the player, who will most likely skip the story sequences as soon as they begin.
Robocalypse doesn’t deliver the AAA strategy experience Nintendo DS owners have been waiting for, but if you can endure the control quirks and don’t mind skipping an annoying story, this is one of the better games of its kind. You won’t be blown away but you will be entertained.
Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (December 08, 2008)
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