Choice of Robots (PC) review
"Choices We Make Are Not Always Perfect, Though They Are the Journey"
There are those who simply believe science is only about man exploring the nature of the universe, yet science is also a collective legacy of these explorers’ discoveries. From the historical remembrance of the drama between Edison vs Tesla; from the familial legacy of Irčne Curie who tested the structure of the atom her parents began to explore, dying from her own research; and from the names that forever shaped the world, better or worse, such as Einstein and Fritz Haber--science is a history about people, whether of minor or major feats, making choices from their newfound knowledge that may lead to their own ruin, bring them fame, or haunt them in the future to come. This is the essence of what makes Choice of Robots an amazing piece of interactive fiction.
Choice of Robots is the type of game I always wanted to become real, a choice-based adventure around the ambitions of science. What the Civilization games recreate in terms of history as a strategy game is what CoR conveys as a choice-based interactive fiction. It may not have the same scale or freedom, but what CoR does do exceptionally well is create a piece of interactive fiction about the accumulation of your choices. There are simply too many variables, decisions, different outcomes to explore that one playthrough is not enough to experience the whole narrative. While I may be unfamiliar to other “Choice of…” titles, if you were ever curious about their merits, then Choice of Robots would be the best place to start.
Something that was largely apparent when playing Welcome to Moreytown alongside Choice of Robots was the overall value of every decision. There is a great difference in quality offered that not only impacts the lasting consequence and ending but the overall story you build. CoR is simply a piece of fiction made greater by its interactivity to drive its narrative than something arbitrary with no impact on every decision. This is the quality of excellence that separates novels written into a game format and stories created to be their own game.
While the narrative is largely linear with some branching paths, the meaning you create each time is due to the sum total of your decisions around the robot you create. CoR largely takes inspirations from old CRPGs by applying stats to an interactive fiction, and the story (and game) is better because of these inclusions. Flavor-text isn’t simply arbitrary side-notes or meaningless jokes as every decision is based around four major stats that affect your creation: Empathy, Autonomy, Military and Grace. Other stats influence the narrative such as the player’s own stats of Fame, Wealth and relationships with other characters that further add value to each decision. Sometimes the game will put you and your creation at odds with one another’s future goals; sometimes the story will choose different scenes or introduce fail-states to add more variety to the story. From beginning to end, no moment feels forgotten even if the plot does not draw attention to it because the mechanics already are enough of a reminder.
All these dynamic elements, thanks largely to the smart usage of stats, create tangible value to each new playthrough, and the moments that they create such as learning empathy by playing video-games or becoming autonomous from a mistake the creator made are the memories you can recall when the journey comes to its end.
It would be an accomplishment for Choice of Robots to simply tell a narrative in a game-format that plays to its strengths to tell its own narrative for players. The genius element behind CoR is the narrative across multiple playthroughs reaffirms what the linear structure reminds you: You cannot prevent the future from arriving, but you can shape how the future will play out.
The game largely hints at this with the idea of the Singularity of robotics where the rising development of robots becoming more human presents the outcome that robots will possess greater intelligence than their creators. Whether that is the result of superpower countries waging war, economic crises due to the robotics industry, robots becoming more than simply human, and other possibilities the game presents, the outcome always results to that conclusion. Similar to Groundhog Day, it’s the inevitability of tomorrow that makes you realize it doesn’t matter who or how that day will come to pass. The truth that you learn to accept is that it would have happened to another scientist other than yourself, and it’s how you decide to handle the situation that will determine the lasting consequences on the world. Whether you wish to accept them or not, that decision to choose or to abstain are two possibilities that are always within your control.
This attitude is what many great scientists come to accept with the pursuit of science, even when it may be a mark of shame. As Einstein wrote before his death, “I made one great mistake in my life […] when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that the atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them.” Like the atomic bomb, Choice of Robots allows you to stand on that same precipice all great scientists must face when they must choose the one future out of the many possibilities they are more comfortable to accept.
It’s honestly difficult to think of any legitimate issues with Choice of Robots unless the thought of reading makes you want to turn away--or if you don’t find any merit behind these “Choice of…” games. No aspect of the plot, decisions or aspects you must consider feel frivolous to the narrative. The writing is remarkably charismatic in quality and the ability to connect with these characters, even if they are somewhat simple archetypes. As much as I detest review scores, it would be difficult to rate this game anything short of perfection because it manages to tell a simple story in a well-executed manner beyond the expectations of what I had of these games. There may not be anything noteworthy in its narrative or revolutionary as a piece of interactive fiction, but if execution on an idea is not the most important quality than the future should be given to robotic overlords who have more humanity than us.
Community review by Brian (August 14, 2021)
Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.
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