Remember that scene in Johnny Mnemonic when the main character had to fill his head with an overload of data? Yeah, not many people do. It’s the first and last time a William Gibson story was put to screen. Sad really. Had to think hard to remember that movie in order to illustrate my week with Arcen Games latest robotic dungeon crawler; Bionic Dues.
Set in a future Earth, man has become outnumbered by vast robot armies. They are in your office buildings, your streets, maybe even in your coffee. (You never know.) I play a commander of one of the few remaining human colonies left. Hopes have been dashed, morale is low and command has just learned that a massive robot army will be here in 50 days. Time to prepare!
From my HQ, I send out my team of four robots into the city to complete missions in order to prepare for the final confrontation. The missions very in objectives and are played out in a top-down, turn-based setting with flat, 2d animations. Mission after mission, I face the same core challenge every time: Get my team from here to there. I’m rewarded with with parts that enhance the robots’ built-in weapons, shields and various stats. And it’s here where my mind explodes.
The vast onslaught of differing parts that can be slotted into my robots’ various orifices brings on the same head rush that could be felt from downloading a 300 terrabyte file into your head. I’m all for diversity and options, but this is overload. And the real slap in the face of strategic planning here is in the core interface. Parts, slots and stats are arranged separately on a single screen forcing me to bounce my eyes from stat to stat just to compare. There are some colored text that helps a bit, but the primary flaw here is the lack of good UI/UX design. My comfort level was clearly not a factor in the game’s development. I get the distinct impression of a rushed product.
Which is a shame. For all the nausea-inducing data on the screen, the game is actually quite engaging. Each turn allows me enough time to form some strategy to deal with the enemy robots and dangers in each room, which kept me thinking in between moves. And I have tons of options at my command from just four little units. I can switch between robots to access each unit’s unique equipment or try different weapons … which sometimes resulted in one of my own guys getting blown to bits from the splash damage. But if you ever duck-taped fireworks to frogs as a kid, then you might enjoy sending your bots to their glorious doom. And as your team earns better gear, the gameboard opens up to a much wider arena.
This is old school dungeon crawling with robots, which I have been ASKING for from developers for years. But I can’t bathe in the retro style combat when I have to listen to move-after-move of lifeless monotone voices declaring their actions or announcing their confusion. Phrases like “Why was I programmed to feel pain” and “Now where was I going” lose all humor after a dozen rounds or so. And the rest of the sounds are just as annoying. The sound to place a mine, is the same dull buzz that is heard from setting up a sentry or unleashing a virus. I understand ‘indie’ means sacrificing some detail and quality, but I’m sure generic sound effects were not the only options available to the developers.
And I really wanted to love this game since it has all my favorite game elements; turn-based moves, robots, multi-talented squads, robots, loot, robots, upgrades… did I mention robots? If only the information overload, glaring sounds and dull visuals could be upgraded as well. As it is, this is more for hardcore indie fans and rouge lovers. All others, move along.