Giant Fighting Robots a unique sim despite subpar campaign mode

Posted: May 17, 2009 in Shooter

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and had an empty feeling afterwards? This would seem to apply to Giant Fighting Robots, a new 3D combat simulation game. Visually and from a mechanics perspective, this is what we’ve come to expect from Laminar Research, the devs behind the X-Plane series. The problem is in the half-baked storyline/campaign mode.

Giant Fighting Robots is not turn-based and your objective is to maneuver an All Terrain Attack Walker (ATAW) through various terrains to destroy alien fighters and spider bots.

Normally, I would start by telling you how many levels are in the game. In this case, the levels seem random, and you wouldn’t know there was a coherent storyline based on how the game is set up. By the way, there are 26 levels, but what the game lacks is a map or some sort of list of upcoming or unlockable missions.It probably would’ve have been a better idea if the devs didn’t include any storyline at all because it highlights one of the deficiencies of the game. In addition, the menus look unpolished and mostly consist of unformatted black text on a white background.

You notice the randomness each time you close and open the game. It’s disappointing to see this because it’s obvious how much time was put into the graphics and environments and how little was put into the storyline. Here is the text when you begin a mission…

“Your mission is critical to…” and a random name is inserted.

These are the ones that came up: Arkab Prior, Kuma, Marfak, Hyadum I, Alcyone, Meissa, Alpard, and Sham. There is no linear progression in the game, which is a shortcoming when this is identified as the Campaign mode. Win or lose, I end up at a new location each time. Also, the intro text is the same for each mission…

“The Spiders are attacking now, and must be pushed back at all costs.

Your mission is clear! Destroy the Aliens!”

While there is no background music which may have helped offset the storyline, the sound effects are more than adequate. Giant Fighting Robots offers one mode of play: Campaign Mode which takes you through a series of missions occurring in various terrain and day/night conditions. The level of difficulty is set via a slider where you can set it all the way down to easy at 50% of nominal (100 being nominal) all the way up to 200% of nominal meaning hard. It would be a good idea to set the slider all the way down when first starting out as the game can be quite difficult. As is typical with Laminar, calibration can be adjusted by current and reference pitch and roll and is accurate when done correctly. If you need a closer look, the double-tap zoom function comes in handy for those long-range targets.

In Campaign mode, an overview for each mission is provided along with briefings on technology (controls), weapons, and the ATAW. From here, the ATAW can be customized in terms of engine, reactor, battery load, armor and jet (allows limited aerial propulsion), which can be added up to the allowable mass of the vehicle. One nice feature is the ability to see the ATAW with the various weapons before making a final selection. These can only be adjusted at this stage, and I commend them for the level of customization.

There are various ATAWs that you’re assigned based on your progression through the game including Atlantic, Olympic, Huron, Galaxy and Titanic. Controls are accelerometer based for steering and a throttle slider on the left for speed, and depending on the robot, you may have an additional slider below for panning. Weapons include Vulcan cannon, flamethrower, Stinger missiles, Ion Cannon, Laser, and Guided Torpedo.

The gameplay is similar to that found in the X-Plane series—very physics-oriented, and for the most part highly functional. On the gameplay screen, the throttle slider is on the left-hand side and depending on the robot, another throttle is located at the bottom of the screen. Also, a v-radar shows the vantage point relative to the enemy. In the upper right-hand corner are available weapons with a counter showing available ammo. Giant Fighting Robots has full 360-degree motion, and there are 4 different views to choose from and can be changed at any time during gameplay. Also, a self-destruct button is included, allowing you to watch your robot explode if that’s your pleasure.

Robot movement is very smooth, and the terrains from the hills to the bumpy textures is spot on. A good amount of your time will be spent dodging shots and damage is incurred, messages appear showing where the damage is. From the sound of weapons fire to the creaking of mechanical joints, when your ATAW is damaged, you’ll feel it from the malfunctioning camera views to the cracked screen. I do wish there were more enemies on screen at the same time. One-on-one missions are fine when you’re first starting, but multiple enemies would add to the variety of the game.

If Laminar plans to enter the action game space, they need to up their game when it comes to the interface and the menus…they are clinical at best, and they detract from the beautiful terrains and terrific 3D animation and mechanics found in the rest of the game. Don’t get me wrong, most games don’t have very deep storylines, but at least they’re somewhat coherent and varied, which can’t be said about Giant Fighting Robots.

Albie Meter: 4 stars for the great 3D work (recommended if you’re looking for a realistic combat experience in 3D environments, but know that this includes a subpar storyline/campaign mode setup)

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