Robocalypse fires up a fun robot-loving (and hating) RTS

Posted: September 19, 2009 in RPG, Strategy

Lately, the iTunes store has seen its share of real-time strategy games, and I always find myself gravitating towards those that don’t take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, finding a good balance between fun and challenging can be tough. That’s where Robocalypse comes in delivering a military strategy game wrapped up in a Saturday morning cartoon. Ported from the Nintendo DS, Robocalypse takes advantage of the touch controls on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform to provide a humorous and engaging experience.

While the production values are obvious from the gameplay screen shots, what is really done well is the story and how it’s presented. You don’t often hear me say that since the storyline in most games is the most lacking. Not so in Robocalypse. Thermidoom (not sure I’d buy shares in a company by that name) is a conglomerate that happens to develop both state-of-the art toasters and Killer Military Robots. On one fateful day, the friendly AI in the toasters is accidentally installed into the Killer Military Robots which is a bad thing if you haven’t realized by now. From this strange tech engineered mishap emerges the evil Demolisher, a mean pile of metal intent on taking over the planet. If that wasn’t bad enough, he creates his own army of robots who have a similar nasty streak.

As is the case in real life and in most IT departments, the fate of the world rests on computer geek Myron Mako, and his overbearing and demanding female cohort, Dr. Flaxen Hayer. And, yes, Myron has the unreciprocated hots for Doc Hayer. Together they create their own team of pro-humanity killer robots. The one advantage or hitch depending on how you look at is that these robots have been implanted with the memories of retired WWII veterans. Frankenstein here we come.

Helping Myron and Flaxen on the pro-humanity side, the cast of characters includes Thermidoom’s President Mr. Yellin and secret agent Roger Smashteeth. Roger by the way also has a thing for Flaxen which only makes you want to root more for geekster Myron.

The game has a considerable amount of depth with 17 campaign missions and three modes of difficulty—easy, normal and hard. The missions themselves are quite varied in their objectives that can be as straightforward as destroying the enemy’s headquarters and as complex as preventing a certain number or enemy bots from entering an area while also destroying specific structures. The game also has a multiplayer wifi and Internet mode although I was unable to connect.

Before building your armies, know that scrap metal is the foundational resource accomplishing that, which means you’ll need an infrastructure in place. First and foremost is the construction of buildings since this is essential for building up troops and heroes for offensive attacks.

Headquarters—Base of operations that must be protected at all costs; game is over once destroyed
Robot Factory—Produces soldiers and medics
Hero Factory—Produces heroes and can only be built after a Robot Factory is operational
Workshop—Allows for upgrading soldiers up to 2 times
Resource Bank—Increase the production of scrap metal
Radar—Allows views of uncharted areas
Turret—inflicts major damage on enemies
Heavy Turret—longer range and inflicts massive damage

As with typical RTS games, there are heroes who bring a little something extra to the warfare table. Robocalypse doesn’t disappoint with 6 unique heroes along with 20 weapons that you probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. But, I found playing around with these heroes pretty satisfying in the carnage department.

Joe Commando (assault hero)—elite fighter with dual machine guns; more brawn than brains
Sergeant Payne (leader hero)—born leader with gauntlet gloves that smashes heads
Spyder Scout (scout hero)—fast mover good at infiltrating installations and uses the Converter Cannon to freeze enemies
Pyro Assault (assault hero)—fascinated with fires armed with the flamethrower aptly called Melter
Viper the Sniper (sniper and scout hero)—good at infiltrating and long-range sniper attacks
Warlord General (leader hero)—strong leader who leads by example through his Chainsaw weapon

The game also includes RPG elements where the heroes abilities can be customized. Through victories and enemy kills, heroes level up and life points can be applied in the areas of toughness, energy, armor and weapons. These are earned through kills and can be used to boost their weapons in between missions.

What would heroes be without an army of robots…the game has four basic bots, each essential if you’re to succeed, which are also the same types of bots that Demolisher has at his disposal.

Builder—worker bot who builds and collects resources; basic yet more vital bot (produced in the headquarters building)
Soldier—reliable, nimble combat bot that you have to sacrifice on the battlefield (produced in the Robot Factory)
Medic—the Dr. Frankenstein of the battlefield who repairs bots but can’t defend himself (produced in the Robot Factory)
Heavy Soldier—well armored, but slower moving bot (produced in the Heavy Robot Factory)

The big attraction of Robocalypse for many will undoubtedly be the visuals which are well-animated with a good dose of self-deprecating humor. From the robots and structures to the explosions and weapons fire, this is a good looking game. Dialogue bubbles appear throughout where characters spew humorous one-liners, and coupled with the funny cut scenes, you’re bound to chuckle here and there. From an audio standpoint, the game sports occasional voiceovers accentuated by a workmanlike soundtrack.

The interface can look a little strange since the HUD takes up a third of your screen space. Frankly, it’s not the best use of real estate because it does limit that actual game area. Having said that, I did get used to it, and the information provided is more than necessary. The game will automatically orient itself to landscape and portrait modes, and you can swipe the HUD to bring up primary and secondary mission objectives. The primary ones are necessary to complete the mission while the secondary ones provide additional energy and resource boosts.

In the upper left corner is the mini-map showing your location as well as the location of bots. Unexplored areas are blackened out, but you can easily maneuver around through by dragging within the mini-map or in the actual game area. And a graphical summary shows the number and types of bots in the field at any given time as well as available scrap metal and battery power. The status of heroes is located down the left side of the screen and tapping on them will instantly locate them.

A slight learning curve comes with the controls especially in terms of managing bot movements. An individual bot can be moved by first tapping on him, and then the desired location, but moving groups can take be a unorthodox. In general, bots roam around and behave on their own such as scouting areas, repairing structures or even battling enemies. Two buttons appear at the bottom of the screen Action and Defense. Action enables you to set a spot where you want as many as 5 troops to move as a team. Defense is used when you want a certain location defended at all costs. You tap on the appropriate button and then tap on the location. The action flags serve as destination points and troops will move into the area where the flag is located. When placed in enemy territory, they will attack. A workaround is to use Sergeant Payne’s formation ability that quickly gathers troops for battle. Initially, the action flag system doesn’t sound intuitive, but the AI seems to work well in the action flag system. Honestly, the action flag system isn’t the most intuitive and can be frustrating since troops will occasionally wander off and get killed.

The action can be intense and rather addicting. The game seems to have a balanced AI with a fair share of attacks on your camp thrown in for good measure. Exploration is also encouraged since secret upgrades are hidden throughout. Specific controls points are located throughout both for your side and that of the enemy. These locations can be captured and in some cases, unlock hidden mission objectives.

Robocalypse brings a refreshing take to the RTS category. While the action flag system takes some practice mixed in with a bit of frustration, Robocalypse is an entertaining and humorous game that any strategy gamer should check out.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (solid RTS with a touch of RPG and dash of humor; fun and lively art with good depth; movement of troops takes practice and can limiting for some; original and engaging storyline)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/09/19/robocalypse-mobile-mayhem-a-real-time-strategy-game-with-humor/

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