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Shoot Many Robots

Shoot many Robots is all about the American dream. Living in an RV, drinking beer and shooting killer robots with a rifle.




Okay, I’ll admit I could be a bit hazy on the definition of ‘the American dream’ there. But it plays up a lot of the American stereotypes and I still haven’t figured out if it’s supposed to be ironic or not. You play a bald, grizzled American redneck type character. Your pickup truck is immediately destroyed by robots, shortly followed by your house. Seeking vengeance, you set out armed with a submachine gun, rocket launcher and quantities of health-restoring beer and narrowly save your RV from the same fate as your house and truck. Fortunately it’s the ultimate hybrid of house and truck so you’re pretty much sorted. Beyond that, the plot hopes to merely propel itself on a wave of machine wreckage. No twists, drama or character development, not even the merest token effort, just destroying thousands upon thousands of robots because they wrecked your truck.

So those robots had better be really fun to destroy, right? Alas, not so much. There’s a variety of weapons and upgrades available via a shop housed inexplicably in your RV’s bathroom. There’s a bit of variety in the weaponry too, but a considerable part of the arsenal is just upgrades on the previous model, and honestly, I just keep coming back to the same gear. Fully automatic weapons just chew through most enemies pretty quickly and pretty much the first hat you unlock raises your weapon crit rate to 60%. It’s so overpowered as to make everything else redundant. I suppose you could easily artificially raise the difficulty by simply not using said items, but since when did any gamer volunteer to nerf themselves?


Interspersed throughout the standard levels are a handful of survival mode levels. These are a bit more challenging and will throw wave after wave of enemies at you until you succumb to the hordes or kill them all. This will put even an overpowered loadout to the test and it’s quite a lot of fun, too.

The game is a 2D platformer/shooter. Kind of like the old Metal Slug games. Jumping around on platforms shooting at anything that moves. It’s a bit more fluid than Metal Slug though so it plays less like memorizing a sequence of moves and more like an actual game. The graphical style borrows heavily from Borderlands with an industrial, almost cel-shaded look. Unfortunately, the game gets stale pretty quickly. You can mix it up with different loadouts, but once you’ve smashed a few thousand mechanoids it starts to feel like a bit of a grind. It doesn’t even have the same visceral satisfaction that Orcs Must Die! had, and that was a similar principle; at least orcs had the decency to walk into giant whirling blade traps with a sadistically delightful squelch.

Ubisoft keep catching me with my guard down. They keep publishing games that if I didn’t know better I would have called indie. Rather original looking concepts with a low price points, and it’s hard to take issue with that. The idea that it has a publisher at all is poor grounds to make a complaint, no doubt. The problem I have with publishers is that the game never stands on its own merits. I’d heard of Shoot Many Robots before launch, and I’d assumed the hype was due to it looking pretty decent. In retrospect it’s obvious that it was due to Ubi digging into its deep pockets to make sure people heard of it. I mean, that’s their job, right? The faux “indie” stuff Ubisoft keeps publishing never quite lives up to expectations though. They build hype and follow through with a less than stellar offering. From Dust never quite lived up to the promise, either. Sans-publisher these games probably wouldn’t fail outright; they’re well polished and quite entertaining, but they’d struggle to stay afloat amongst much better indie titles.

Shoot Many Robots by Demiurge Studios is available on Steam, XBLA and PSN

Minecraft, Technically Speaking

I make no secret of it, I got bored with Minecraft a few weeks before its full release. I’m not denying that it is a thoroughly excellent game. Few things in this world have the power to connect total strangers in quite the same manner as Minecraft. Everyone gets something different from it and yet people get common experiences and stories they can bond over. My thing was always survival mode; I’m not in any way artistic enough to play in creative mode. But once you’ve survived everything where do you go from there? You build a fort, pyramid, bunker, levitating city, whatever you call home. You have diamond weapons and tools, diamond armour. You look like the Star of Africa, honestly. What do you do with all that? You can sit in your city, glinting in the sunlight or make it your mission to slay every creeper ever as retaliation for that one that knocked a hole in your wall while you were trying to craft. Either way it wears thin pretty quickly.

If anyone asks, yeah I’m still big on Minecraft. It’s a lie, a white lie, but damn, if it isn’t a conversation starter.

I am entirely aware that a lot was added to the game upon launch but for me it was too little, too late. So I now have the opportunity to grind countless more hours of gameplay yet again just to unlock a dragon to fight? A fight so needlessly convoluted that it took three of the Yogscast team over fifteen minutes to fight using cheats, god mode and flying. You know, I’m good, thanks. I can live without that experience.

Not your father’s Minecraft

All the above negative cynicism is rendered invalid in the light of new developments though. A compilation of Minecraft mods known as the Technic Pack (or Tekkit in multiplayer) has recently made itself known. It’s been around for a while; Lewis of the Yogscast demonstrated it some time ago, but at the time I thought it looked unnecessarily convoluted. A nice diversion, if you’re into that kind of thing, but I wasn’t. The rest of the Yogscast crew, it seems, have continued playing it in comparative obscurity, with Duncan providing a well made in-depth tutorial of nearly everything in it. Duncan has now joined Simon and Lewis to use Tekkit to build a Jaffa cake factory, getting distracted along the way in their usual inimitable style. This was the inspiration it took to garner my interest, it would seem. Such a creative and uniquely inspired idea, and definitely only possible with a lot of trial, error and learning new things in Tekkit.

So I promptly installed the Technic Pack (what with the BM Minecraft server being unsuccessful and all) and dived in. I was easily a couple of hours in before I even got to building machines, the amount of content added is so great. I was tripping over exciting new features right from the start. I spawned in front of a pyramid – and not one of those vanilla MC ones with a silly TNT trap – this had bedrock catacombs stretching the length of the desert, terrifyingly complex, especially for a player starting out with few resources. Finally making it, dirty, sweaty and hungry, outside with my loot I was greeted by and slain by a werewolf. A werewolf! I’ve had bad nights in Minecraft; once I lost two pet wolves to a creeper. The werewolf tops it, though. It’s fast, vicious and damn near unstoppable (I now know it’s weak to golden weapons. Isn’t hindsight wonderful?).

So I sheltered in a nearby Japanese town (courtesy of Millenaire, long before the Testificates appeared on the scene) and set up a better camp in daylight. I got a few simple automated systems going. I moved on to building a factory. The Equivalent Exchange mod uses alchemy to transform any item into resources of equal value. Around eight thousand dirt blocks are equal to one diamond, so getting enough stone to build a rather large factory building was trivial. Power was now the consideration, coal wouldn’t last forever. Wind was my first attempt, but being set up near sea level, the resources needed to reach the altitudes necessary were excessive. Water mills worked but produced so little power as to be near worthless. Solar, then. Solar produces a much better output, wiring it up won’t cost you all your diamonds, but as in real life it’s only going to work on sunny days. It was a massive learning experience, just to make things switch on. But once things worked, the satisfaction was immense.

So now, I have a quarry automatically digging up half the continent, with specialised tubes to sort everything it finds into valuable items, ores which end up smelted into metal bars and useless junk which gets alchemically converted into whatever I happen to need. It runs off three solar arrays which produces just enough excess power to keep my electric jet pack charged up. That last bit? Yeah, the jet pack. Now that’s the best bit. You haven’t lived in Minecraftia until you have a jet pack.

Or a Lightsaber

I’ve barely scratched the surface, this much is abundantly clear. There are entire mods within the pack I haven’t even begun to touch. Forestry, I know at least lets you automate all types of farming for starters, likely more I don’t know about. I’ve seen beehives dotted around the world, and I know you can take up bee-keeping if that’s your bag (insert “covered in bees!” joke here). Most of the items in the absolutely invaluable recipe book look distinctly arcane, both literally and figuratively, I don’t even know what mod they’re in.

Ultimately, the sheer amount of depth this pack adds to the game has given it a new lease of life that I never thought possible. If you have a spark of an idea, it’s probably possible to do it somehow. My grand plan is to glass the desert I spawned in. Quarry it, smelt the sand to glass, grind the stone to sand and smelt that to glass, and then put it all back. But making Jaffa cakes is a noble cause, too.

The Technic Pack is a free mod for players of Minecraft.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is your standard 2D adventure platformer with a lot of bite and a harsh organic style. You’ll traverse, submerge, and blast your way through an infected alien Sun that’s spreading its shadowy organic filth all over the rest of the solar system!

Through the twisted catacombs, lakes, voids, pipes and caves you’ll find may different changes in scenery. All are strikingly coloured and each presenting new obstacles and bosses to thwart. I love the atmosphere between environments. The style mostly boils down to layered silhouetted 2-D gears teeth and lots of spikes. Coupled with impressive visuals, that’s seriously all it needs to be to look fantastic. The spaceship itself is 3-D, which allows for some nice tilting movement while you’re going around corners or dodging incoming projectiles. It makes ITSP look a lot less static than it could have been and doesn’t stick out quite as much as it does in a lot of 2-D / 3-D crossovers.

For its type there’s a surprising amount of gizmos for your space ship to play with. A scanner, lasers, guided missiles, circular saws, shields, grabbing arms, etc. Each is found throughout the adventure and all are necessary to find hidden extra features. The scanner is the key to figuring out what in seven bells you have to do. Given that there’s no text or dialogue in this game either. But mostly you’ll only have to scan new obstacles once to get the hint. After that it’s just a case of using the gizmo or weapon available, or having to come back to that section later once you’ve found said gizmo or weapon. You’ll quickly recognise the task at hand the second time you fly past it. There’s a lot of re-playability in this game. Finding artefacts, concept art, getting all the weapon and shield upgrades, having to track back to access areas previously closed off to you.

I’ve never encountered anything less threatening.

Enemies correspond with their settings, the Organic Zones have plenty of plant-like spore creatures, that sometimes explode.. The Ocean Zone carries plenty of large and dangerous sea life, as expected.. And the Ice Zone which is full of “@$%ing Snowflakes! All are brilliantly designed to mess up your spaceship.. Manoeuvring to avoid or buy time to engage a specifically effective weapon is the only way to evade crashing into a multitude of creatures and environmental hazards.

All Bosses are fixed solidly into their environment, and it’s definitely not a case of blasting every spiky crevice with lasers. Experiments are required to find out how to beat each boss, all the while you looking like a delicious appetizer from some giant toothy gaping maw. Everything needed to finish each battle is within your grasp, knowing what you have to do is half the trick, and sometimes it involves being closer than is comfortable to large and hungry shadow beasts.

The multiplayer feels like more of an after thought to be honest. It’s more of the same takes, only they generate a score and you benefit more from having the extra players to watch your back. However, if multiplayer is your thing, you’re gonna want some physical people to play Local with. Since I’ve seldom encountered another player in the online mode, it’s just not quite captivating enough to hold your attention.

Organic amazingness!

But unfairly, my major gripe with ITSP is its connection to Windows Live. I’m all for signing up to another service if I feel I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of it, however, I’m not personally a Live user. There’s utterly no benefit for me using this service except to link up ITSP’s multiplayer . But I’m more prone to playing these locally with friends than setting up and online match. Which suits me find because there’s seldom anyone else hooked up to the online multiplayer. Not only did I feel reluctant to have to sign up to Live after already purchasing it with Steam, it managed to link up with an Xbox Live account that I’ve never heard of and is certainly not mine. I can only apologise to this user and hope he / she appreciates whatever points I’ve given them while trying to formulate an opinion of the game. To give it credit, I’ve not actually received any junk mail from Windows Live, like I would have anticipated, and it hasn’t actually hindered my experience of the game. It only left me slightly bewildered. I may not be so reluctant to try this again when next encountered.

There may not be a lot original about ITSP, save for its painstakingly animated environments, but that doesn’t diminish its enjoyability. It takes a lot of common features that are fun in their own aspect and gathers them in one place to provide an entertaining, long-lived and challenging gaming experience.


~ Scribble

Free2Play Spotlight: MicroVolts

MicroVolts, by NQ Games is a title I’d seen before. It took me a while to realise it, though. Almost two years ago today a trailer for a Korean game appeared and made some waves in Team Fortress 2 communities. It appeared to advertise a class-based shooter and on the face of it was an exact copy of TF2 with the mercenaries we know and love replaced with dolls and toy robots. The trailer very obviously lifted scenes straight from the TF2 launch trailer. The game was H.A.V.E. Online. MicroVolts is H.A.V.E. Online re-branded for a western audience.

If you’re still reading after that, do not be dissuaded because, for all that the trailer sells the game as TF2, it doesn’t really play as TF2. What MicroVolts actually is is a fast-paced third-person shooter with a diverse set of weaponry available to all players because – and this is the important distinction – it’s not actually class-based. Yes, yes, I saw the trailer, and that very much looked like a scout and a soldier and a heavy and a sniper and a demoman to me, too. But the way it actually works is that every player is given access to all seven weapons so you can mix and match to suit the situation.

Matches are incredibly fast-paced. Fights rarely last longer than a couple of seconds and respawn times are less than five seconds. Keen eyes and quick wits will serve you well. If the players moved a little faster I’d be quite content to make the comparison to the arena shooters of old: Unreal and Quake and their ilk. As it is, it still comes close, the thrill of running around with a ridiculous arsenal on your person blasting others to bits is recreated nicely.

The style is essentially that of Toy Story. A lot of toys running around in oversize environments. Usually. For some reason a few of the levels decide to not stick with the toyland theme and are scaled to a normal size. Weapons are all rather toy-like and mêlée weapons include silly things like pencils and hotdogs. There are four playable characters, two of which need to be bought initially; a hip hop action figure, an anime girl doll, a scantily clad demoness doll and a toy robot. These are all extensively customisable through the in-game store.

Which obviously leads us conveniently to the usual question: “How free is it?”

The store, like most f2p games, uses two currencies, in this case Micro Points and Rock Tokens. Micro Points are earned after matches, typically earning 100-200 points depending on the length of the game and on your performance. Rock Tokens are the premium currency with 10,000RT costing £6. A new character costs 20,000MP, weapons cost up to 18,000MP to unlock permanently and costume items are 22,000MP. Lower price points let you use the weapon or item for a shorter time frame. Items bought with Rock Tokens are unfortunately undeniably superior, however costumes cannot be unlocked permanently, with 3000RT giving you the item for 90 days. The advantage any given item provides you is on the whole pretty negligible, with only minor buffs to damage and stats, but with all premium items stacked this would give you a 12% speed boost or 24% extra health. That’s not an insignificant edge. The cost of this full max-power set would put you back about £30 for the weaponry and £10 for the costumes, with the costumes needing to be re-bought again in 90 days, making it a £30 up-front cost and £40 per year subscription, essentially. That is of course assuming you feel the need to buy an edge over your competitors, when a lot of people won’t be buying into this system.

From a personal standpoint, it is a lot of fun, given that there’s not been a good arena shooter since Painkiller, and I could quite comfortably see myself spending a small amount of money on this game. The fact that any costume piece worth buying expires after a time limit rather reduces the appeal somewhat, though, so I’d probably stick to the weapons.

It’s well worth a look, particularly if you’re sick of trudging slowly around brown military environments. And it certainly isn’t the Team Fortress 2 reskin that the launch trailer prophesied. At the end of the day it has failed to escape its Korean stereotype roots, though and the person with the fattest wallet will likely still win.

MicroVolts is free to play now on Steam.

Penny Arcade’s: Fanservice 3

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is a niche appeal title, there’s no escaping that particular fact. It’s been perfectly constructed from the ground up to appeal to fans of the Penny Arcade webcomic leaving all others both befuddled and bewildered. Fortunately, I’ve been a fan for many a year, so it’s definitely one for me.

Don't act like it's weird

The third title in a planned quadrilogy, headed up by Zeboyd Games after Hothead Games dropped it in favour of working on their Deathspank series, the game takes the series in a new direction from its predecessors. Where the earlier games attempted to mimic Mike Krahulik’s comic art style as closely as possible, with Krahulik himself acting as artistic lead, Zeboyd have instead favoured their own pixel-art retro RPG style. Likewise, the first two games played out in a traditional turn-based RPG style, but this now attempts to modernise a lot of the old mechanics. It’s a joyous blend of the very old and the very new.

One thing has remained mercifully constant. The writing – in its entirety – was forged at the pen (or keyboard, whatever) of Jerry Holkins. A man I hold an immense respect for, he has a way with words like no other mortal. He has constructed a Lovecraftian world of mysticism, the occult and deities that can be slain if you only hit them with a rake hard enough. A dark world with an even darker plot, very liberally filled with puns, slapstick, general silliness and far more Penny Arcade references than you could imagine existed. And yet somehow, it all works. Don’t ask me how; on the creative scale, he’s building whole worlds and I’m just playing with a bucket and spade building sand castles.

Practically Shakespearean

In terms of gameplay, Zeboyd has done a lot right. It’s a lot of little things. Things like your characters fully heal after every fight and items have limited number of uses per battle but fully regenerate afterwards. Where historically games would make you trek back to town if your party was getting ragged or you didn’t have enough potions, this cuts out a lot of the tedious legwork. It’s essentially saying “yes, we know you have the option to go and do that so let’s just assume you did”. There’s no grind, either, which sounds an absurd sentence to ever commit to an RPG title, but it’s true. There are no random battles, they’re all predetermined, with every fight gradually tougher than the last. You’ll enter every fight thinking “Oh God, these guys look tough” when in fact it feels like it’s all very, very carefully calculated to be exactly the right difficulty. It would be quite easy to dismiss this as being more ‘modern game hand-holding’, but enough of the fights are a good challenge without the solution ever being that of ‘go back to the last bit and kill 50 more dudes so that you’re stronger’. A bit of strategy and finesse is required.

And speaking of strategy. Every character has one base class but can learn two more from a selection of fourteen, and these can be swapped around at will between battles because they manifest themselves as badges. By wearing two of the badges your intrepid heroes can become a Tube Samurai or a Cordwainer or a Slacker or a Dinosorcerer or a Crabomancer (among others) in addition to their standard class. Most of them are just as silly as they sound; the Cordwainer (a wonderful old term for a shoemaker) primarily deals damage through an ability called ‘Sole Calibur’ and the Gardenar (sic) can create a garden of dangerous bees that will damage all enemies every turn. By mixing and matching badges you can enhance characters strengths or compensate for their weaknesses and play out battles however you like.

The mighty Elemenstor! With power over elemenst?

Overall, I’d still find it hard to recommend to someone who hasn’t read the webcomic. There’s a quite a lot, damn near all of it if we’re honest, that would just go over their head. It’s too heavy on in-jokes from a comic that’s been running consistently three times a week for over thirteen years. On the other hand, if you’ve ever read Penny Arcade you won’t want to miss this. Zeboyd has worked hard to make it accessible even to those who haven’t played the first two and it’s priced staggeringly cheap for a game of this calibre.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is £3 on Steam or 400MS points on Xbox Live Arcade.