Developer Demiurge has now released its first entirely original game called Shoot Many Robots for downloadable platforms. So has the studio that helped on titles like BioShock and Borderlands made something fun and exciting all on their own?
It feels ridiculous to talk about narrative or plot in a game with the name Shoot Many Robots. Indeed, the title encompasses exactly what the player will be doing. Specifically, players take on the role of P. Walter Tugnut (the ‘P’ stands for Pickles) a gun-toting redneck who lives on a farm out in the sticks. But in the game’s tutorial stage, a swarm of killer robots invade destroying everything including Tugnut’s truck and home. The only things that Tugnut has left after the whole ordeal are his RV, a few guns, and an overwhelming urge to…yep you guessed it: Shoot. Many. Robots.
SMR is a 2D (and at times 2.5D) side-scrolling shooter that borrows from many of the mechanics of retro games such as Metal Slug and Contra while animating the world with a visual presentation similar to Borderlands. The standard levels within the game scroll from left-to-right, but may have branching paths within them to explore. Occasionally, players will encounter specific rooms where the scroll locks and they have to fend off waves of robot attackers before they can move on. Most of the game’s enemies look like toasters with chainsaws attached, but some of the larger enemies include mechanized zeppelins and mobile Gatling guns. Some enemies also fire rockets which can be deflected with a well timed punch to fly back at their target.
While most of the levels end with a boss encounter or a goal that must be reached, some of them are a form of survival mode in which the first wave must be beaten to progress. Additional waves will be added after the first if a player continues to survive. Throughout all of this robot destruction, Tugnut has access to a large array of weapons and armor items which drop randomly from chests found in the environment and from defeated enemies. The items present in the game are also where much of the its humor and heart really lies, and tie directly into a very deep customization system.
Items can be equipped to the head, torso, and legs. Many of the items grant specific kinds of damage bonuses such as increases in explosive or bullet damage. Some also grant special abilities such as sliding, gliding, ground slamming, or reductions in player gravity. But some items can only be equipped when certain level requirements are met. There’s also a large assortment of weapons in the game including old standbys like shotguns, assault rifles, SMGs, and even outlandish choices like flamethrowers. A player’s primary weapon has infinite ammo, but secondary weapons can also be equipped in order to deal a large amount of punch to some boss bots. The real depth to the customization is that it utilizes this huge amount of player choice to also allow for experimentation with different armor pieces and weaponry.
As an example, the Paper Bag head item provides an enormous damage boost, but unfortunately reduces accuracy considerably. However, some weapons like shotguns are ideal when combined with such an item as it increases the spread of each burst. Meanwhile, the item descriptions for each item or weapon are genuinely funny. One item in particular is called the Birthday Sombrero and its description leads to this particular blog post at Demiurge talking about the legend of the Birthday Sombrero. Other items are far more outlandish such as the Baby Carrier (it grants +1 Babies) or the 110% American rifle (+10% to Patriotism). These stats aren’t real in-game variables (unfortunately), but there’s some genuinely good laughs to be had from some of the humor here.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all that SMR does right. In fact, the comparison between SMR and Metal Slug/Contra also represents a weakness in terms of repetition. Sadly, the act of shooting robots only remains fun for about 2 hours or so before the experience begins to get old fast. This is further compounded by a constant recycling of all of the assets. Later worlds have levels that are shot-for-shot exactly the same as previous ones with the only difference being that there are more or tougher enemies present. It’s a real shame to see the amount of energy and playfulness that went into the title juxtaposed against a backdrop of asset recycling. There are also several times where levels have persistent screen tearing in the form of a horizontal line across the length of the screen, which stands out more when compared to the rest of the game’s otherwise great look.
Also controlling Tugnut during some platforming segments isn’t as precise as it could be, especially when certain skills are active due to a specific equipment choice. As an example of this, the Jetpacks in the game give the player the ability to glide. Sadly, there are times where this ability triggers without even having to press the L1 button in the air. Sometimes, it can trigger even when descending a flight of stairs and send you on a trip to the game over screen if you happen to fall into a pit or onto the outstretched chainsaws of a robot horde. SMR also maps the L1 button to the manual aiming mechanic which allows the player to stand in place to shoot instead of running and gunning. This works well on flat terrain, but if the ground has any kind of slope it can trigger the glide mechanics instead.
SMR also features online co-op for up to four players, which is perhaps the way to play this title. But there are times where there is no way to tell what the hell is going on due to the frantic nature of co-op. When bullets are flying, enemies are dying, and rockets are flying back at you don’t be surprised if you find yourself needing a revive from a teammate. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it only happened occasionally, but it happens with such frequency that it’s not surprising to see the most leveled up, best equipped player just dominate while the other three players are out.
Shoot Many Robots indeed lives up to its title so at the very least players can hold off on filing those Better Business Bureau complaints and petitions to change the game. But even though it delivers on the promise of robot genocide, it loses its flavor way too fast, and not even the triumphant spirit shown within the robust customization system can do enough to save it. Players determined to play it will probably seek out every piece of loot and attempt to five star every single level in order to milk every drop of content out of it, while disabling all conscious thought to avoid the boredom brought on by the recycling of level assets. However, I’d wager that most players by the end of the normal campaign will probably feel as though they’ve shot too many robots.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
– Level recycling runs rampant and makes the experience stale quick.
– Lack of variety to the gameplay means the experience is only novel for a short time.