GUNS and ROBOTS Preview: These gears need greasing
After grinding out countless grey and brown shoot-fests around the turn of the decade, the shooter scene has slowly been leaning toward a very different take on the genre. In lieu of the conventional war-torn single-player campaigns, complete with their iconic two-toned color palettes and flimsy narratives, more and more studios are directing their focus to what many players buy shooters for — the multiplayer. From Titanfall and Evolve to indie entries like Loadout!, multiplayer is rapidly becoming the preferred home of all things gunmetal grey. And with MastheadStudios’ breakout title Guns and Robots now out in the wild, that home has one more tenant.
Guns and Robots doesn’t play coy, right down to its title. It’s a game about guns and robots, both of which are purchased, designed and built by you. It blends customization with arena combat, with a dash of competitive third-person shooting for good measure. You aren’t some nameless soldier, but instead play as a meticulously tuned killing machine, armed to the voice box with all manner of lasers, flamethrowers and missiles.
Lasers and flamethrowers and missiles and ... whatever those are.
From the start, there’s immediately something different about the game’s perspective. You control your robot directly as you float and roll your way through battlegrounds, sure, but because you’ve invested so much time and money into building the thing, it feels as though you’re just as much an eager scientist looking down on your creation from some unseen stand. Controller in hand, you watch as your bot faces off against the creations of others, and the whole experience smacks of some sort of IT deathmatch derby than just an online shooter.
Of course, it is a third-person shooter, and it certainly plays like one. The online matchmaking family has once again gathered: Team Deathmatch sits in the middle, a smug smirk on its face; Capture the Flag has once again been given the end seat and is vying for attention; and Domination, King of the Hill and the like fill up the empty seats and fight over the side dishes. You won’t find anything innovative in the matchmaking of Guns and Robots, but things are varied enough to keep you interested.
Not that they need to, though, since the game’s real hook is in the Garage. This is where you’ll be evaluating your purchase options, building and testing your modules, and then cobbling those modules together until your bot resembles something cohesive. You choose a chassis, body and head, doodads and whatchamacallits to plug into them, and weapons to strap onto the frame. Fortunately, Guns and Robots has opted for a less serious side of robotics, so you’ll be working with everything from hovering fish to paper bag heads to RC cars. Combinations are as endless as you can afford, and saving up for and then finally buying that one part is thoroughly satisfying. However, that satisfaction is also thoroughly stamped out by how flagrantly pay-to-win Guns and Robots currently is.
Don't give me that look. You're pay-to-win. There, I said it!
It’s an incredibly simple but all too common tale. A free-to-play shooter in which better equipment is sooner acquired through your PayPal account than through playtime, worsened by how painfully slow it is to naturally (read: freely) unlock gear. There are no prerequisite stats that determine what you can and can’t equip, so if you want the best stuff in the game, you’re always just a credit card away. Players willing to drop money on the game invariably build a rift between stingier players that no amount of skill can fill, since, even with daily rewards and challenge bonuses, accumulating enough money to purchase high-end parts takes ages.
Funnily enough, taking ages is actually the game’s biggest hurdle. Online shooters, particularly those of the arena-lite variety, are meant to be fast-paced — somewhat of a controlled chaos. If they’re too slow, players get bored, but if things are too uncontained, it’s impossible to keep track of the gameplay which then devolves into round after round of “pin the bullets on the everything”.
Guns and Robots plays like shot-put at an old folks’ home.
Players have entirely too much health and even the strongest weapons will only drop opponents after literally minutes of plinking away at them. Facing off against rival bots feels more like a game of patty-cake than a mechanical death fest. Coupled with disproportionately slow movement speed, in relation to multi-layered and relatively large maps, this reduces the game to a snail’s pace that no amount of creative matchmaking could make interesting. Colorful game types are certainly possible through the steampunk repertoire Masthead has built up, but before anything, they need to put some gas in the tank.
Banal gameplay undermines the wholly enjoyable process of decking out your bot, and as it stands, Guns and Robots is practically unplayable. However, speeding things up is a simple matter of rebalancing. The same can be said for the upgrade system, which could also use a shot in the arm to make spending real money less necessary. Guns and Robots is a charming mix of experimentation and combat, coated in a pretty if familiar cel-shaded aesthetic, and if it can get itself in gear (excuse the pun), it could be an absolute blast.