Developer: Point 5 Projects
Bad Bots is a 2D action title currently available for PC via Steam, developed by Point 5 Projects and published through IndiePub. At first glance it looks like a retro-styled Metroid, with the space setting and room to room exploration. But the gameplay is more in line with old school run and gun shooters, minus the difficulty.
You take control of Sam McRae, lone survivor of the Titan Hauler, a space vessel that’s been overrun by murderous robots. Led by a malevolent A.I., the entire crew of the Titan Hauler has been executed, and the A.I. has punched in a crash course towards Earth. Sam, with the help of a single robotic ally, has to wrest control of the ship back from the A.I. while staying alive against hundreds of rampaging bots out to kill him.
Bad Bots actually starts off strong, introducing you to Sam’s plight through a bit of quick comic book style narrative and dropping you into the game with a minute or two of exposition. From the onset of the game Sam isn’t given any weapons or tools, which feels almost like a homage to classic Zelda or Metroid, right down to the moving left instead of right on the map to uncover your first item (like the morph ball in the original Metroid).
As you explore the Titan Hauler, you’ll move from room to room, opening doors, busting through grates, and occasionally uncovering secret passages. There’s no constant on-screen map, occasionally you’ll see one posted on the wall to give you an idea of direction, but not having the luxury of knowing your exact position was another element that I enjoyed. Again this harkens back to old-school game design, and with the setting clearly meant to be oppressive and lonely, it again echoes Metroid well in that regard. Even the sound design is well utilized, with almost zero music present throughout your adventure. This marks smart use of an indie game budget playing up to the design strengths of the actual game.
But unfortunately the rest of the game doesn’t fare as well. I had huge issues with the controls, which give you both mouse and keyboard options as well as controller support. Using both, with an Xbox 360 controller for a gamepad, I never found the set-up to my liking. Movement and jumping are tied together, so using WASD moves you left and right, ducks, and jumps when you hit W. This carries over to the controller, so instead of substituting jump with a button press, it’s still tied into the left analog stick. It feels awkward and cumbersome, and is a design callback that isn’t as welcome as Bad Bots other choices. There’s also no option for mapping controls to your liking, which is certainly unfortunate if the control scheme proves a barrier for enjoyment.
Tying into controls, aiming is tied into the mouse or right analog stick on a controller. Imagine something like a twin stick shooter, but without all the auto-fire. This isn’t nearly as bad, but Sam won’t automatically face a different direction based on whether you’re moving left or right, so even if you’re not actively aiming at an enemy you’ll need to move the mouse or left analog to make him turn around. This becomes annoying when jumping or navigating the occasional hazard, and there are a couple light platforming sequences in the game where this set-up becomes overly frustrating.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the combat in Bad Bots. It’s not so much the run and gun nature of the game, but the way the game devolves in its second half into series of locked rooms with massive waves of enemies to overcome. It’s a boring way to tack on difficulty, and even then the waves of enemies you encounter are typically mindless and easy enough to avoid. You’re given a plethora of ammo throughout the game, so while you might run low on your special, secondary weapon, you really have no reason to run out of standard bullets. There’s an achievement in the game for hitting 50 deaths, but the only way I’d hit 50 deaths is if I entered one of these rooms and stood still every time.
The occasional boss fights do provide a nice alternative, with an end boss that ends up being the only major challenge you’ll encounter here. But the boss fights are too few and far between, and don’t make enough of an impact to detract from the rest of the combat that I have issues with. It’s a shame too, because the first half of the game is more about enemy placement and line of sight, forcing you to leave the safety of cover in order to pop a few shots at a robot with ranged weapons on the far end of a room. You’ll quickly learn that it’s not entirely necessary to be so cautious though, once you realize that very little damage is done when you’re hit, and health picks are in abundance just like ammo. But that cat and mouse nature of combat early on is still fun while it lasts.
No adjustable difficulty, even post game, means that there’s very little desire to replay Bad Bots after you’re finished. There are three challenge modes to check out once you finish the campaign, but they are literally more locked rooms with tons of robots swarming in, but timed to 60 seconds. One of the modes is a practice run that doesn’t track high score, while the other two are given difficulty modifiers but quite frankly feel identical in challenge. There’s some push for score here, with a small local leaderboard tracking your high score for each run, and a combo system based on the occasional item drop that clears out nearby robots in different patterns. But still, it wasn’t something that I’d plan to revisit often, if at all.
So I’m pretty lukewarm on Bad Bots. It’s certainly not awful, and when it calls back to the retro style of the classics that preceded it I think it does a better job than most. But the combat design coupled with the clunky control interface really brings the experience down. There’s also not enough post-game content or reason to revisit the campaign after you’re finished, and with the light non-adjustable difficulty setting, you’ll blow through the game in a single sitting without anything particularly memorable to call back on. It might be worth checking out in an eventual bundle or sale, but it’s certainly not something I’d highly recommend.