Dean Cleans Off His Steam List - Droid Assault
(This game was re-released on Steam on January 9, 2013.)
My initial thought for Droid Assault was something like, "Okay, Steam, really? The first two games of the year are both twin-stick-style action games? If this one is just as bad as the first, then I'm breaking up with you." My initial thought that actually had something to do with the game was, "This isn't so bad. I guess you don't have to give me back my black t-shirt yet." And then somewhere along the line, I'm actually thinking, "Can you still call them twin-stick shooters if you're using the mouse to aim instead of a second stick?" And then that conversation just gets into semantics.
Droid Assault is pretty direct about the action-and-destruction thing. The game pops up, you read a whole three paragraphs' worth of useful information in the instructions, and then you're dumped into the game, a place where robots are running around a factory floor trying to blow you up. The interface is simple, the graphics don't mess around more than any oldschool 16-bit game would, you hear little clips of floor announcements over radio static and various bloops and bleeps as you run around. It's mostly cheap but effective.
The One Neat Idea (TM) that this game brings out is essentially a Pokemon element. Every time you hit 10,000 points on your score meter, you get a block of "transfer." Hold down the right mouse button, and you see the security level for each nearby enemy robot. Spend an amount of transfer equal to that robot's security level, and you now own this robot and can switch to it at will. Oh ho, I have a small robot army. They will probably not survive.
You can save up several transfer points to absorb one of the more advanced bots onto your team, or you could blow the points quickly and pick up a number of weaker minionbots to swarm for your side. From what I could tell, the latter seems like a poor choice. The bots on your side don't have great AI while you're not controlling them directly - building a team of small bots often means that one will dive right into a group and asplode, a second will hover around the walls without providing support for the first, and the third and fourth will be stuck in the corners of a side passage somewhere. Having one or two well-armored teammates that you occasionally switch to and nudge along seems to be the way to go.
I do give the game credit for those little moments of discovery. The first bot you pick up? Ehn, it's just got a basic single-shot attack. Then the next one has a weaker but wider double-shot, that's nice. Then you grab one that has extra armor but can't see more than three feet in front of its face and can't decide if it's worth the trade. And then the next one oh wait this one has a shotgun boom shotgun to the face hahahahaha. You end up selectively breeding for long sights, good health, and unique weapons. You might end up grabbing a bot with the short-range EMP nuke, and robo-life is happy and beautiful for a little while, up until it gets taken out by snipers when you're not looking.
The collection mechanic is cute for a good long while, but the lack of procedurally-created levels hurts the action. Every time you enter level 23, it's the same level 23. Every time you run level 35, which is that BS level with a huge swarm of long-range armored bots, and you just happened to not grab an AOE-capable robot in the stage beforehand, and you're trying to capture a dramatic screenshot when lots of bullets are on the screen at once, then it's a rough time every time. The role of running and shooting gets repetitive for every game of this type, but forcing me through that one uninteresting tight-quarters level on every playthrough breaks some of my interest in going back.
There's some strategy in picking the right bots, knowing when to leave your allies on auto-control and when to control them directly, knowing which bots to stock up with bonus items - and trying to keep the bonus-stacked ones alive a little longer. I haven't stuck through to the most difficult set of levels yet, in part because mindlessly shooting things only keeps me so interested in a single sitting, and there's just a bit too much frustration in getting into some rooms without the right weapons. (Do we really need turrets that are immune to the damage that my only living robot can deal?) But there's just enough that's unique and fast-paced in this one that I could see people re-running it to hit the high scores list.