Reviewed: February 15, 2007
Released: December 6, 2007
Humans have a strange fascination with robots. Just look at how popular they have become in pop culture dating back to Lost in Space (“Danger Will Robinson”) to more contemporary and foreboding tales like iRobot. But whether they are saving the human race or trying to enslave us (Matrix), or outright slaughter us (Terminator) we keep on building them.
Video games have seen their fair share of robots, both as sidekicks and heroes. Perhaps the most famous of these is Floyd, the endearing companion in Infocom’s classic text adventure, Planetfall. This was a character that was so vividly captured in prose that many adult gamers actually cried when he sacrificed himself so you might live – admit it – you know you wiped away at least one tear.
Being a text-only adventure you never really got to see the bumbling Floyd, but in my mind he always looked a lot like the hero in Naked Sky’s latest game, RoboBlitz. Blitz looks like he stepped (or rather rolled) right out of 20th Century Fox’s, Robots animated movie from a few years back.
There isn’t a huge story setup behind RoboBlitz. Blitz and his robot-inventor companion are working routine maintenance on a giant space cannon when evil space pirates attack. Their initial strike does severe damage to the space cannon so it’s up to this robotic duo to repair, arm, and fire the cannon to save the day. This is accomplished by exploring more than a dozen levels full of challenging puzzles.
You start off in a hub room with several doors leading to each puzzle area and an elevator leading to your companion’s workshop where you can visit between levels to install various performance and weapons upgrades. Each room leading out of the hub represents a various task or process required to fire the cannon, and each of these is divided into three stages. The first two are usually preparatory work and the third stage culminates in a challenging boss fight.
RoboBlitz is the first game to utilize the new Unreal Engine, so the game sometimes comes off as more of a tech demo than an actual game. The puzzles and levels really focus on complex physics and the manipulation of objects and even gravity. At first, Blitz can only pick-up and carry objects in his robot arms, but later he will be using a point-to-point gravity beam to link and move several objects at once or swing through a level like a metallic Tarzan.
This advanced physics engine and growing arsenal of moves and abilities really allows you to explore multiple ways to accomplish any given task. In one area you can use crates to weigh down platforms or merely using your P2P tractor beam to connect the platform the the floor. At first I tried to play the game completing each room and boss in a clockwise pattern around the hub, but I quickly realized it was easier to save the boss fights for last, collect the “Upgradium”, and max out my abilities before trying some of the more challenging tasks.
Upgradium is the token collectible in RoboBlitz, but it is much more than a simple pick-up that is tallied like most collectibles. You use your Upgradium back in the workshop to build and install numerous weapons and upgrades for Blitz. These green data cards are scattered about the levels. Some are easy to collect while others are nearly impossible. If you want to collect them all you’ll need to return to previous levels after you have acquired some new abilities.
Puzzles are pretty clever. In one stage you have to collect chunks of metal and throw into a smelting pot to forge a school bus-sized bullet for the space cannon. Then you have to open a series of blocked blast doors as the bullet travels down the chamber into the firing position. But that’s only the start. You’ll have to repair cooling systems, establish a fuel flow, repair the radar, and nearly a dozen other tasks before the gun is ready to fire. And I thought muzzle-loaders were slow to load and fire.
RoboBlitz offers hints (which you can toggle off) so you never get stuck for too long. Each puzzle (level) can take 30-60 minutes to figure out, but once you know what to do it only takes 10-15 minutes to actually do it. Sometimes the ultra-realistic space physics can cause some issues. Blitz has some funky momentum as he rolls around the levels, and using the grapple beam is problematic in complex rooms. If you happen to be carrying a box, barrel, or ionization rod it’s all too easy to get snagged on corners or other environmental objects as you roll around.
There are plenty of enemy space pirate robot minions you’ll need to zap during your lengthy puzzle adventure. If you are good about collecting the Upgradium you shouldn’t have any trouble acquiring the weapons to do this, and once you get the auto-locking missiles with fireworks display upgrade nothing other than the boss fights will prove to be any real challenge. You can even learn to predict what actions will spawn a new wave of robots.
RoboBlitz is a great preview of what we can expect from Unreal Tournament III and other games that will inevitably be built using this amazing next-gen engine. This game is particularly impressive considering that the entire code fits into a 50mb download, thanks to some clever technology that actually constructs the textures on the fly rather than storing them. The game only has to worry about polygon construction and gameplay code like AI and puzzle data.
The overall visual flavor is extremely colorful and surprisingly bright. There are some truly breathtaking levels, especially the first time you go outside the cannon and see the stars and moon. Many of the levels resemble extremely complicated Rube Goldberg contraptions that you will have to repair and control to make work the way you want. All sorts of special effects like shadows, colored lighting, heat distortion, and blinding particle effects enhance the action.
Blitz himself has a great physicality about him with a sense of weight and momentum as he teeters around corners and bumps off of walls. He appears to be a very clumsy robot, but I think that was more my fault than his. There is a sense of exaggeration in his overall style of animation that is quite comical.
I was particularly fond of the no-HUD interface. You are totally immersed in the game, as important info like battery power and health are indicated by green and blue meters on Blitz’s back. Pop-up clues indicate when you need to hit a button or activate a device. Score and collectible stats are tallied on a post-level screen. Even cutscenes are seamlessly transitioned with the gameplay thanks to an engine that is powerful enough to generate movies on par with pre-rendered CGI.
There isn’t a lot of variety in the soundtrack, but there is always a driving space-techno theme backing up the gameplay onscreen. Most of the time it is very subtle, almost environmental as the music almost blends with the ambient sound effects, but it does increase in tempo and tension when a boss makes his frightening intro.
There is no speech, but Blitz doesn’t talk anyway. You get all your info and objectives from your buddy down in the workshop, but it would have been a nice to hear those updates. I can almost hear the perfect robot voice in my head when I’m reading the text. I suppose if they had added speech the game would have been a much larger download.
Sound effects are excellent with all of the expected metallic, mechanical, and environmental noises to bring these complex levels to life. Weapons have interesting and diverse effects ranging from the wimpy zap of your EMP to the more powerful whoosh, whistle, and fizzle of the fireworks missiles. Expect some very accurate metallic echoes and reverb effects when you start making noise in the larger chambers.
RoboBlitz is one of the more substantial Xbox Live Arcade titles out there, not only in length and complexity, but also in production values. This, combined with what I am sure was a hefty licensing fee for the Unreal Engine means you get to pay a bit more for the privilege of playing this game. But if you have no problem paying out 400 points ($5) for a rehash of Frogger or Pac-Man then the 1200 points ($15) you’ll need to download RoboBlitz isn’t even a consideration…or at least it shouldn’t be. This is a far better game than many other retail clunkers out there (Pimp My Ride anybody), and at a fraction of the cost.
Expect a solid 15-20 hours to finish this game the first time. The boss battles are quite challenging and the puzzles are too, at least the first time through. Once you figure them out you can probably replay the entire game in half the time, and if you want all the 200 Achievement Points you’ll be replaying most of the game, if not all of it.
There are two skill levels and you’ll need to play on the hardest if you want to access exclusive achievements and bonus contents. There are also hard-to-earn achievements like finishing the game without upgrading and finding all the Upgradium in the game. There is also the promise of future Marketplace content.
RoboBlitz is easily one of the best XBLA games out there. Sure, it doesn’t have the staying power as the totally addictive (and online) UNO, or the intensity of mind-blowing visual shooters like Mutant Storm or Geometry Wars, but this is a great effort that uses a totally new 3D engine to create a unique world, creative and challenging puzzles, exciting boss fights, and a hero for a new generation.
Move over R2D2 and C3PO. There’s a new robot in town and his name is Blitz…RoboBlitz.