Once upon a time, two-dimensional "run-and-gun" shooters were a staple of the gaming landscape. But after being granted the immersion and strategic variety available in the third dimensions, it looked like the days of running to the right and holding down the fire button could end. Thankfully, that hasn't happened yet and the genre now appears to be going through something of a renaissance as gameplay elements from their 3D cousins find themselves tucked into that comfortable old format to create experiences simultaneously familiar and fresh.
Shoot Many Robots continues this trend, throwing in what seems to be almost every possible mechanic of modern shooters -- along with a kitchen sink for good measure.
You could probably be forgiven for not knowing Demiurge Studios. For close to a decade, they've been working in the shadows, lending their talents to top-tier titles such as Borderlands, BioShock and Rock Band. After all of that time working on other people's games, they're ready to launch out with something wholly their own. The result of this effort is the zany, crass and explosive, Shoot Many Robots.
Games of this nature have always slid by on the most threadbare plotlines, something seemingly celebrated in Shoot Many Robots. You play as P. Walter Tugnut (the "P" stands for "Pickles," but don't call him that), a man who -- like so many of us -- has been quietly waiting for the day when we would have to rise up against the looming threat of global robot dominance. When a decommissioned robot factory, located in the desert near Tugnut's RV, starts pumping out metallic death machines, the only thing to do is fight.
Serving as the game's hub world, the RV not only allows players select which stage robots shall be shot in next, but also to pick the equipment used in said shooting. First and foremost, that means guns and lots of them. Demiurge says that the final game will include over 80 implements of destruction, and my experience in playing the demo showed submachine guns, magnums, shotguns, assault rifles and plenty more. These come in a variety of versions offering different boosts to effects such as damage and rate of fire. A second weapon slot is devoted to a mass slaughter device (Demiurge called them "Oh Shit" weapons) such as rocket launchers, Gatling guns and grenades.
They say that clothes are what make the man. If this is true, P. Walter Tugnut is more of a man than I'll ever be, with an excess of 300 head, torso and leg clothing parts which he can equip before going in to a stage. Some are grouped together as a theme -- wearing three military pieces will make for a ranged damage-focused killing machine, for example -- but all provide a bonus of some kind either to stats or to your personal merriment as you watch a man in a viking helmet blow up robots. Many of the items actually change gameplay itself, lending Tugnut additional abilities. Slap on a pair of leather pants and use them to slide into robots and launch them in the air; or put a jetpack on your back and rain death upon your foes.
The mix and match aspect is fantastically appealing, but you don't get all of this for free. Robots killed in the game yield bolts used to buy these items in the shop (Walter's toilet, where he presumably reads his mail-order weapon catalogs) and earning these bolts is one of the most important elements of Shoot Many Robots. Building a chain multiplier from shooting robots in quick succession is crucial to earning the most bolts possible in a level but the chain builds slowly while it drains quickly.
Having friends to help keep the momentum going can make all the difference. Shoot Many Robots supports up to four players in what the team at Demiurge refers to as "Co-Opetition" action, rewarding both teamwork and individual skill. All bolts collected during a stage go into a general pool, then dispensed to players based on how many robots they shot. In multiplayer games, you can coordinate and strategize with your teammates to maximize that combo meter, then watch that plan fall apart as one player realizes how close they are taking the lead in the kill count and starts blasting indiscriminately. Friendships will burn like the scattered husks of robots left in your wake.
But what of the shooting of robots itself? It feels pure. Having a full 360 degrees of aiming capability makes shooting a joy and the "tactical stance," a stationary hold that allows greater accuracy, can be employed in a variety of ways. The stream of tiny robots that seem to come from all directions don't feel particularly threatening until you look at what they're doing, literally climbing over each other to try and get to you (a happy accident in testing that found its way into the game). That zerg-like pace keeps the pressure on while larger bots -- like the heavily-armored Gorilla -- require more finesse to dispatch.
Shoot Many Robots is silly fun in its customization and tone and deadly serious in play. The robots are all death machines in their purest form and Tugnut can be pretty much anybody you want him to be. Build him for melee and smack robots in their metal faces, build him to spray the battlefield with hot lead justice, or just put a pretty pink tutu on and prance about like a nancy-boy. Either way, fans of classic shooters are going to have one hell of a good robot apocalypse to look forward to later this year on as yet unannounced platforms.