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Robot Arena III (PC) Review

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Battle robots had a solid place in tv when I was growing up. BattleBots in the US, Robot Wars in the UK, the few robot arena shows on offer knew exactly how to drum up the excitement too, throwing in some industrial “science music,” hoarse commentators, fog machines, and screaming alarms to heighten the spectacle. And even then, I knew I was watching one of the most forgettable competitions of my life and yet the energy of the programs would take me. Often, I’d conjure up personal excitement by envisioning my own ultimate robot, armed with a massive chainsaw or sledgehammer, decked out in an orange and black camouflage, and called something like “Murdersaurus-Rex” or “ZERO.” You know, kid stuff. Robot Arena III throws the opportunity onto the table to create and battle your own DIY robots, but not quite like on tv. Battles are just as janky and pedestrian as on tv, but without the pizazz and personality those programs used to inject life into this – erm – “sport.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the way last year’s Rocket League took its silly premise to an extreme with pulsing techno, roaring crowds, a full sized stadium, and explosive visuals that served to complement the grandeur of each match. While communicating a different context entirely, I feel a departure from reality, some exaggeration, was sorely missed in Robot Arena III. The entire thing feels just as dull as I imagine backyard DIY robot battles probably are. Despite an enormous amount of visual customization, the provided selection wasn’t very exciting. Throw a sledgehammer, a chainsaw, a spike onto your machine. It doesn’t matter; most matches boil down to a few hideous boxes with wheels knocking into each other. There’s no added flare, no bells and whistles to help keep up the energy. You play in drab environments like backyards, warehouses, and a few tv-like pits to the soundtrack of bad metal-on-metal sound effects and D-list trucker rock. Some zaniness a la Tony Hawk’s Underground would’ve gone a long way in this regard. Maybe an unlock system featuring logos, trinkets, and more to personalize your bot. Again, this is a virtual workshop, where anything is possible, and we’re only provided with some basic tools, weapons, and skins to express ourselves. Steam Workshop sets the stage for creatives to upload their custom creations and components, which is great, but I think a great deal more imagination and effort on the part of the developer should’ve gone into vanilla version of the game. If anything, robot creation does feature a pretty broad spectrum of customization. You’re granted a great level of control as to weapon articulation, chassis shape, and mobility. Enthusiasts might find enough in just building and testing their creations. But that won’t be enough for most gamers.

Robot models themselves are rather realistic in their mundanity, lacking any flavor or feeling. Despite the infinite weapon and armor recipes available in the games robot customization tool, I knew whatever robot I created would maneuver like garbage. Lots of time, just nudging into an enemy was enough for my bot to take damage and break its weapons. Landing a decent blow on an enemy too provided little in the way of audio-visual feedback; just a mere “clink” was about all I got. The hefty, forklift-inspired WASD controls will send your bot crawling its way toward enemies while the auto-cam struggles to keep the action on-screen. A fixed angle on the battlefield, while perhaps an out-dated approach, would’ve at least been truer to the nature of robot battles, as competitors typically pilot their machines from a fixed sideline; though I doubt it would’ve been enough to make the overall game any less frustrating.

The vanilla game at least comes with an abundance of prebuilds to play as and battle against. In certain arenas, however, the game’s AI made sure there weren’t any “battle” to be had. In the industrial map, all four competing robots spawn in different raised corners of a square shaped arena. Every time I loaded it up, at least two of the three AI contestants managed to immobilize themselves by tumbling off the edge of their spawn point, rather than following a ramp down to the arena’s bed, and landing upside down. One arena with a pitfall even saw AI leaping to their death for no reason.

Perhaps a great amount of enthusiasm for DIY robot arenas went into Robot Arena III; still, I feel there was very little effort put into preparing to sell the title as a finished product. There’s basically only one mode – deathmatch, there aren’t any playlist or arcade modes, no unlocks; nothing. You play one match at time, select your robot, opponents, and arena and once it’s over, it’s over. Not even a retry button in the match results screen. Despite a healthy amount of robot designs uploaded to Steam Workshop, the online multiplayer servers, as far as I could tell, were dead on arrival. Not once did I see even a single game listed on in the in-game server list.

There isn’t much left to say. I could say the visuals are rather outdated if not hideous, with muddy textures and consistent drops in performance but I’d be beating a dead horse. Overall, there’s little aside from the robot customization to redeem Robot Arena III for me. It’s a weak effort at a niche title. I think that alone sums it up.

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