Graveyard: Robotica

Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.

When id Software released Wolfenstein 3D, they created a genre that’s dominated the industry to this day. Following that revolutionary release id continued to pump out hit after hit, and so came a wave of inspired– and often shamelessly cloned– shooters. The PC was the go-to platform for these type of games (and arguably still is) and the console gaming market wanted to cash in on this hot trend. Rare gave the N64 the (then) gold standard for console shooters with GoldenEye 007, the PlayStation also fared well with series like Medal of Honor, and finally the Saturn gave fans the cult-classic PowerSlave. There was one other first person shooter released quite early during the Saturn’s lifespan, an obscure game called Robotica (known in some places as Deadalus).

At the time Robotica wasn’t really praised, but then nobody was interested in any shooter without “Doom” in the title. Even The excellent PowerSlave enjoyed very limited success for being wrongly dismissed as a Doom clone, but that’s a piece for another day. Robotica was recommended to me by a veteran Saturn collector, though other than that everything I’d heard about it was negative. Not many former Saturn owners remember it fondly. My experience with Robotica is a bit of a mixed bag, on one hand it has a number of issues, but then again on the other it attempts to do something different with the FPS formula. Sadly most of its ideas either fall flat in execution or are just not very practical.

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Robotica is a corridor shooter set in a desolate space station. In each floor you roam around shooting enemies, navigating environmental traps, and looking for an exit leading to the next floor. Some interesting situations pop up from time to time, such as one instance where the lights go out and you have to navigate in darkness looking for a switch. In many ways the game almost feels like a rogue-like, as it has no save system or checkpoints. It becomes a test of how far you can go in one sitting.

The concept is interesting, and exploring corridors to fill-up your map can be strangely relaxing and engaging all at once. That said, the level design is rather bland, with very little enemy variety. Most of the game is too dark,  and coupled with the short draw distance it makes it hard to see what’s around you. Robtica’s engine is underwhelming – even by the standards of its era – with an inconsistent frame rate that often drops to a sluggish slow-motion. It’s not the best-performing or looking game, and there are far superior shooters on the Saturn that fare better in visuals and performance.

The biggest issues are with the core mechanics. The game tries to capture the feel of controlling a heavy tank of a robot, but while that sounds cool on paper, it’s not very practical when you’re trying to create a playable game. Then there’s that dreaded HUD… what a cluster! The excessive heads up display only makes the murky visuals worse. Sure the numbers and stats are  useful at times, but they can’t substitute for clear vision. It seems the developers were trying to simulate the feel of piloting a mech-suit, but it just isn’t practical from a game design standpoint. The weapons and abilities are very standard, and the game gives you no compelling uses  for them.

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Robotica is a nice reminder of an era where everyone wanted to be as cool and groundbreaking as id Software. Robotica tried to be something different, but ultimately fell flat in its execution. I personally managed to glean a little enjoyment out of the game, but as far as Saturn exclusives go, it isn’t worth bragging about.