Bad Bots

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Point 5 Projects for PC and Mac, originally released in 2013.
In Bad Bots, you play the part of Sam A. McRae, a ship’s mechanic aboard the spacefaring Titan Hauler, where the robots have gone bad. An artificial intelligence known as Dana was installed in the ship’s mainframe, but when she was scheduled to be decommissioned, she reprogrammed the vessel’s robots to murder the 476 member crew. You awaken from your cryo tube to discover that the rest of the crew is dead and that you have been tossed into the ship’s compactor to be killed yourself.

Also in the compactor is a robot named Mother (a reference to the movie Alien) who is the Titan’s historian and record keeper. When Mother disobeyed Dana, she was dismembered tossed into the compactor as well. You pick her up and strap her to your back, grab an axe, and smash your way out of the compactor before you are both crushed. While your new companion lacks appendages, she does provide a bit of narrative exposition along the way.

Rather than attempting to overthrow the thousands of rampaging robots spread throughout the ship, you instead work your way toward an escape pod, and this becomes your first order of business. Equipped with only an axe, you make your way into the ship proper, encountering a knife-wielding red robot who dashes at you and starts slicing away. Fortunately, you find a pistol shortly thereafter, and you begin to push your way forward.

Not long after, you discover an assault rifle which becomes your primary weapon, and all of the ammo pickups feed into this. There are a number of secondary weapons as well, including a shotgun, double shot, grenade launcher, and a pulsar gun. With the exception of the pulsar gun – which recharges slowly on its own – the other secondary weapons have limited ammo. The only way to get more is to find another of the same weapon that you’re carrying, which will add to your overall ammo capacity. If you find a different kind of secondary weapon, you will swap for the new one and lose your previous ammo. However, you are free to come back and pick it up at any time.

While there is a limited amount of ammunition overall, you are never in any real danger of running out. Ammo pickups and secondary weapons are plentiful, particularly if you take the time to explore side rooms and look for hidden passageways. And that’s a good thing, given that practically every room of the ship is crawling with robots ready to take a blastin’.

Bad Bots is primarily an action game. While you are generally free to explore the Titan Hauler and backtrack as you like, this is rarely required for progression. If you head in the direction indicated by your robot operating buddy, you will find yourself constantly facing a barrage of robots to kill, which will lead you onward to your next objective.

Robots come in a few varieties, with the aforementioned speedy red knife-wielders, yellow machine gunners, bright green heavy gunners, and fat slow grenadiers. There are also some small spiders that chase you down and zap you with electricity. These spiders die with one bullet, but you can get into trouble when swarmed because getting zapped stuns you momentarily, allowing them to get in multiple hits in succession. Running backwards while shooting is a solid strategy here, as is jumping around like a madman. This also works in the areas where you get locked in a room with dozens of those red knifers spewing forth from every opening.

Robots react satisfyingly to receiving gunfire, tossing off electrical sparks and bits of metal when shot, bursting with spurts of oil against the wall, and eventually exploding into chunks of springs and gears. But as enjoyable as it is to obliterate these bots, you won’t be doing much else. Each room you enter has a mixture of various bot types, each with its own behaviors, but the resolution for each of these situations is to aim your hurt stick at the bad thing and squeeze the trigger until the twitching stops. Then you walk forward and do that a bit more.

You have free aim in any direction, except downward. While you can aim straight up, side-to-side, and any angle in between, you can only aim downward at a 45 degree angle. This puts you at somewhat of a disadvantage when facing enemies below you, particularly since you and your enemies may shoot freely through 1-way platforms. Also problematic is that some enemies can fire on you from offscreen, but you cannot hit them back. Functionally, these issues are minor inconveniences, as enemies don’t generally cause much damage from afar, and this encourages players to move in close to their enemies to engage them directly.

You do face off against a number of bosses, each of which is some sort of powerful robot, but you don’t generally need to worry about memorizing their patterns and attack types; rather you can switch over to your more powerful secondary weapon and blast their weak points while staying on the move to avoid taking too many hits. There is one boss battle that requires the use of a specific weapon and some additional strategy, but the others are simply bullet cushions.

To that end, Bad Bots is best experienced in several short bursts rather than one continuous run… although stepping away from the game for too long may leave you a bit lost. The game allows you to backtrack and take side passages, but most areas look very similar to one another, sometimes making it difficult to place yourself in the 170 room ship. There are markings on the wall to give you some direction, and there are ship maps posted on the walls to tell you which section you’re in, but there’s no detailed room-by-room map and no direct indication of how to return to a previous room if you get turned around.

The overall presentation is done in a comic book style – in fact the cutscenes are essentially comic book panels – with thick outlines and loads of color saturation. This effect makes areas look a bit flat, and sometimes it is difficult to tell foreground objects from those in the background, and destructible objects from those that are not. Given that destructible crates often contain ammo and health pickups, and solid crates allow you and your enemies to hide behind them for cover, it’s important to know which is which. This is remedied somewhat by adding a thin blue outline to destructible objects when you’re standing close to them.

Bot blasting is occasionally broken up with exploration and mild puzzle solving. Opening metal grates often leads to side passages populated by robotic spiders and spinning blades. Navigating these areas yields ammo pickups, health restoratives, and secondary weapons. These areas tend to focus more on movement than shooting, making use of your ledge grab and jumping abilities. However, for some reason, your JUMP function is assigned to the UP direction rather than its own dedicated button, and this makes precision diagonal jumps problematic.

Another reason to thoroughly explore the environment is to discover save points. While there are some checkpoints that record your progress, save points not only save your game but also fully restore your health. These points aren’t marked on the ship’s map, but they do have distinctive oval doors to make them easier to recognize. You are free to backtrack to save points at any time, and this is made easier by the fact that destroyed robots remain dead.

There are a couple of challenge modes as well, where you are locked in a confined area and you must face off against an endless onslaught of robot enemies. You have 60 seconds to destroy as many robots as possible to maximize your score. In addition to your standard primary and secondary weapons, there are a couple of extra pickups in this mode that destroy multiple nearby enemies.

Bad Bots was developed by Vanni del Moral, who is based in the Bay Area of San Francisco developing under the label Point 5 Projects. The game was published by Digital Tribe, which has also gone on to publish Until I Have You, TinyKeep, Terrian Saga: KR-17, and numerous other titles.

Vanni’s previous work includes the award winning freeware game The Hive, which features a comic book style similar to that of Bad Bots and a number of similar mechanics. While the game does feature armed combat, it focuses more on exploration.

The game takes place in a small mining town in the northwest, where a number of people have mysteriously disappeared. You play the part of a reporter named Alex Rig who gets an anonymous tip that leads him to a secret compound hidden beneath a cabin in the middle of the woods. Armed with only a taser – and eventually some firearms – Alex infiltrates the facility to find some answers, eventually uncovering a vast and terrible conspiracy.