Shoot Many Robots preview

For years now, Demiurge Studios has been something of a games development secret in Boston. Though hardly a known name for most gamers, the studio has had its hands in ports or coding work for some of the biggest titles in the industry: BioShock, Mass Effect, Rock Band, Borderlands.

And yet, the studio is anything but a household name, instead preferring to be a silent workhorse on some of the biggest projects out there. But now, after a good decade of playing second fiddle to bigger names, the studio has decided they want just a bit of their own glory, and in regular inter-office pow-wows has come up with a handful of gameplay concepts that were then built out into prototypes. One of those prototypes became what we were able to check out last week, a cheeky nod to old-school 2D side-scrolling shooters like Metal Slug with an identity of its own.

Well, perhaps "shooter" is being a little too broad. Shoot Many Robots does indeed have plenty of gun-toting going on, but amidst the hail of gunfire and spent shells is something far more interesting: numbers. Specifically, the ones that pop up over enemies' heads to indicate the amount of damage they're taking. See, SMR is technically an action RPG, with all the normal trappings that involves; stats, equipment that influence those stats, weapons with their own strength values, levels, experience, the works.

Demiurge's goal is to blend basic RPG elements with something that's uniquely action-driven: a 360 degree shooter that just happens to exist on a 2D plane. Enemies can and will approach from the edges of the screen, but instead of locking the firing directions to the classic eight stops, leading man P. Walter Tugnut (P is for Pickles, naturally, which is why he likes Walter) can fire at any angle. This makes jumping strafing runs or long-range sniping (you can actually fine-tune the aim, and Walter will pull up iron sights in a cute nod to first-person shooters) far easier than being stuck on a particular plane juuuust out of the firing radius of an enemy.

And there are enemies – lots of 'em. See, Walter's something of an Art Bell fan; a conspiracy theorist that knows the end will come at the hands of a robot uprising. As such, he's outfitted his less-than-hygienic RV with guns. Lots and lots and lots of guns (the stockpiles of which will grow as he adds them to his storage area in... the shower). And, of course, he's right; a long-abandoned factory that used to crank out robots has suddenly sprang to life after years of dormancy and has begun creating robots on its own. Dun dun DUNNNNNNN...

Clearly this is the day Walter was waiting for, and so with mirthful glee, he sets off to... well, you know the name of the game now. We got the chance to jump into Pickles' combat boots and take a few of his toys for a spin. Before we actually charged into the metallic fray, though, we spent a little time with the inventory system, decking Walter out with a cute little pink tutu that helped boost his running speed/jump height, a jetpack for a little sustained air time and one of those beer helmets to give us a few extra health refills (just as in life, beer provides energy and brings you back from the dead).

From there, we dove into the available weapons cache (and, lucky us, everything was unlocked for demo purposes, though they'll have to be earned via leveling up in the normal game). All primary weapons sacrifice raw power for unlimited ammo, while secondary (or "Oh Shit Guns") have limited ammo that must be refilled at ammo crates scattered throughout the levels, but pack a huge punch. Shotguns, SMGs, assault rifles and more all spit out damage in unlimited quantities, but things like rocket and grenade launchers, Molotov cocktails and miniguns must be coveted for their screen-clearing potential -- or at least saved up until the inevitable mini-boss fight.

We got the chance to unload on one such boss, a multi-turreted crawler called the Suppressor in the game's Junkyard locale (Walter actually drives the RV around to other locations, with the ramshackle home serving as the game's hub). With the cunning use of using our bodies as bullet sponges while feebly flinging a few rounds back ourselves, we eventually felled the mechanized baddie -- though in the process we found out just how useful having a dedicated button for chugging a beer is (not to mention grinned at the goofy beer-opening animation in the game's HUD that was pointed out by the Demiurge folks).

After gunning down more than a few chainsaw-headed robots and mini-bosses alike, we came to a proper boss fight in the Wall level. The massive FatBoy bulldozer that apparently will become a recurring thread for Walter would spit out a stream of oil then set the ground ablaze, with only a small section for safety. It felt, well, old-school; patterned, simple, but a ton of fun as we scrambled to make it from one safe spot to the next.

The final part of the demo was really just something of a tech showcase: a constant, steady stream of robots fell from the ceiling and all we could do was try to stay alive for as long as possible. This of course ended up being where most of the laughs and intensity came from as we scrambled to heal our downed co-op buddy (the game allows up to four players to play alongside each other online) by holding a shoulder button while the sea of robots continued to swell.

What was perhaps most surprising about Shoot All Robots, though was, how simple and fun it all became. Yes, the art style, a kind of artistically grimy hand-painted look that was absolutely gorgeous in HD, was something to behold (though we secretly hope the animations end up being as detailed as the art itself), and you can see that in the screens and trailer, but in the end it just came down to the game feeling chaotic, briskly-paced and, most of all, fun.

Demiurge is still looking for a publisher and hasn't locked down platforms yet (we played the game on an Xbox 360), so we're keeping our fingers crossed that they can either self-publish the game where possible (PSN and services like Steam) or find a publisher that will do the game justice. Here's hoping the company's first original IP gets the chance to shine, because it's got plenty of potential.

Mar 14, 2011