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Robot Arena 2, Design & Destroy
By Bones (Ed T. Toton III)
March 26, 2003
(Review unit supplied by Infogrames/HypeCouncil)

Robot Arena 2 DESCRIPTION

Building robots for the purpose of mutual annihilation has taken on a life of it's own in recent years. Several TV shows have been created around the concept of battling 'bots, and computer games have existed over the years in many forms as well.

Many years ago, a program came on the scene called C-Robots (1985, Tom Poindexter), in which the "player" writes a program in the C-language to control a robot. The robots then fight autonomously in a simulated arena. It was a popular game in programming classes, since it could be used as a teaching tool. Similar programs came into being afterwards, including P-Robots (1988, David Malmberg), which was a Pascal variant of C-Robots. Other similar robot programming games have come and gone, including ones created by this author: T-Robots, AT-Robots, and AT-Robots 2 (by Ed T. Toton III - 1991, 1992, and 1997 respecitvely), so I'm certainly no stranger to the concept of robot combat.

The TV genre of robot battling is done a little differently. The robots are not autonomous robots, who are identical in every way except for their programming. Instead, they're remotely controlled by a human operator, and the robot designs are completely unique and different from one another.

Robot Arena 2 is the second game introduced by Infogrames that is based around the "real-world" style of robot battling. That is, it emulates building robots from alminum and steel, electric and pneumatic motors, and axes and hammers. The player is tasked with both the design and operation of his or her robot warrior.

There are many sample robots to play around with, so you can jump straight into the action if you wish, but the real fun and feeling of satisfaction comes from building and designing your own robots to fight with. There are also quite a few AI opponents for you to fight against too, so you can get in practice and perfect your bots before you take them up against human players online or at a LAN party.

OBSERVATIONS

We weren't quite sure what to expect upon receiving the evaluation copy of this game, but it looked promising and creative. Upon installing it, we found it to be an addictive game, with many different possible strategies and designs to explore. The workshop and physics engine combine to allow for a wide variety of tactics, limited more by your imagination than by the game mechanics, which is very refreshing in our opinion.

Where the editor/workshop falls short however, is in minor details, such as not being able to move or adjust the position of objects you've already placed. They must first be deleted, then added again. This isn't a big deal for individual objects, such as batteries or the control circuit, but some components have to be attached in strings. For instance, if you want a whirling helicopter-like weapon, you may need to build a support structure consisting of several components at specific angles and lengths to hold the electric motor in just the right position. If you're off by a few millimeters, the motor may not be attachable because it's too close to the chassis wall, and you'll need to delete all the components and reposition them from scratch. It would have been nice to be able to move parts already placed, and if they're interconnected to be able to move the whole assembly. Same goes for adjusting the chassis shape... I don't see why you can't make adjustments after you've added components.

The second minor shortcoming is in the texture and decal mode of the workshop. Thankfully there's an "undo" button, but unfortunately you can only undo one step. Since there are no manual "save" and "restore" buttons, if you make a mistake in your paint-job, and make changes after it, you're stuck with your mistake unless you're willing to start the entire paint process over.

These details of course are minor, and with some patience you'll learn to position things accurately without too much fuss. Since you can position the motors, wheels, weapons, and other components as you see fit, and can "wire" them to your keyboard as you choose, you can custom-tailor the steering and control of your robot to your heart's content and completely personalize it. By importing your own logos and graphics, you can personalize the appearance in a way that is unparalleled in most games.

The physics engine is very realistic, taking into account mass, inertia, acceleration, you name it. The graphics look very realistic, without an enormously high polygon count, keeping the framerate high even on moderately-equipped computers. The damage effects on the robots are very well implemented, showing dents and deformations on the armor, as well as scratches and marks where the actual strikes ocurr, and smoke emitting from damaged motors. Entire components can be hacked or knocked off the robot, and sent flying.

The AI, it should be noted, is very good at adjusting to the circumstances at hand and uses the appropriate tactics for the robot designs. It will however grow predictable, and the AI bots sometimes neglect to leave you immobilized and instead choose to humiliate you by kicking you when you're down.

Robot Arena 2 For the most part, the design system seems balanced and fair. With the same amount of mass, you can create many different robots, all with different weapons and strategies, that may be nearly eqiuvelant in capabilities. The only deficiency we've seen in this area is that some designs are inherantly more fragile than others. Twirling weapons using the blue 3-pronged attachments, as shown on the right, seems very solid and strong, and very destructive. Attaching saws externally or building other spinner structures can be more fragile, though still quite destructive, and often a simple axe or hammer weapon can be all but underpowered against such twirling robots. This may not be a fault of the design, but rather a good simulation of the physics, it's hard to say.

The game is mostly bug-free as well, which is also a refreshing change. We did run into a few glitches (though admittedly this was before applying the recently-released patch, which may or may not have fixed these issues). Specifically, we noticed a few multiplayer glitches, such as the AI for computer controlled robots ceasing to function (robots would just sit still), or not being able to start a match correctly because someone would remain "not ready" in the game setup. All such glitches were easily fixed by restarting the game, and only appeared after hours of play an design.

Overall we feel that this game is very fun and refreshingly customizable, and can provide many of hours of entertainment. As with many games, it'll really shine in multiplayer, since the AI computer-controlled bots become very predictable, and it's not long before you can build a robot that consistently defeats all of them. Designing and trading robots, and fighting against your friends is what the game is all about. We're sure you'll enjoy it as much as we have.

Features/Specifications:

  • High resolution 3D graphics
  • Customizable decals and textures
  • Design, trade, and fight your own robots
  • Can import your own MP3 music
  • Up to 4 players in network play
  • System Requirements:
    • 450 Mhz processor
    • Windows 98, 2000, ME, XP
    • 16 MB 3D accelerated video card
    • 64 MB RAM
    • DirectX 8.1

Pros:

  • Beautiful and detailed graphics and textures
  • High frame-rate, low system requirements.
  • Flexible and powerful robot workshop
  • Realistic physics engine
  • Can import custom graphics and music
  • Well supported LAN multiplayer

Cons:

  • Can't adjust or move components once they're placed
  • Some weapon components are far more fragile than others, encouraging specific tactics
  • Can't undo more than one step in decal and texture changes ("save" and "restore" buttons would help with this)

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