2-D side scrolling shooters like Commander Keen and the original Duke Nukem may be a thing of the past, but Bad Bots is trying bring those types of shooters to modern day gamers with its old school gameplay and visuals. Bad Bots starts off fun, but unfortunately the fun slowly fades away due to the incredibly monotonous gameplay.
The story is as simple as it gets. You are Sam McRae, the only survivor on a spaceship Titan Hauler and have to fight your way through tons of homicidal bots to the escape pod. There isn't much more in the way of story as you progress through the game, aside from comic strips you view periodically while advancing through the game. At first I thought, Hey, this sounds cool. It’s 2-D Doom. The visuals do have a nice old-school feel to them and the gameplay felt like I was playing 2-D shooters again on my Packard Bell computer from the '90s. Unfortunately the fun ends quickly and turns to frustration and monotony within the first 20 minutes.
Controlling Sam McRae seems simple enough at first. You press up to jump, aim with the mouse, and switch weapons with the space bar. No matter how much I played the game, I just couldn’t get used to it. Years of pressing space bar to jump has been ingrained into my gamer DNA and most of the time I would keep switching weapons. Aiming with the mouse isn’t bad, but the problem comes when you run to the right or left of the screen. Your character runs almost to the edge of the screen before the camera stars following, so quickly aiming in the opposite direction becomes a chore.
You will also find yourself running into enemies before getting a chance to shoot. This isn’t much of a problem because the enemies can be killed with a few shots from your default rifle that you carry with you the whole game. This is annoying at first, but then you realize that almost all the enemies pose no threat whatsoever. Aside from some knife wielding bots and small robots that come after you and shock you, all enemies stand in one place and fire at you when you come into their peripheral vision. You can easily just hide behind cover to avoid them but you really don’t need to do this at all. They do minimal damage to you and they can be destroyed with only a few hits so you can pretty much just keeping running in one direction, firing constantly and you will be golden. Health and ammo pick-ups are very plentiful and when you combine this with the fact that enemies pose almost no threat to you, there is no sense of danger in the entire game. You can only carry two weapons at a time and your secondary weapons are special weapons that can be picked up at many points in the game. You have a dual-shot that shoots two bullets at a time, a shotgun that shoots three bullets, a rocket launcher and a pulse gun that doesn’t require ammo pick-ups. These weapons are so powerful that there is no sense of fun when facing enemies and blowing them away. With any of these weapons, you can just run in one direction, constantly fire and enemies will be blown away before they even get a chance to shoot. Most enemies can be dispatched with one hit though some may take two or three before dying. Either way they are destroyed like they are nothing. You do get the occasional boss fight but they are essentially large enemies with lame attacks that can be easily avoided.
The game is extremely easy until you get to rooms that lock down and throw tons of enemies at you at once. This is fine at first and actually becomes a nice change of pace. That is, of course, until it happens over and over again. There is a part near the end of the game where you will enter these types of rooms about three or four times in a row. By this point, I was incredibly annoyed. Once is fine; twice, okay sure; three times, now I’m bored. At first you will scramble around the room while hundreds of bots swarm you and you start the panic. Then you find out if you stand at the edge of the screen and hold down the shoot button, you can easily take them all out with minimal effort.
You will also run into about four or five different enemies throughout the game not counting the boss battles. Long story short, from start to the very quick end, everything just feels the same. The backdrops, the weapons, the enemies: it all feels like the same thing throughout the entire game and gets old incredibly quick. Sure there have been plenty of 2-D side-scrolling shooter games in the past where everything seems very similar, but in those games the action is insanely fast and non-stop. The enemies come at you from all directions and can usually kill you in a few hits. Unfortunately Bad Bots, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.
There is no map to speak of and with almost every single screen in the game looking exactly the same, this will lead to a lot of confusion. I would say about an hour of my playtime was spent running around the ship trying to figure out where I was supposed to go. You get “objectives” but they are simplistic and usually involve backtracking to a room you were in before, which can be a task in itself since it’s hard to remember where that room was to begin with.
Even the sound design is redundant throughout the game. I think I heard a total of about four different sound effects. Guns shooting, electricity zapping, knife wielding bots yelling, “Chase him,” over and over, and explosions. To make things worse, aside from the very few boss fights in the game, there is absolutely no music in the game which is a shame because the boss fights have some pretty awesome tunes, especially during one of the last boss battles. I don’t understand this. This music is great and I want to hear more of it. Imagine playing Doom with no music except for about three levels. You hear that amazing music and you want to hear more. What happened? Was the music not finished? Was it a design choice not to include it?
Once you feel like you are just getting into the game, it ends. I beat the game in about three hours. It would have been shorter if I didn’t get lost so much and have to backtrack all the time. I only died about four times and those were mostly during the boss fights near the end but once you figure out the easy ways to exploit the bosses, it becomes a piece of cake. The game is only $10 so I guess I can’t complain too much about the short run time of the game.
So once you finish the main campaign, what else is there to do? Well if you feel like completing it again on a harder difficulty you can always do that but then there is Challenge mode. It pretty much acts as a hoard mode where you have to kill as many bots as you can in the time given without getting killed. If you die or the time runs out you get a score. Unfortunately there are no online leaderboards, so unless you like topping your own score there really isn’t any reason to play this mode. Come on guys, it’s 2013--no online leaderboards?
It’s not that Bad Bots is a bad game. It functions well and I didn’t encounter any bugs or glitches, but the problem is that the game just feels unfinished. Everything is so monotonous and easy that it doesn't drive you to want to continue. Other 2-D side-scrolling shooters provide various locations, weapon upgrades, and enemies that do real damage to you. These games are intense cause they are fast paced, and one wrong move could spell death for you. Bad Bots has none of this.