Like mechanical mayhem and destruction? Design & Destroy!

Robot Arena - Design & Destroy

REVIEW

After having played this low-budget title ($19.95 in most stores) for almost 2 weeks I feel it was time to share my view on this game. First of all: if you are looking for robotic combat games there is just a very limited selection of software out on the market. Having played the first Robot Arena (an OK game) a year ago I was looking forward to this one and I'm happy to say that my biggest complaint has been addressed: the physics engine is finally working! Robot Arena D&D sports the new Havoc Physics System and finally robots collide, bounce off each other, flip and jump through the air in a physically logical fashion!

The Good

Robot Arena D&D has a completely revamped design section that lets you construct robots in all sorts of shapes. Not just boxes and circles but intricate shapes with wheel wells, pods, arms etc.! Yes, of course you want to start out with your basic box on wheels with a spike but eventually you'll work your way up through axes, hammers, rotating discs and saws to multi-weapon bots and flippers. The possibilities are almost limitless and the over 60 different parts let you go crazy with the most daring designs. After deciding on the basic shape and the armor you'll place motor and weapons add active and passive weapons (such as spikes, plows and wedges) and wire up the controls. The wiring is very easy and lets you place the various joysticks and switches on a virtual remote that handles up to 9 different functions. After some robot-decorating with colors, patterns, textures and decals it's off to the robot test drive where you can practice your robot and see if it works the way you wanted to.


Installing the various components of your robots is easy!

You can adopt different wiring schemes for your bot: either the standard four key control: left, right, forward, reverse or the traditional skid steering of tanks. You can also use a car like steering mechanism with a powered steering unit (see picture above) if you prefer that. Of course different motors have different power ratings, different weights and varying power requirements. If your motors are too big and your battery too small you may run out of power and if your overall construction is too heavy you won't make your weight-class.


Wiring up the control scheme for your remote.

Of course decorating your finished creation is an integral part of the construction process and Robot Arena makes it easy: a whole bunch of predefined textures, color patterns, decals, edge trims and logos are available to make your bot look cool. And of course you can also just go with the polished metal look.


Yeah, this bot is radioactive!

Before you enter a big competition or match do some practice round in your bot. The test box lets you drive around various obstacles, practice ramming or attack runs, power slides and emergency maneuvers. Or you may discover specific handling problems with your bot that you can address in the robot workshop. Of course nothing beats the thrill of a competition and there are multiple robotic combat tournaments to enter and prizes to compete for.


Robot in the test box.

The variety of competition formats and arenas is a big plus of this game. Overall there are 12 different contests and they all require different strategies. Some contests play out in simple arenas without any hazards while others have giant pneumatic hammers, saw blades, spike strips and flippers. There even is a competition that takes place on a giant tilting platform where you have to fight to avoid being pushed off and at the same time try to inflict some damage on the other bots. Competition is either one-on-one or in small groups of four robots at a time.


Different arenas require different strategies!

Of course Robot Arena D&D also let's you play against another human opponent or against computer-controlled opponents. The game supports multiplayer via the internet through GameSpy and I found that rather easy to use. Yes, the human competition is tough! I lost many battles before I finally found a winning combination in Porcubot and Sawz my heavyweight and middleweight entries. For online play Robot Arena requires a broadband connection. Once in battle the new physics engine really shines. Finally there is realistic damage, wheels get separated, spikes break off and robots get flipped on their backs like turtles. Many arenas have built-in hazards so you can either try to attack the other bots head-on or you try to drag or push them into the hazards and let them do the dirty work.


Typical robot competition - can you make it all the way to the final?

The array of computer-controlled opponents is very diverse: everything from simple spike-bots to lifters and flippers, bots with big flywheels, saw blades, hammers, axes, punchers etc. - it's a robot lover's dream come true! And some of these robots are great inspiration for your own advanced robot designs! Or watch BattleBots or Robot Wars and get your inspirations from there! The workshop will allow you to create pretty much any design you can think of!


That flywheel-bot looks tough!

In tournaments you get 30 minutes between the rounds to repair any battle damage and this is the time for some tough decisions: after bloody fights your robot will have more damage than can be repaired within the time limit - do you fix the wheels, the weapons or the chassis and armor? In general it's a good idea to get at least some wheels going but especially during the end of a long tournament your robot is in desperate need of a serious overhaul! To avoid this increasing amount of un-repaired damage try to take it easy in the first few rounds and save your bot for the final when it really counts!

The Bad

Unfortunately Robot Arena Design & Destroy has some shortcomings that dampen the fun a little bit. First is the robot editor! Although vastly improved over the previous version it still doesn't have an undo-function, something that is sorely missed! The only option is to manually remove the component or for chassis changes you'll have to start over without any components at all. This can get frustrating if a motor turns out to be just slightly bigger than the remaining space and you'll have to go all the way back to the beginning of construction. Also some of the more advanced robot designs provide quite a challenge but thanks to a detailed mechanics tutorial you should be able to turn your robot dreams into reality.


One wheel down - three to go!

Another weak point of Robot Arena D&D is the graphic presentation: although fully functional many of the arenas are quite plain and lack detailed textures and stunning graphics. Of course this allows Robot Arena to run on a Pentium-II @ 450MHz but I would have liked to get a bit more resolution in some of these textures. This doesn't distract from the overall fun aspects of the game though but I hope the programmers will spruce this up for the next release! Sound is also weak, especially the very repetitive announcers during the robot competitions become very annoying after a while.


Robotic rumble: king-of-the-hill competition!

The Fun

Well, despite these shortcomings Robot Arena Design & Destroy is a great low-budget title and the most fun you can have building your own robots on your PC! It's the perfect combination between construction and destruction - the creation of your own robot and the battle against other opponents - that makes Robot Arena such a blast to play. Losing a match only makes you back to the drawing board or test box and improve your design and improve your driving skills. A specific challenge for me has been to try to take some of my better heavyweight designs and try to slim them down for middleweight and lightweight robots - not an easy task!


Sir Spike-A-Lot was victorious!

Final Verdict

Graphics

6 out of 10

Sound

5 out of 10

Gameplay

9 out of 10

Overall

8 out of 10