Sometimes my reviews require a fair number of caveats. That’s just good practice, in my mind. It’s a good thing to make it clear if you are predisposed to not particularly like a game or predisposed to like it, that sets out a baseline. If I say that I wasn’t really inclined to like something and then I say that it was really great, that means a little bit more than if I say that I was immediately predisposed to love something and then it delivered on its promise.
However, if you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you can probably guess that Roboquest is closer to the second category than the first. It’s a game about running around as a robot shooting other robots in a roguelike setting. It’s a first-person shooter, which I tend to be a bit more lukewarm about, but otherwise this does already sound like my jam. But I’m not going to lie, because Roboquest is actually much more of a delight than it might sound like. And it already sounds like a delight.
The story of Roboquest is pretty simple and straightforward, but in the refreshing way rather than the frustrating and unclear way. At some point in the significantly far-flung future, a girl named Max is driving her hover-van out in the desert when she finds a deactivated robot. She’s a deft hand with robots, and she quickly fires the old machine up and it resolves to help guide her toward the city that was meant as a haven for humanity in the wake of the usual It Doesn’t Matter set of calamities.
Of course, if you’ve put any thought into it at all, you will be utterly unsurprised to learn that something has gone wrong, there’s mysterious corruption leading on the path to the supposedly safe city, and all of that fun stuff. So it’s up to the robot to run, gun, and jump through a whole bunch of hostile robots.
The story is, quite frankly, just the right kind of gentle silliness that I’m here for. You get a sense that there are real stakes, with Max standing in for humanity as a whole even as your otherwise mute playable robot smashes through obstacles. (Despite the setting, she does not seem particularly angry.) But it’s also not all grim hopelessness. There’s a sense of companions together on an adventure, and while there’s more lore to uncover with datalogs… like, here it sort of fits? You’re piecing together a story that neither Max nor the robot knows about, it mostly took place like 500 years ago. What’s happening now is relatively clear.
Ultimately, though, this is not a story-driven game. It is a gameplay-driven game. So how’s that?
Nuts & Bolts
Roboquest is a little bit Borderlands, a little bit Nightmare Reaper, a little bit DOOM, and a little bit Overwatch. But the net result is something that feels distinctly itself, and it is a whole heck of a lot of fun.
Before each run, you choose your class between one of several options (once you’ve unlocked all of them) as well as a handful of gadgets you can bring along to further enhance your playstyle. Each class has a specific mechanic, ability, and melee attack. The classes are pretty broad, ranging from assembling helper minions and repairing them with dropped bolts to teleporting across the battlefield slashing things or just unloading huge swarms of missiles whenever you sneeze. But there’s also a lot of room to customize based on the random upgrades you get every level.
As you run through each level and dispatch enemy robots through shooting, melee attacks, or even stomping on their heads, you gain experience and eventually level up. That unlocks a random selection of special traits, two at first and more once you upgrade your base a bit. Each one offers you various abilities, some of them class-specific, some of them general, and many of them offering a tradeoff in exchange for power.
For example, during one early run with the starter class, I got a power that let me throw out a grenade that would deal random elemental damage by reloading, but it was only available once every five seconds. Then I got another powerup that reduced the timer to every two seconds. So now my primary weapon serves somewhat as backup for the grenades I’m throwing. Other powerups can give you infinite ammo when you reload for a short span of time, or give you larger clip sizes, add heals to certain power effects… you get the idea.
Similarly, you can loot and buy weapons of varying rarities as you go. At lower rarities, your weapons have maybe a couple of lower-level powers, like your new semi-automatic pistol does fire damage or it can pierce through targets. At higher rarities, your missile cannon is homing and fires bouncing projectiles, or you can erect a temporary shield with the alt-fire option, or your fire rate increases massively as you keep holding down the trigger.
All of this only lasts for one run, of course… but when your run ends, usually in death early on, you get to go back to the start with both any items collected and a number of wrenches. The wrenches are the currency used to upgrade various aspects of your base and start the next run with more NPCs to help you, more gadgets, more weapons or rarer ones, and so forth. The items, meanwhile, let you do things like open doors to alternate routes, complete quests, and otherwise expand the playable region of the game.
And it is a load of fun. Shooting feels fast and responsive, and the enemy types feel both numerous enough to keep you on your toes and surprise you while also being recognizable so you can plan around them. Things move quickly, and you even have useful options like making sprint a toggle instead of something you need to hold down. Bosses feel manageable even if complicated, and you’ll often find yourself thinking “maybe I can do this the quick and sloppy way” even as you know it’s a bad idea.
It has exactly the sort of addictive one-more-try gameplay that will get you to keep picking up the game, trying new things, and then saying that you’re just going to go for one more run. And now it’s two in the morning and you have to work tomorrow. Oh well.
Aesthetically, the game is honestly just… fine. It is clearly designed to look good and memorable while still being readable in motion, and on that note it succeeds; the whole thing has a sort of light cel-shading filter that gives it a faintly cartoon feel, the robot designs are all memorable, but when you slow down for a moment you don’t find yourself really overawed by anything. What it does succeed at is being visually memorable even at high speeds, which is a notable achievement for a game full to the brim with different little robots that will often be attacking you quickly and erratically all over the place.
The music in this game is keen, though. There’s a great funky bass line for several of the tracks that’s super memorable, and each zone has a different track that keeps up the energy as you run, shoot, and bounce. Similarly, explosions and the like are nice to hear, with every movement of your robot and the enemies giving a good sense of weight and impact. Shotguns feel thumpy, missile gatlings are a nonstop missile nightmare, and heavier weapons give you a comfortable sense of scale and impact as you open up. You will doubtlessly find some weapons that just perfectly connect with you, and the sound of opening fire followed by reloading will bring a degree of primal satisfaction.
And the replayability between the datalogs to hunt for, the quests, the various things to unlock… you will need to play a lot of this game to see everything it has to offer. It’s not quite infinite content, eventually you’ll find your favorite niche, but even once you do there’s a heck of a lot of fun to be found chasing it down again.
What Roboquest aims to do is to be a game that is quick on the surface but brimming with depth underneath, and it fulfills that goal not just adequately but admirably. Every part of this game feels lightweight, like a short romp, but as you keep hammering away at its intricacies you find yourself dealing with ever-greater depth and complexity. It encourages you to just keep going for one more run, time and again.
If you like first-person shooters, you will have an absolute blast with Roboquest. The game scratches the itch for a satisfying and active shooter in a way that few other titles manage, and you can expect to spend hours just ducking back in for another round of shooting and jumping in the hopes of reaching the end this time. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Review copy provided by RyseUp Studios for PC. All screenshots courtesy of RyseUp Studios.