Those of you Crimsonland fanatics are in for a treat. And if you've never heard of Crimsonland or the RIP series (top-down [WASD] shooters), you're in for an even bigger treat. Rock Solid Arcade's newest release, Robokill, is an extremely well-polished shooter game that's as fun to play as it is easy to learn. You play the role of a mercenary robot hired to investigate and eradicate the hostile forces that have taken over Titan Prime, a space station orbiting Mars. On arrival, you're dropped off in the first level of the station, equipped with dual miniguns attached to your shoulders. Sound enticing? It only gets better...
Each level of the station features around two dozen rooms where all the action takes place. You have a mission objective in each level (such as destroying a particular target or finding a vital component to progress). Your job is to blast through room after room, destroying everything that gets in your way, all while gaining experience to boost your stats, and finding money and upgrades to enhance your robot. Any fan of top-down shooters will embrace the familiar controls instantly: [WASD] or [arrow] keys to move and the mouse aims and shoots. For those of you not familiar with this style of shooter gameplay, you have a top-down view with the ability to move in all directions while simultaneously aiming with the mouse and shooting enemies while you move. As always in this kind of game, if you stand still, you die. Veteran players know the key to staying alive is to keep moving, especially in a game like this where most of the enemies fire projectiles back at you. The key is keeping a bead on your enemies as you fire at them while strafing around the room to dodge incoming fire. Luckily some of the rooms in Robokill provide non-destructible cover for you to hide behind if things get too hot. On the other hand, lots of barriers can be destroyed, sometimes revealing items or traps.
Each room in a level is kind of like its own mini-level. Once you enter a room, all the doors around and behind you slam shut and won't open again until you've destroyed everything in the room. Enemies are varied and unique, with a decent AI. Some enemies like little robot spiders merely chase you around, trying to damage you by exploding on impact. But most of the enemies are equipped with some heavy firepower, from mini-gunners to rocket launchers to flying drones, there's a sizable array of bots trying to take you down. There's even some stationary turrets thrown in for good measure. As you blast apart these enemy bots, you'll need to collect drops such as shield power-ups, wads of cash and even new weapons and items (more info on these later). In some rooms, enemies spill out of spawning nodes that resemble holes. Even though there's only a limited number of enemies in each node (eventually they run dry), you'll want to destroy them as quickly as possible or you'll find yourself overrun and out-gunned.
As mentioned, each level consists of around a couple dozen inter-connecting rooms, some of which have doors you can move freely through, while others require a key to open (usually found in adjacent or nearby rooms). You can bring up a snazzy-looking map by pushing [M], which shows your location relative to the entire map, as well as other areas of interest. Checkpoints in Robokill are lighted tiles that you'll find in certain rooms. Before the checkpoint is activated though, you'll need to clear the room first by destroying all the enemies in it. Once you've cleared the room, the checkpoint is activated so that if you die, you'll respawn back at the nearest one. The checkpoints also give you the ability to instantly teleport to and from each other, accessible via the map screen. This is a convenient feature so you don't have to waste time re-tracing your steps through empty rooms. You can also teleport back to the shop, which is available in every level to sell weapons and items you pick up, and buy new ones.
The items, upgrades and level progression of your character by experience is what launches Robokill above and beyond the myriad of Crimsonland clones released in the past. First of all, your robot has a total of eight slots available to equip guns and items. Four of these slots are reserved for weaponry, such as a couple miniguns mounted to your shoulders and a grenade launcher and shotgun on each arm. The four lower slots are for items such as shield boosters, health-regeneration packs and more. All of these weapons and items can be obtained either by drops from enemies or purchased at the shop with the cash you collect in each level. Some items even have enhancements on them, like a boosted rate-of-fire, a knock-back effect or the ability to freeze enemies in place briefly. Access your inventory by pressing [I] to see what you've got and swap out items. You can also upgrade your base stats (like shields and damage) by gaining experience to level up, which you're awarded by killing enemies and progressing through rooms.
Analysis: Robokill is one of the best top-down shooters I've seen in a long time, maybe since Crimsonland itself. The graphics are great for a two-dimensional game, giving an emulated 3D depth effect in some rooms where you can accidentally fall off the floor and into space below. Graphics aside, the game just plain rocks. Our main man Jay said it best when he played it, describing the gameplay as amazing and gratifying. The controls feel just right; even projectiles hit with satisfying accuracy and damage. The only negative thing I could find after a few hours of playing is that the death penalty might not be strong enough. Once you die, you're returned back to your nearest checkpoint with full health. Sometimes half the enemies you destroyed in a room before you got killed will still be gone when you return. So what's your incentive to stay alive? Just a few seconds of wasted time as you walk back from the checkpoint? The developer might have considered taking away a percentage of cash with each death, or re-spawning all the enemies in rooms between where you died and the checkpoint. Other than that, it's hard to find many flaws in Robokill. The progression of new enemies, items and weapons keep things fresh, and the level designs (in terms of difficulty and the attention-span factor) are spot-on.
Note: This version of Robokill is actually a demo, although many people will probably enjoy it as if it were a full version. The full version features all three episodes, which span over 10 levels. It also includes the full range of weapons and items that would be discovered in later levels. The free demo consists of the first episode, featuring four levels (an hour or two of play). You have the option of unlocking the full version by clicking the link in the lower right corner of the main title screen, available for $9.95 via Paypal or credit card at the time of this review.