Shoot Many Robots is successfully verb adjective noun

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Say what you like about Demiurge Studios, they clearly know when to call a spade a spade. The majority of what you need to know about Shoot Many Robots is right there in the title.

Demiurge was a ten-year veteran studio by the time this, their first game, was released in 2012. Before then they were mostly known for their work on DLC for other games, cross-platform porting, and additional industry odd-jobs – memory optimisation for Titan Quest, Xbox Live features for Brothers In Arms: Road to Hill 30, etc. Chances are that whoever made the final decision on the name wanted something simple, unambiguous and clearly defined, something that leapt out at the reader, something that lodged in the mind.

Shoot. Many. Robots. Guns firing bullets at many robots. Classic video game territory.

The game’s had a small resurgence of late thanks to being last December’s ‘Games With Gold’ giveaway. If you’re not aware, mid-way through last year Microsoft woke up to the popularity of PlayStation Plus with its free games for subscribers and opted to start a similar scheme. They’re not quite as generous as Sony but there have been some gems; Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, for example, and more recently Dead Island

Shoot Many Robots has done pretty well for Arcadian Rhythms’ multiplayer habits. It’s kicked off sofa ‘n beer living room sessions and provided many more hours of action for online get-togethers. And I’ll say upfront that the game’s not amazing, and has its flaws, but what it does manage successfully is to be fun. In spades.

SMR is all about shooting a lot of robots, of course, but aside from that moment to moment action it’s about hoovering up nuts (as in nuts and bolts, though the game rarely lets an opportunity for a bit of Finbarr Saunders fnarr-fnarr pass it by). Killing robots quickly without breaks in the action maintains a score multiplier, which means more nuts. More nuts means a higher star rating against the level if you beat it, which unlocks further progress, but more importantly more nuts means more cash to spend between levels at your RV. Yep, Shoot Many Robots is redneck as hell, with a science fiction-flavoured country aesthetic that’s equal parts Team FortressBorderlands and StarCraft. 

Loot drops are another key part of SMR’s drip-feed of progression and happily the game isn’t too stingy in this regard, with new unlocks regularly popping up throughout play. Whether or not you’ll have the cash to afford them is another matter but there’s usually at least one new toy to dabble with in each level.

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You’ll encounter this boss quite a lot. CAN YOU GUESS HIS ATTACK PATTERN

Here’s where I drop the bomblet: despite being a paid upfront title (it’s now back to £6.75 on Xbox Live) microtransactions are present in the game. Players can pay increments of £0.80 and up to add more nuts to their character’s, uh, ‘account’, or pay about £2.50 to unlock certain new items. The game’s not pushy about this as the options are always simply there and otherwise aren’t commented on, and I’ve played through all of the levels on normal difficulty without spending any money, so I don’t feel particularly uncomfortable about its presence. It doesn’t add anything to the game but nor does it detract, and I can certainly see how it would be a shortcut to gaining some of the top weaponry for extremely high levels of play – i.e. for those who want to tackle the biggest challenges at the hardest levels of difficulty. – and given that they’re still optional, I think that’s a fairly reasonable trade-off.

As for those of us not investing in micro-transactions – at least not yet – there are still plenty of different equipment items to try out. The game’s surprisingly proficient at providing entertainment between levels, allowing players to test weapons out on each other and stuffing the store full of amusing descriptions and stats. Most of the humour won’t translate out of the store screens, so suffice to say that stats like “+10% patriotism” and “Rate of Fire: FIRE! YES!” are indicative of the game’s tone, and that it works. Also, there is an explosive gnome launcher with an actively unhelpful guidance system. Lovely.

As for play within the levels itself, it’s surprisingly entertaining despite a relatively limited range of enemy types and a lot of recycled levels and assets. Standard enemies demand weapons good for crowd control or with decent knockback. Many of the projectiles from ranged enemies can be punched back at them by a skilled player. Tougher melee opponents need to be hit in their weak spots, demanding quick reactions and accurate movement. Survival levels get particularly intense with vast numbers of enemies being thrown at you as the difficulty escalates. It’s compelling stuff, presenting enough variation in challenge to keep players on their toes and constantly moving and adapting. There’s also tons of scope for teams customised with complementary loadouts – vital to excel at the harder survival levels.

On the downside, well, the game’s clearly been made on the cheap. Alongside the recycled levels and enemy types you’ll soon become sick of the game’s painfully limited music, the small number of boss types will quickly become second nature to you, and worst of all it’s clear that as you continue playing the game progression becomes more and more of a grind, as you’re driven to repeat levels in search of higher-level loot drops in order to keep up with other players – or even survive solo – on the toughest levels.

But is that really such a bad thing? “Games becomes duller if you play it too much”? I got twelve hours of enjoyment out of Shoot Many Robots, most of it spent alongside friends either locally or online, and it’s rekindled my desire to play multiplayer socially. Plus I was able to finish all the standard levels without coughing up for a microtransaction. That’s well worth £6.75, and really rather fantastic for £0.00. Hell, if we start playing the game again I might even unlock some fancy weapons to say cheers for the free play.

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Ridiculous outfits are a core part of the multiplayer bonding experience.