October 8, 2013 10:29 PM | Paul Hack
It's been a busy year for Arcen Games, having already released Skyward Collapse, Shattered Haven, and A Valley Without Wind 2, as well as a demo for a new AI War expansion--and now they've delivered Bionic Dues, which arrives on Steam today. Bionic Dues is an absorbing, innovative strategy game where most of the gameplay is roguelike-like. You plot out your expansion and choose your missions on a big map, but each mission is essentially a procedurally generated dungeon. Of course, this game draws from anime and sci-fi rather than fantasy, so you control a party of mechs and your enemies are killer robots.
You are the last mech pilot alive in the city. After all of the other pilots are killed in a robot attack, it falls to you to defend the city from a robot uprising. From the safety of a bunker, you can remotely control a party of mechs--called "exos" in this game. There are 6 different classes of exo, each with its own specialties, such as combat, stealth, or hacking. You can use 4 exos at a time in a series of missions designed to get an upper hand against the robot army that's amassing itself outside the city.
They're going to attack, and you know exactly when. You've got enough time to tackle 50 missions (out of an available 120 per game) before they attack. In between most missions, the enemy robots will increase their numbers as well as improve their existing units. All of this information is wide open to the player and you know exactly what you'll be up against in the final conflict.
There are 23 mission templates with different objectives and rewards for success. Each mission is procedurally generated and tile-based, like a roguelike dungeon. During missions, you effectively control one exo at a time, but can switch to any of them while maintaining your current position. If the active exo gets destroyed, you still have access to the remaining units. All exos are repaired in between missions.
The missions begin with a gentle difficulty level, as robots seem to line up to be shot--but the difficulty quickly ramps up and soon missions become challenging tactical exercises. You can't stride through the hallways, blasting away indiscriminately, with no regard for your position or ammo supply. Most robots can really pack a punch and can often take you out in one hit as soon as you get in range. Cover is an important factor in any firefight, and getting outnumbered is a death sentence.
Tread carefully and act deliberately. It's often smart to draw the robots out, which you can do with a "whistle", and let them come to you. Your exos can also make use of stealth and move for a limited number of tiles without being seen, as long as they don't perform other actions. Range is also an important factor in combat, and a red beam will appear between you and any enemy that's targeting you to let you know you'll probably get shot during that robot's next turn.
The AI of the evil robots is one of the most interesting--and often entertaining--aspects of combat. These robots were not programmed perfectly, and some have bad aim or poor judgement, and will blow up their allies (and then say "Oops" afterwards). They also have a certain amount of consciousness, at least enough to not want to "die". And it seems they were fitted with receptors which emulate localized physical discomfort; or, as dying robots sometimes put it, "Why was I programmed to feel pain?"
Resources are also a big concern; ammo is precious and energy to perform other tasks such as cloaking or hacking is limited. During some missions, you'll find loot, which you can use to upgrade your exos after the mission. You can customize your mechs and outfit them with various weapons, abilities, and power-ups. Each exo has a limited number of upgrade slots, and certain pieces of equipment can only be fitted on specific parts of the mech anatomy. You also have to make sure that each exo is producing enough power to operate all of its components.
Completing some missions has a direct impact on the evil robot army, so your choice of missions has a strategic impact on the final battle. After your 50-mission crush, the rebel army invades, and the game becomes all about blowing up robots and keeping your mechs operational. Chances are, you'll have a whole lot of robots to kill.
Even if I finally beat the robot army, there's so many possibilities in Bionic Dues--and the explosions are so satisfying-- that I'll be playing it for a long time to come. Bionic Dues is out today on Steam for 25% off its regular price of $9.99.