MicroBot Hands-On Preview – A Mini Medical Marvel?
Written Sunday, November 14, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
In the future, you won't need medicine or any kind of treatment or invasive surgery. Instead, doctors will inject you with nano-sized robots that will fix you up internally, mending your bones and organs, fighting off infections and nothing will ever go wrong. Or rather everything will go wrong. If the Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace and that episode of Futurama where Fry gets worms has taught us anything, it's that tiny craft invading the human body invariably lead to disaster, and so it goes in MicroBot.
You play as the latest version of the microbot, sent in by your morally dubious makers, MicroHexon to find out what's happened to the previous three versions, which have ran wild causing problems by assimilating cells and turning them hostile. MicroBot is a twin-stick shooter that begins from the inside of a syringe as the plunger is pushed down and you're pumped into a vein. “We looked at Trainspotting to get that right,” says Naked Sky Entertainment as we're lead through our hands-on demo, and it shows, as a wispy swirl of blood shoots into the syringe's chamber and you're pushed down the needle.
First of all, you should know that MicroBot isn't an accurate map of the human body, but rather a procedurally generated sequence of areas linked together to create winding labyrinths of rushing blood cells, whirling fluid and other nasty foreign bodies. Your job is to shoot your way through the torrents of aggressive microbots and other hazardous obstacles like funnels that dispense armies of marauding mutated cells. Along the way you can shoot open incubation sacks that house either more enemies or loads of little red and orange data fragments that act as upgrade points.
Collecting the latter enables you to purchase upgrades for your microbot, which starts out with three appendages: one for propulsion at the rear and two at the front for your various laser attacks. You can attach any combination of upgrades to these appendages, so conceivably you could fit your microbot with two propulsion units and one weapon like a Particle Cannon on the front, flipping the craft 180 degrees. As you progress, your microbot gets more arms that you can add weapons to and more slots for upgrades.
To demonstrate this, we're skipped ahead to an advanced iteration of a microbot, which has two twin cannons and three propulsion units. We decide to have a quick tinker with the configuration, switching out one of the motors for a flagellum for added control and manoeuvrability, and we trade one of the front cannons for a harpoon gun that can be used to anchor yourself anywhere and swing through the fluid with grace. Jumping into a co-op challenge, the goal is to reach the end of the level as quickly as we can, so leaving the previous level set inside the heart, we venture into the bones; a cavernous white network packed with all sorts of weird and wonderful enemies.
While you're fighting against the fluid current in each area, you can stay tethered to one another and create a bond that doubles as an energy beam that carves through any enemies that cross it. You need to communicate with your buddy while tethered together however, as you may end up struggling in different directions and do more damage than good. Moving through the claustrophobic bony catacombs, we get caught in a surge of fluid with Rammer cells coming straight towards us, so accurate shots are integral, as is being able to weave through the onslaught of obstacles and corrupt cells tearing down the channel. At the end of the stream, we find a Host, which is constantly spawning Rammers, but its spawning days are over once it's filled full of microbot laser.
Once the flow lets up, we find ourself in a larger chamber inhabited by an Atom Eater, which slavishly floats around gobbling up upgrade particles. Shooting it results in a huge burst of collectible upgrade points, but in doing so, we accidentally attract the ire of a nearby white blood cell, which are normally benevolent and helpful. Hitting it sends it chasing after us however, meaning that all we can do is quickly flee and get as much distance between us and it as we can. Managing to outrun the angry white blood cell, we have to shoot a series of tendons next to cause bone pillars to drop and grant us access to new areas. You can bring up a map at the touch of a button that gives you an idea of where you should be going, but it's a real maze and it's never the same twice.
MicroBot is part of a huge stable of EA titles coming to XBLA, and based upon our hands-on, it sets a pretty high standard. Not only is MicroBot an enjoyable dual-stick shooter, but it has all of the key ingredients to make it a success, especially if it's as “modestly priced” as Naked Sky claims it will be.
MicroBot is due to hit the Xbox Live Arcade in winter 2010. That's pretty soon.