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'Ultratron' Review (PC)

Submitted by thankeeka on April 14, 2006 - 7:06am. Exclusive Testosterone Zone

"My life is hectic. Plain and simple - I'm busier than I can hardly stand to be. I'm always adding more to my workload and that leaves even less time for me to play games. I no longer have the hours upon hours to invest in developing a character in an MMORPG. I cannot sit and play a shooter, strategy or adventure game without being interrupted. Being a mother of a 4-month-old and a 3-year-old and having other work obligations leaves me very little time for my favorite form of entertainment. As such, I have to somehow get my fix in little ways. This is how I've become what I have heard termed a 'hard-core' casual gamer." -- Staci Krause

Casual games are defined by Wikipedia as "a category of electronic or computer games targeted at the mass audience, which are peculiar for their simple rules, engaging game design, require no time commitment or special skills from an end user as well as comparatively low production and distribution costs from producer." According to an IGDA 2005 White Paper on Casual Games, "market research shows the majority of the audience today is women 30-45 years old." The same white paper discusses how women are much more likely to play longer periods of time in casual games, although often not in marathon sessions, but instead broken down into bites of gameplay goodness.

There are so many casual games available to consumers, it is becoming an increasingly more difficult decision as to which games to try out and buy. Enter Casual Corner. In this feature, we will go in depth into a casual game you may (or may not) have heard about.

Today: Ultratron

What happened to the good old days when all robots wanted to do was serve people and inspire breakdance moves? Nowadays you've got Ultratron, where all the robots want to do is come at you, wave after wave, in hopes of terminating your human existence. Get those trigger fingers ready, because it's time to make some sparks fly!

Like the classic arcade games of old, Ultratron isn't really about the story. The only real story comes from the website, in which they inform you "the last human has been slain by evil killer robots. You are the one remaining humanoid battle droid. Your mission is to avenge the human race, and destroy the four bots of the Apocalypse – Leiunitas, Bellum, Lues, and Letum!" Get it? Got it? Good. If you want anymore story, you'll have to imagine it up and narrate as you move along through the levels.

The best way to describe Ultratron is that it is a re-imagining of the old Midway classic Robotron 2084. Now, for many, Robotron 2084 is a masterpiece that can inspire those "zen" moments where you tune out everything, get sucked in, and you cease playing a game, but rather you merge with the machine and you become one as you take on enemy after enemy. Me? I could care less about Robotron 2084. My idea of fun is not being surrounded by countless enemies, unable to move, with fears of claustrophobia setting in on me with seemingly no safe passage between the murderous robots. Ultratron thankfully fares better in my book…even if the panic still sets in from time to time. Oh yeah, I still suck at the formula, but I at least have fun this time around.

When you start the game off, your humanoid buddy finds himself alone on an empty board. Well, you won't have to wait too long, as enemies will soon start popping in (a scaling rectangle signals where the enemy will pop into play, but when the action gets heavy, you'll still occasionally run right into one). As the enemies appear, it is your job to destroy them before they destroy you. At the top of the screen is a timer bar, which constantly goes down as you play through the board; during this time robots will continually pop in, but once it totally disappears all you'll then have to deal with are the ones already still in play. After all the enemies of a level are clear you move on, rinse and repeat. Now, don't take that comment as "ho-hum dullness" – it just means that if you aren't sold on the idea you won't be sold on the idea.

As you move further along through the game, things start ramping up, which means that the game gradually thrusts you into some frantic gameplay without you even being aware of it at the time. During the early levels, the enemies are easy to dispatch; the pop in isn't as fast, the enemies are only one note enemies (they all behave the same), and your firepower is easily enough to deal with the threat. As you move on, however, enemies start appearing quicker than you can take them out, their attack patterns will vary (some make a beeline straight for you, some spawn other robots, some lay mines, some zigzag, some shoot bullets, etc), and your initial weapon will suddenly feel as if it is packing the intensity of a rain drop rather than the destructive power that was prevalent during the beginning levels.

After a select number of levels, various events will happen to switch up gameplay a tad. First off, you've got bonus levels, which allow you to amass a nice collection of points, and this is accomplished by taking out as many of the "spider bots" as you can. Obviously, you'll want to try and attain perfection during these levels, but their quickness and the randomness of their movement means that will be quite a feat on most occasions. Next up, you've got the "assault levels," which start you off completely surrounded, and you must quickly make a decision as to what you will do to escape this stranglehold so you don't get a barrage of hits on you, quickly depleting your shields and ending your game. Finally, you've got the "boss levels," which give you one giant enemy to deal with as it marches about the level, shooting bullets and bombs at you, and it becomes quite the dance as you struggle to find those instances where you should make your move and take your fight to the enemy.

Okay, now that the general idea of the game and setup is done, let's chat about the actual gameplay. Much like Robotron 2084, gameplay involves being able to freely roam and shoot through a full 360° rotation (well…kinda). As you takeout enemies, occasionally a powerup will appear, which allows you the ability to shoot it so that you can change the properties to something more suited for your current situation. The different types of available powerups include: shield (especially needed as this is your health…run out and the game is over), smart bombs (touching them instantly eradicate everything on the screen), power (boosts the power of your weapon for stronger, but slower shots), speed (allows you to fire a quicker stream of bullets at a more frequent rate), and then finally points (gives you extra points).

Those aren't the only powerups, however, as also during the course of a level, those same "spider bots" from the bonus levels make an appearance, and if you can hit them, such attack specific bonuses such as three-way shot (shoots out like a "W"), bouncing bullets (ricochet off walls), mini-drones (a little you that instantly attacks an enemy once they appear), and stationary turrets (pretty self explanatory) are just a few of the ones at your disposal, and these either last until enough damage is done to them (mini-drone and stationary turrets) or else until you die.

Now, as mentioned before, the further into the game you get, the more important it is to have the proper weapons, and that requires being able to manage your powerups, which leads to the overall depth of the game.

Given it is an arcade game, I was quite impressed with the level of depth; while it isn't the deepest thing ever, it is a nice change from other arcade minded games. Since you know weapons will have less and less affect later on during the game, it becomes important to juggle the powerups properly. Of course you'll instantly think, "I need to boost my power," but the question is really, "How much should I boost it?" Sure, you can keep grabbing it for ultimate destruction shots, but when all those enemies are closing in on you, will single bullets with a lot of power but low firing rate be all that important? So then you build up the speed and firing rate of your weapon, but if you build it up too much you'll have a lot of bullets at your disposal, but it will take so many hits from them due to the impotence of them.

And since it is an arcade game, there is also a level of depth to the points acquisitions as well. If you are happy with your weapon power and speed, invest in some points gathering if topping the charts is your ultimate goal. Also, if you can manage to get through a level without taking a hit, a bonus multiplier will be added, which means…you guessed it…more and more points. The catch to the bonus multiplier comes from the fact that if you should choose to pickup the shield powerup, your multiplier up to that point will instantly disappear. So, do you pickup a shield powerup in preparation for a harder level or do you let it ride until your multiplier is gone? Choices like these help to add depth to the game.

Much like Titan Attacks (another game released by this company), the graphics have an old school charm about them, which means that you should prepare yourself for pixilated characters where not a single circle is visible; there is nothing round in this game (except for some special effects) and only various squares and rectangles essentially. The graphics are simple, but they don't need to be anything else since you'll be playing to survive this onslaught rather than ogle "I can't believe it's so real" type of graphics.

The sound is also quite subtle when it comes to complexity as the game is filled mostly with low, computers droning as background music, with most of the sound emphasis being placed on your weapons, the enemy robots, and the sound of destruction. My favorite part of the sound – without a doubt – was the "All your base are belong to us" sounding voiceovers that jumped in occasionally to make note of the situation; they are actually quite comical, but not in a "That was so funny what they just said" type of way but rather in a "That sounds just like that quote" type of way.

My biggest qualms with the game are the controls and the technical difficulties. I've mentioned before how you're supposed to be able to roam and shoot in a complete circle, but in most cases you'll probably be sticking to the normal up, down, left and right movements. Why? Because it is hard to do a diagonal with key presses. While games like Robotron 2084 benefit from having two stick at your disposal, Ultratron relies on eight keys. W,A,S, and D controls the movement of your character and the arrow keys control where you shoot (if you look at the placements you'll see what direction is what). It is extremely difficult to grasp at first, but after a while you'll become more accustomed to them, though I never found a perfect groove; my fingers still occasionally press the wrong key and I only move in jagged lines rather than fluid, arching patterns.

As for the technical dilemma it comes down to the game just moving too slow depending on what your resolution is set to. At 1024 x 768 pixels I've noticed bullets and such moving at a reduced frame rate, which means you'll have an easier time seeing and comprehending the reaction, but that isn't the way the game was meant to be played. Meanwhile, 800 x 600 pixels never showed a hint of slowdown to me no matter how many enemies or bullets was on the screen at once.

So what is the ultimate verdict? While the game does pack a nice challenge, it is sometimes too much of a challenge depending on what type of player has their grasp on the game. The $9.95 price is quite the deal, as you'll probably be playing this game a bunch if you find yourself loving the formula and looking to improve your ranking on the online High Score board. The thing that ultimately takes Ultratron down a peg is the controls, which can be a serious hamper until you manage to work around them (though even then it doesn't feel perfect), and are vital (especially to this style of game) when you find yourself surrounded in every direction and you need an out. Still, controls aside, it is a really fun game at a very low price.

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