Yet further proof that you can never judge a Steam game by its name comes in the form of Gladiabots, a pseudo-coding based robot combat simulator. That’s the best way I can think to describe it, believe it or not. I firmly believe the game’s greatest weakness is its title, because the concept and execution have really won me over.
Actually, I’m not a big fan of the boring grey battlefield, either. That’s also a weakness. It makes my eyes depressed. But GFX47 have only just reached the early access phase of development, so we can probably expect a makeover for the full release.
You take on the role of programmer, strategist, and stylist for a team of four battle robots. You have absolutely no control over the little1 fellas2 once they enter the arena. Instead, you carefully program each gladiabot’s artificial intelligence beforehand using a nice, user-friendly flow-chart sort of interface. Once you’re done, you just sit back and enjoy the hostilities.
The ‘coding’ interface finds pretty much the perfect balance between a raw, unintelligible (to someone like me) programming language and a completely diluted, inflexible kid’s version. It’s basically a visual map of If/Then statements. Programmers will feel familiar with the logic, and nogrammers3 will pick it up quickly. Initially I felt pretty accomplished just programming my bots to shoot from long range instead of mid. A few hours later they were supporting teammates under fire and manipulating distance to confuse the enemy. There are shed loads of commands and conditions available, so you end up constructing some ridiculously subtle strategies.
By default your team consists of four identical ‘assault’ bots, but you can also pick from three specialized types. The machine gun is a lumbering beast that unleashes withering firepower when it does finally open up. The sniper is a bit flimsy but 100% accurate at long range. And lastly the shotgun. Yes, let’s not forget the shotty. This little shit bag seems to be popular for its incredible annoyance utility. It does brutal damage at close range, but it’s the speed of the thing that gives me nightmares. Wily players4 program this fella to dive into range and then straight back out as soon as your idiot team take aim. Once the shit bag is out of range, your idiots turn their attention back to another opponent, by which time the shit bag has moved back into range to once again draw the attention of your idiots. So your entire squad sits there swiveling their turrets, never firing a bullet. Meanwhile the remaining three opponents unleash hell upon your bumbling morons undisturbed.
That shotgun shit bag example demonstrates all the joy and annoyance of the game. It’s very frustrating to watch your poor fellas being dismantled at the hands of a crafty opponent, especially one using a shotgun. But then you rewatch the match a few times and start to devise a strategy. Then you tinker in your programming environment for a while, perfecting your counter maneuvers. That moment when you roll out your team of Idiots Mk II. and witness your work culminate in a savage domination over Shit Bag and Co. is unbelievably satisfying. You feel like one of those cool coders from The Matrix, bending the game to your will.
How does a bit of asynchronous multiplayer tickle your fancy? That’s right, asynchronous. Since there’s technically no RNG involved5, Gladiabots matches play out identically time after time if both teams’ AI remain the same. That means you can take on anybody’s AI at any time and see how you measure up. In the ranked multiplayer mode, the game picks a similarly skilled opponent and throws their AI into the arena against yours. You watch the match play out, and gain or lose ranking points according to the result using a classic ELO system. Your score is only affected by games that you instigate; if someone else goes up against your fellas while you’re offline, you’ll never know. Only their score will change.
This format perfectly suits the game, but if you’re longing for some real-time, trash talking, 1v1-ing action, you can invite an opponent to a ‘friendly’ private match using their in-game name. It’s still conveniently asynchronous, so you’re not required to be online at the same time, but if it’s a bit of good ol’ banter you’re after, just log on at the same time and watch it all play out together. Just know that once you’ve mercilessly spanked your pal, he’ll tweak his AI and be back for more. So maybe make your own little changes and bring out some new tricks in the next game.
The early-access graphics are basic but sleek and the sound effects are satisfying. There’s some decent metal happening in the soundtrack; one of the songs is a proper banger.
To be honest, there’s very little to fault. The only frustration I felt was technically my own fault for being shittier than my opponent. Still, that’s frustration nonetheless, and some players will give up at that point. But if you’re the competitive, analytical type, and willing to treat losses as learning opportunities, you might want to take a look at this one. It’s possible you could get hundreds of hours out of it. Bear in mind there’s no story mode and only a very simple solo campaign to use for practice.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention that it’s not all about wiping out your opponents. The actual goal is to capture the ‘resources’ scattered around the arena and deliver them to your team’s drop-off points. It does add a layer of complexity, but in my experience, it’s the shooting stuff that really draws you in.
Just don’t forget to add a ‘capture resource’ branch into your AI somewhere. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of robots standing idly among their vanquished foes waiting for the time to run out and finish with a draw. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything…
- 1 Turns out when you compare them to the audience in the arena, the fellas2 are actually bloody huge.
- 2 “fellas”, in this case, is gender neutral. Or however you’d like your particular fellas to identify, I suppose.
- 3 “nogrammer” refers to a person with no programming ability. Yes, I’m surprised the editor left that in, too.<I err on the side of amusing – ed.>
- 4 “Wily players”, in this case, means “terrible, terrible bastards”.
- 5 The game uses hit percentages to scale damage with distance. I assume, as an example, a 10% hit chance causes the first of every 10 bullets to land, followed by 9 guaranteed misses.