Preview: Bot Colony - A Cool Concept That Works Most of The Time

The concept of telling robots what to do using either a keyboard or microphone is cool, but for now, it's a bit rough around the edges.

Back in 2003, Socom U.S. Navy Seals put players in charge of giving real orders to soldiers using a USB headset and voice recognition. It was an impressive feature for it's time -- when it worked. The voice recognition had quite a bit of trouble picking up my Irish accent, and the novelty wore off quick.

That concept was rarely revisited until 2014 -- when indie developers North Side released their Early Access title Bot Colony. The game is primarily focused on the same voice recognition, but this time it takes it to a whole new level.

In Bot Colony you take on the role of Jeff Philips, as he embarks on a mission to find missing sensors belonging to the Nakagawa Corporation. To accomplish tasks, you need to interact with robots by talking to them and giving them orders on what to do, either through typing or speaking into the microphone.

It's an awesome concept -- using voice recognition to communicate with robots complements a game that focuses on espionage like this does. The problem, however, is it doesn't work 100% of the time.

Note: This preview covers an early build of Bot Colony and does not represent a finished or complete product. This article does not cover the voice recognition of the game due to it not being compatible with the writers operating system (Windows 7). The voice recognition of Bot Colony is only compatible with Windows 8 and 10.

A steep learning curve

The entire first episode of the game is a lengthy tutorial with a steep learning curve. It covers everything about communicating with the robots from getting them to reveal certain information to commanding them to pick up and move objects.

The objective of the tutorial is to find out why a spy entered the house of a scientist and why nobody was home. You must also find and place all of the disturbed household items back to where they belong. Items like clocks, toilet rolls and so on.

You start off by asking Jimmy, the robot, questions about the family that lives in the house -- in an attempt to get him to reveal his memory through recorded videos. Jimmy will only ask you to see the videos if you use the correct questions.

Using photos of the house in its original state, you then need to place all the out of place objects back to their rightful spots. This is all sounds easy, except when it's done while also avoiding the police.

There is an awful lot to learn, and the length of the tutorial matches that. As to how well Jimmy responded to my commands, he did as I asked about 90% of the time.

The first error I found was when I told him my name. First, he called me Jeff Philips, the name of the protagonist of the game. Other times, however, he actually remembered the name I gave him.

This is pretty much the case for all things Jimmy does, particularly when telling him to actually do something. You need to be extremely specific when asking him to do things, or he won't understand at all.

The tutorial is extremely lengthy, but without it, anyone would definitely have a hard time playing. There’s so much variety in what you can make robots do or say. It’s enjoyable throughout, even if they don't always understand you.

Starting the actual game

After the lengthy tutorial, you begin your actual mission as Jeff Philips, who is hired by the Nakagawa Corp. These robot manufacturers are working to solve a problem they are having with their robots acting strangely after an infiltration. You start the game in an airport where you need to get your PDA and briefcase before you can begin your mission.

In order to advance, you must interact with various robots throughout the airport. For example, at baggage claim you direct the baggage-bot Mike, using a panel to pick out your briefcase amongst the clutter and bring it to the x-ray machine.

This sounds easy on paper, but much like Jimmy, Mike has trouble understanding sometimes. He often says he doesn't understand what you mean when you are telling him the shelf you want him to go to in the baggage area. He also has a tendency of picking up the wrong colored bag at times, too. If that wasn’t enough, after getting your briefcase you receive a message about a bomb in the baggage area -- with the only hint being that it’s in a green briefcase. 

With 10 minutes to find the bomb and an at-times malfunctioning Mike, this segment became very frustrating. Not even 15 minutes into the game and you’re already dealing with a time limit that ends in your death.

The main problem is that the game doesn’t give you enough time to put everything you learned to use. Playing the actual game and following a scripted set of instructions are two completely different things. Between that and Mike not knowing what the hell I’m talking about, the whole thing was nothing short of absolute frustration.

It was at that point, my hands were on my face as I was cursing, swearing and calling Mike every name under the sun, that I simply turned the game off and have yet to return to it.

Good visuals and voice-acting

The visuals and the voice-acting of Bot Colony are both pretty good. The visuals while not state of the art, are certainly not ugly. The design of the robots and the environment are really well done and don't look too aged for an indie game, considering Bot Colony initially released in 2014.

The human character models, on the other hand, do show their age a bit. They have a plastic, doll-like appearance to them, especially in the face. Aside from that, the environments are simply breathtaking, and the robots look great and fit in with the games sci-fi nature.

As for the voice acting, it is good for the most part. The human characters all sound well-done, crisp, and clear. The robots, on the other hand, occasionally have strange inflections in tone mid-sentence. This could be intentional due to them being robots and all, but it really gives a knock to the player's senses when the sudden change occurs. Apart from that, the robot's voice acting is well done and sounds true to their design.

Do I recommend it?

Despite my exasperation at the game from time to time, I actually find it hard not to recommend Bot Colony to some degree. I didn't expect the robots to understand everything I said, but the mechanic worked much better than I thought it would.

When it works, it’s great fun and easily one of the coolest things you can find in video games to date. I do believe, though, that only so many of the problems in the game can be fixed, as the technology is still quite young like VR.

The game definitely shows its early stage of development, but as far as giving you a taste of what it is about, it certainly does that.

If the idea of talking to robots and telling them what to do sounds interesting to you, there is no other game that can offer you that. On the other hand, if you are easily frustrated by dodgy mechanics, it’s best to give this one a miss.

A copy of the game was provided to the writer for the purpose of this preview

Published Jun. 27th 2017

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