Robot Rising is a Facebook game from Stomp Games, Tencent Boston’s development studio. The title is a sci-fi themed action role-playing game with base-building elements and some impressive 3D polygonal visuals thanks to the game’s use of Unity.
The game initially appears to be somewhat similar to self-professed “hardcore” titles such as Kixeye’s Backyard Monsters, Kabam’s Edgeworld and Digital Chocolate’s Galaxy Life. Players are presented with an isometric-perspective base and are invited to build several structures through a rather hasty and rushed tutorial which fails to explain exactly why the tasks that are being presented are relevant, or what the buildings are actually for. However, before long, the true nature of the game becomes clear: the player is invited to make use of their “teleportal” building to send off one of their robots to collect resources, and play switches from the rather hands-off base-building aspect to a fully-interactive action role-playing game scenario.
While exploring the various facilities to collect resources, players control their robot using the mouse. Clicking anywhere on the ground moves the robot, while clicking on enemies attacks them. Unlike many other similar Facebook games, action in Robot Rising takes place in real time, meaning that the player must repeatedly click (or hold) the mouse button on enemies in order to defeat them — there is no taking turns here. Defeating an enemy rewards the player with resources which may be used to construct further buildings and items back at the base, and also provides the robot with experience points. Players may also acquire resources, consumable items and equipment for their robot through boxes that are scattered around the levels and sometimes dropped by enemies. In a nice touch, the robot changes its appearance noticeably according to what parts it has equipped.
The action role-playing game segment is a real pleasure to play. It is fast-paced, exciting but fair to the player, and rewards skill. It also carries the risk of failure, which is something a lot of Facebook games choose to ignore entirely — though allowing one’s robot to be defeated doesn’t necessarily mean wasted effort. Expending additional energy or hard currency allows the player to pick up where they left off with no further penalty, though given that it costs energy to enter a facility in the first place, it’s entirely possible the player may not be able to do this without paying up.
The presence of the energy system is something of a sticking point. The action role-playing game component of the game is remarkably akin to what “core” computer game players would expect from a standalone title — no compromises are made on depth, and the player isn’t pandered to at all. As such, Robot Rising should be a title that can be safely recommended to core gamers who typically shy away from Facebook games — but unfortunately, this same demographic is notoriously resistant to energy systems as a monetization strategy, believing it to be exploitative and heavy-handed. Hookshot Inc’s Simon Parkin described it as “a black spot on the heart of contemporary game design” and many core gamers agree. For example, a large proportion of “core” gamers who chose to give SimCity Social a try on the strength of the brand’s history alone left disappointed after running out of energy for the first time, and RockYou’s recent Walking Dead social game has also been hammered by critics and players expressing their disapproval of this mechanic.
This, of course, isn’t to say that an energy mechanic isn’t a viable monetization strategy — it is often a highly profitable one, especially among casual players — but given that Robot Rising is clearly attempting to specifically court core gamers, and this demographic is notoriously resistant to session-throttling mechanics such as energy systems, it seems counter-productive in this case. There are plenty of alternative monetization methods that core gamers find much more palatable — visual customizations or timesavers such as experience point boosters prove popular in standalone free-to-play games on PC, for example — so it’s somewhat surprising that Stomp Games chose to go with this approach.
Were it not for this stumbling block, Robot Rising could be a truly excellent game, and a glimpse of what the “next generation” of Facebook games might be like. It’s immaculately presented, plays like a “traditional” standalone game rather than an experience watered down for social network play, and takes full advantage of modern hardware to provide a visually-impressive, compelling experience. It just remains to be seen if the core gamer audience will be willing to overlook a mechanic which they have made their dislike of abundantly clear — and if the proposed future additions to the game such as cooperative and competitive multiplayer will successfully attract and retain players. For now, it’s one to watch for sure.