Slybots: Frantic Zone - HighrezGaming

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Slybots: Frantic Zone / 3rd of February 2016

The twin-stick shooter genre is one that we don't see an awful lot of nowadays, sadly. While they were arguably at their peak during the golden age of the arcades, they have faded into relative obscurity as of recent years, despite Bizarre Creations’ Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved inspiring a mini comeback on the last generation of consoles. Team Error's Slybots: Frantic Zone aims to reinvigorate the old genre by introducing stealth and tactics into top down shooter mechanics, but will it be enough to impress?

The story of this game is... well... there isn't really one to be honest. Being a multiplayer focused shooter with no real single player story mode. There are of course no obligations to have a narrative but instead we are presented with this, several robots (who are mysteriously shaped exactly like package boxes) have gone haywire and have started fighting with each other using a combination of laser fire and electric sword swipes. They have the ability to disguise themselves as package boxes which can be seen throughout the map in order to stay hidden against other players which I might add works rather effectively, as long as you yourself can remember which box you are! The lack of a story mode is quite unfortunate however it is instead replaced by several single player 'challenges' which require the use of stealth to get past obstacles and enemies. While these are actually quite a lot of fun there far too few of them to count them as a single player experience, thus consider this game basically multiplayer only with bots for offline play.

The presentation of this game is actually a nice blend of 2.5D styled graphics. The top down perspective is host to fully rendered 3D models which actually have height on the screen when things are on top of each other (such as stacked boxes) which is a nice touch. While the graphics do look cartoony they are nicely styled, sticking to the general factory/robot theme of the game and while the lighting can look a bit dark at times it is all styled to help the stealth system. The music is a nice blend of techno tunes and robotic beeps and blops mixed in to give a nice bit of background music (though the menu music just about burst my eardrums the moment I started the game). It's not going to convince anyone to buy the soundtrack or anything but it serves its purpose in providing some nice ambient soundtracks to keep you entertained as you rage at your friends when they sneak attack you.

And that brings me rather nicely on to the gameplay. As I mentioned, it's a multiplayer twin-stick shooter that relies upon stealth mechanics as well as outright shooting. There are sadly only two game modes currently available, which are the all-too generic Capture the Flag and Deathmatch. Slybots: Frantic Zone has a huge emphasis on local multiplayer (or couch gaming) and thus four friends can compete against one another at the same time on one screen, which is most welcome addition. The way the stealth mechanics work means that it is actually possible to hide from people even while they are seeing the same screen which is actually rather clever. However, outside of these two game modes there isn't really anything else for multiplayer. There is a 'horde mode' type game mode in which a player fights endless waves of robots to secure a high score, however, this is sadly not available in co-op when most horde-like game modes usually are. The controls also are a bit strange as while this game is clearly meant to be played with a controller in mind (specifically the Xbox controller) instead of it being the normal move with one control stick and shoot with the other in this game you use the other control stick to aim your attacks and then use the right trigger to fire. This is a fairly obtuse way of handling twin-stick shooter controls as you could just as easily use the other control stick to attack.

Thusly, I find myself on to the bad points of this release. The foremost of which being the criminal mistake of not having any online multiplayer components at all, now while I do understand the emphasis on couch gaming - don't get me wrong, I'm one of the biggest advocators of it - the fact that this game is released on Steam with no online functionality outside of leader boards is absolutely shocking. People don't play local co-op on a PC as that kind of 'Sitting back on the couch with your friends yelling at each other' situation is already at home on the console market, you don't gather round a PC to play video games together unless you are at a LAN party, another way of playing that this game also doesn't support. Slybots also doesn't seem to have much substance behind it bar playing a few games with your friends at a party, sure the stealth mechanics are cool and all, but the problem is that both game modes actively discourage using stealth as a tactic. Capture the Flag requires you to bring an objective back to base, meaning that staying still isn't going to help you achieve your objective, and Deathmatch is always timed so it's a battle of attack instead of stealth, discouraging you from paying tactically, leaving players instead just rushing out to kill their opponents as quickly as possible. It's a shame as the single player stealth challenges seem to be really good actually, and I think perhaps the game would have been better off by focusing on those aspects instead of multiplayer combat.

In conclusion then, I wonder why this game wasn't released on the main consoles’ online stores as it seems to fit the couch gaming demographic far better, and the controls are more suited to consoles rather than a mouse and keyboard set-up. Missing an online multiplayer when you have released on Steam is a huge misstep in my opinion, and until this is rectified I would say that while the game is certainly still cheap and fun for a few games with friends, you won't be making this your new multiplayer party game anytime soon.

Jack McKay
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