Awesomenauts – Review
When a game has the word awesome in its title you can expect one of two things: either it’s going to live up to its name or you’re going to be left very disappointed. The developer is either making one hell of a statement, or they’re hiding behind one of the most over used-words of the last ten years. Thankfully it’s a case of the former; Awesomenauts is very, very awesome. There are several reasons behind this and they begin to become apparent at the very start of the game. Before the gameplay and the character choice, prior to the menu, there is the intro video. I’ve played hundreds of games in the last twenty years; this is, by far, the most excellent. It’s like the introduction to a nineties cartoon that was filmed by a child overdosing on Red Bull. Seriously, go and look at the entrance videos for programmes like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s an excellent start and really got me in the mood for the game.
Once the outstanding introduction is out of the way, you are thrown straight into a tutorial, which serves as an excellent way for new players to not only understand the basics, but also appreciate the underlying complexities of the game. I did, at first, think that this was the start of a single-player campaign; I can’t realistically see how they could have included one, given the style of gameplay, and Awesomenauts is a richer title for not having a single-player aspect bolted onto the end. It would have been the tonsils of this embodiment: redundant, void and infected with the industry’s growing need to provide two different flavours to one title.
The storyline behind Awesomenauts mirrors its cartoon-style opening. In the year 3587, an intergalactic war rages between two rival robotic factions over a form of currency known as Solar, which is drilled from within various planets throughout the universe and it’s on those planets that you, the Awesomenauts – a band of mercenaries – will battle it out for total domination.
The basic concept of Awesomenauts is something that players are more than familiar with, in that you must destroy the opposing team’s base. This is a very simple premise but undeniably difficult in execution. Between you and the base are several turrets and the enemy team; each team is made up of three players and a number of computer-controlled robots. If your human counterparts get near to the turrets they’ll get chewed to pieces – I’m not kidding here, these turrets are to human players what Myxomatosis is to rabbits – fatal, and a massive inconvenience.
Stepping into the path of a turret is not how to divide and conquer. Instead, players are tasked with protecting small robots who automatically head towards the nearest turret. Upon arrival, the shields go up and the turret (which appears to have serious risk assessment problems) will unload its arsenal at the robot while you beat the stuffing out of it. As long as that robot’s cogs are still even remotely turning, the turret will ignore you. Your job is to ensure that the enemy team don’t destroy your robots and vice versa, while destroying turrets and ensuring your own survival. It’s plenty to try and remember but it only serves to make the gameplay more enjoyable.
With the tutorial out of the way, you’re required to venture online to fight against other people. If you don’t fancy going it alone, you can go split-screen (I was without such companionship, sadly), or you and two other friends can search together to find a game. It’s not clear if Awesomenauts matches you against players of similar skill or not, but it hasn’t been too much of a problem, as team-work is worth its weight in gold.
Character selection plays an important part in Awesomenauts. The tutorial mission gives you control of Sheriff Lonestar, a perfect starting character for players, in that he’s easy to control and his abilities are very straightforward, and as you play more games you gain experience points, (represented as total Solar gathered) and unlock other characters and perks for them to try out. Within a handful of matches you can unlock all the characters, from the ghetto Froggy G, to the jet-pack-wearing monkey Yuri, and each feels unique and requires a different play style in order to succeed and get the most from them.
After character selection comes perk selection. This isn’t initially unlocked and requires you to play a few rounds first. Once unlocked, however, players can choose what exact perks to take into battle. This doesn’t mean they are all automatically available to you, you still have to buy them with collected Solar, but what you can do, however, is tailor your character to a very specific style of play. You’re presented with five columns with the requirement to pick three perks from each; this stops players stacking perks on one weapon or ability and generally keeps things balanced.
As you start each round you hurtle to the battlefield in a small escape-pod-style-object, collecting Solar on-route, and crash into your base. It’s then wise to buy some abilities and go give people a headache, head-mounted-laser style. Gameplay generally goes a million miles an hour and you wouldn’t be blamed for finding it a difficult learning curve if your fellow ‘nauts aren’t up to scratch. This is where I found myself for the first couple of hours as this game doesn’t favour newbies. It’s certainly easy enough to play and use the characters, and even the most useless of players can navigate the easy 2D landscapes. However, behind this façade of colourful explosions and quirky music lies the beating, meaty heart of a finely tuned strategy game.
Players will quickly realise that going solo isn’t the way to go. Much like Valve’s classic, Left 4 Dead, the only way to win is by working as a team. Attacking as a team, defending as a team, winning as a team. You’ve got to play to your character’s strengths and alter your tactics based on how well those pesky computer-controlled robots are doing. Do you take the high road and stop the incoming assault, or do you push forward and protect your robots? Whatever you do, it’s best to do it with someone else, because killing a human controlled opponent nets you a huge Solar bonus (meaning that it pays to gang up on people). It also pays to beat a hasty retreat if your team’s about to resemble the British after the Light Brigade went on its infamous charge, lest you gift the enemy with precious Solar. Due to the need to ensure longevity you will see people running away from battle; Awesomenauts is the only game in which you’ll witness a giant metal robot running away from a lizard assassin, and that’s certainly a sentence I never thought I’d have to write.
The Solar you collect can be spent on the previously mentioned perks and abilities. One of the best feelings in this game is waging war, teleporting back to the base, upgrading and heading back out. The perks are fairly generalised but do have a few minor differences. Most boost the speed, damage and range of your abilities or main weapon, while the final selection of perks deal with health and grant increases in Solar.
Self-destructing robots, stampeding holographic bulls, lizard tongues, floating healing balls… it’s all here. The level of utter insanity that you can be greeted with is one of Awesomenauts’ strongest selling points. I’ve witnessed an entire army follow a retreating chameleon only to discover it’s a decoy, which led them to be ambushed by a bomb throwing monkey and ultimately destroyed by a dynamite lobbing cowboy. The level design assists with these ambushes, as danger can literally come from any angle. There may only be three levels (and you’ll learn them quickly) but they feature natural inhabitants, hiding spots, force fields, anti-gravity areas and giant, hungry worms. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have extra levels, but at an early stage it’s not a huge issue.
It will be immediately obvious to anyone who sees this game that the art style compliments its bat-shit-crazy gameplay. Giving everything a cartoon look and vibrant colours really pays off. The turrets are big, overpowering and fearsome, while the little robots are sturdy, but, ultimately, weak. Each character lives up to their name and looks the part: Clunk is a slow, clumsy, oaf of a robot that thuds around the environment like a drunken metal elephant, whereas Voltar the Omniscient glides around, barely making any sound, like a lanky ninja with a fish-bowl on his head. If you look into the background of each level you’ll see a planet living out its existence as if no war was going on.
The sound doesn’t mirror the graphical excellence that’s been detailed; the music is very quirky and fun to bob your head to and, although I never got bored with it, I thought there could have been a little more variety. The Awesomenauts are all individuals and great work has been taken to display them as such, so a few extra phrases would have been the icing on this cake, although to be honest, if that’s the biggest problem I’ve detailed so far, it can’t be a major issue and you’ll enjoy hours of gameplay before you really start to notice it.
As with the majority of multiplayer games there are some minor balancing issues. Thankfully none of the characters are ridiculously overpowered, and provided that people work as a team, even the most skilled player can be overwhelmed. This is a very polished product that is clearly a labour of love as much as it is a means of income. In an age with increasing concerns about developers releasing half finished products, it’s pleasing to see one so finely tuned and excellently presented.Pros
- Extremely fun to play
- Excellent gameplay
- A very polished overall product, which appears to be something of a rarity these days
- Difficult learning curve
- Has you relying on other players to actually win
When I first picked up Awesomenauts last September at Eurogamer, I announced it as one to keep an eye on. Despite a minor scare at the final hour, Awesomenauts is with us and it's everything I hoped it would be. It's tremendous fun and I implore you to play this with friends for ultimate giggles. Don't let the appearance betray you though - this is a serious strategy game and will punish the unprepared. It's worth riding that early difficultly wave, because with the promise of more characters and levels on the way, it's certainly a game that is worthy of your time.
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