Up until a few weeks ago the working title of G.W.A.T. was an acronym for “Game Without A Title”. As unimpressive as that sounds, the new name of “Gratuitously Weird Automated Toys” is a dubious improvement. Coming up with great names for games is obviously not a strong point for Westcoast Games, but it’s certainly not the worst name for a game that I’ve reviewed in the past few years at Bytten.
G.W.A.T. is an action puzzler that puts the player in control of a robot in a closed maze. It has both single player and a multi player modes, whereby the player dukes it out “arena style” against opponents either human or AI. The single player mode features a challenging 20 map campaign along with a customisable skirmish mode, in which the player can select parameters that affect the size of the game board and number and difficulty of opponents. Conceptually, it is similar to games like Bomberman and Pac-Man, in that there is no real story to play along to. Each level plays independently of the next, and in the campaign mode, the player’s progress is autosaved at the start of each new level. Effectively, the campaign mode is just a series of linked skirmishes against harder and harder opponents.
You battle by moving your robot around the maze using the arrow keys, and either attacking enemy bots directly (using time bombs, plasma bolts or proximity mines) or indirectly by spawning additional combat bots of your own. The player’s robot always has 2 important values. These affect how quickly it can move and how it can attack (energy) - and how advanced it’s protégé bots are (intelligence). These values can be increased by moving over corresponding powerups that randomly appear in the maze from time to time. Intelligence is never drained, but if the player’s bot’s energy ever reaches zero, they are defeated. In single player mode victory comes when the AI has used all up all of it’s energy reserves on creating bots. Being attacked in melee, getting caught in explosions, attacking and spawning bots all cost energy.
Gameplay-wise, I have a number of serious issues with G.W.A.T. Most importantly the energy costs for spawning bots seem to me to be completely out of balance. For example, a plasma bolt attack that is well placed can kill 2 or 3 enemies in one explosion for the cost of just 2 energy points. A tank that costs 20 energy points to create (not to mention 10 seconds to spawn) might get taken down before it can do any significant damage to enemies, and often will only last a matter of seconds in combat! Increasing intelligence can make the bots slightly better value in combat, but almost never worth their equivalent energy cost in bombs or bolts. The Tick-Tok bot is basically just a walking one shot suicide unit yet it costs 6 energy to build! Of all the units, the Coercer unit that can convert enemy bots to your side as they are still spawning is an interesting concept, yet it too takes 10 seconds to spawn. By the time your coercer bot emerges near enemy bot spawn points, the enemies have already appeared and are ready to destroy your otherwise weak coercer as it appears. The 10 second time delay from placement to spawning of bots effectively removes a great deal of strategy from the game, since the board can change immensely in this period of time, and turns the game into a bit of a crapshoot.
By far and away the best way to beat levels is to just walk around from energy pickup to energy pickup shooting only bolts and dropping prox mines when needed. In any game versus the AI in the campaign once you get past around level 5, the enemy spawns numerous bots right from the outset, and the player won’t have any spare energy reserves to use on bots of their own until the end of the level when victory is otherwise assured through more direct means. The conundrum is that although the bot vs. bot play is the drawcard of an otherwise somewhat mediocre offering, it never seems to be the most effective way to play the game.
The game features a 3-d environment that can be rotated and zoomed with the mouse, but nudging the mouse inadvertently during play can push the camera angle into a position that makes playing difficult or impossible. There is a key to reset the view to default, but in the heat of the battle this was irritating for me. The default view is fine for all wants and purposes, and I really don’t see the need for 3-d at all. A simple top down/isometric 2-d playfield would actually probably be beneficial to game play. At the very least an option to lock the view is needed. Another source of frustration for me was the way my robot incessantly kept clipping the edges of the maze walls and slowing down/stopping when trying to corner. The colours are a bit drab, and I suppose this was a conscious design decision, although I personally would like to have seen a bit more vibrancy, especially in the explosions and melee encounters.
The game seems quite sluggish to load on my 2 year old dual-core Vista machine and would often dump me to the desktop without warning (at least 3 times in 2 hours). Even when shutting down the game normally the process “javaw.exe *32” often remained resident in memory and upon multiple instances of this would eventually consume nearly all system resources and force a hard reboot of my PC (until I worked out what was going on and manually and periodically shut it down from task manager).
Sadly, G.W.A.T. just smacks a bit of a game that’s not quite ready for release. Admittedly, multiplayer mode would alleviate a few of the balance issues since both players would be on a level playing field, but finding players for opponents might be a bit of a challenge since there is no central server or formal matchmaking service that I know of. For solo play, I believe that sweeping changes need to be made before it would appeal to me personally.
I’ll end on a positive note, and say that the sound effects and in particular, the industrial rock styled soundtrack are both great! I also think that the concept of the game in general terms is reasonably solid and that there’s an interesting game here once a few serious issues have been worked through. Specifically the game needs to find ways of engaging the player better at a strategic level, and bringing in the bots as a more viable option, since they are what the game is all about.
Keywords: g.w.a.t. review, westcoast-games reviews, westcoast-games games, g.w.a.t. scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.