Review by Kevin Steele
Let's get one thing out of the way right at the beginning of this review. I am a fan of Robotron:2084 — a big fan. I first encountered the game at the 1984 World's Fair in Knoxville, and it immediately made a lasting impression on me. From that point on I sought out any Robotron machine I could find, and I actually had dreams of blasting Grunts and Brains. It became an obsession that has lasted to this day.
Given this background, you can understand my excitement and curiosity when I read about a new game that claimed to be “the ultimate RoboTron style arcade game for your PC, Mac or Linux.”
Mutant Storm is a 3D-accelerated two-joystick blast-a-thon inspired by the classic arcade game Robotron: 2084. Published by the UK software house PomPom, it's an 89-level adrenaline rush with some very pretty eye-candy and cool opponents.
It's a 3D-2D Game, Got It?
While Mutant Storm is very much a 2D retro-arcade shooter, it utilizes gorgeous contemporary 3D-accelerated graphics. Enemies have a three-dimensional shape, the sides of the arena tower above your ship as you play, and the floor pulsates below with colorful patterns. The game even features a limited camera “zoom”, zooming in the playfield to fit just the on-screen enemies and your ship. (Most of the time you'll see the entire playfield, since there are almost always enemies in every corner!) The graphics are hypnotic, but don't let them distract you, because some of the best arcade-style gameplay in a modern PC game is waiting!
Using the same two joystick system (one for moving and one for firing) as games such as Robotron, Smash TV, and Total Carnage, Mutant Storm presents you with room after room of enemies, screens full of enemies who all have your immediate destruction on their single-track minds.
Kill or Be Killed
Unlike Robotron, there are no humans to rescue this time. Your goal is simply to survive, and to shoot anything and everything on the screen. Like Robotron, all of the playfield is visible from the beginning of each level, and you are basically trapped in an closed arena with a horde of enemies. There is more enemy spawning in Mutant Storm than there is in Robotron, but there are certainly no fewer onscreen assailants at any one time. The screen is nearly always awash in attacking enemies and explosions.
One additional pressure in Mutant Storm is that each of the levels is timed: you only have a set amount of time to destroy all of the enemies onscreen, making a difficult situation even more challenging. This forces you in to a very aggressive stance during the game, constantly attacking rather than running away.
While there are no humans to rescue, there is something even nicer: power-ups. Certain random enemies will release a power-up when shot, which may give you shields, extra points, or additional firepower.
The nice thing about the power-ups is that they really aren't necessary to finish any level — you can just keep blasting away with your regular guns and everything will die. The power-ups just make things a bit easier now and then to complete a room.
If you're really having a problem with a particular room, you can always use one of your “smart bombs,” which clears a large radius around your ship of all enemies. Unfortunately, you don't get to collect any of the points for enemies killed with a smart bomb! You start off each ship with three smart bombs, and get an additional smart bomb every 10 rooms.
Survive for a long enough with a single ship and you're rewarded with a score multiplier. Live long enough and all scores are 2x. Live even longer, and scores are 3x. Die, and the multiplier drops back down a level. There are end of room bonuses as well, based on the speed at which you finish a level. Every 10 rooms there is an additional bonus for each ship and smart bomb you have remaining.
Speaking of rooms, there are a total of 89 different rooms in Mutant Storm, each with a different set of enemies, obstacles and other challenges. There are over 30 enemies, and each varies widely in size, speed, and attack capabilities. Some just charge you, like Robotron Grunts. Others swoop and shoot, while others spawn additional enemies in their wake. There's always something swarming or shooting at you. The room obstacles are just as challenging at times. There are passive obstacles, moving laser walls, gun turret emplacements, and more.
Each room is more difficult than the last, and don't think that just because you're about to complete the 89th level that the game is almost over. There are eight difficulty levels or “belts”, similar to karate rankings, going from white belt up to black belt. You can't just jump to a higher level, you have to earn access to each belt by completing the previous difficulty level.
Lovingly Crafted Mayhem
Mutant Storm features a great deal of “polish”— everything from the great sound effects to the slick 3D graphics, to the well-tuned gameplay attest to the amount of attention and care that went into this game. The challenging rooms, Internet high-score posting, and the "belt" level system give the game long-term playability, and if that weren't enough there is even a simultaneous two-player game mode so you can play with a friend!
The game supports keyboard, mouse, and joystick input, including dual analog joypads such as the Saitek P880 gamepad. The keys are customizable, allowing the game to be used on a MAME cabinet. The game is actively supported, as well, with several updates having been released to fine-tune the gameplay and scoring system, as well as add niceties such as mouse-control of the main menus.
I'm very impressed by this game, and have spent many, many hours playing it. To say it's addictive is an understatement — it's the first game I've played in decades that has given me the “Robotron Buzz” adrenaline rush. Mutant Storm sells for $19.95, and on a cost-per-hour basis, is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment I've purchased in a long time. Highly Recommended!
Update: If you're curious about what the game looks like in action, there are some nice videos available of Mutant Storm in action over at the Mutant Storm Fan Page at the EscapedTurkey web site. Check it out