Robots and a deadly alien world. Could there be a better premise for a video game? It conjures up images of slimy, fanged, slobbering monstrosities crushed beneath the iron boots of unyielding, unfeeling mechanoids. How could you go wrong? Well, with Spare Parts, developed by EA Bright Light and available from the PlayStation Network for $18.90, we all get to find out. While it looks fabulous and has an engaging sense of humour, the gameplay deserves to be ripped out, drained of any flammable fluids, and thrown on the scrapheap.
To be fair, the game has a couple of likable characters - Mar-T and Chip. Two ‘bots that crash on a decidedly inhospitable planet. There they find another ship with it’s central computer still active. Con-Rad, the ship’s computer tells the friendly mechs that if they find enough spare parts they can repair the ship. Once repaired they can escape the alien Lord Krung who has his eye on Con-Rad’s advanced technology.
So solo, or co-operatively, you head out into the planet. Climbing cliffs, floating down rivers, mashing giant slugs and kicking vicious spider-monkeys. Collecting coins for every cactus or piece of fruit you smash. Repairing broken robots, activating bits of tech and gathering enough parts to keep Con-Rad’s friendly hologram happy as he pops up lending advice, humorous anecdotes and generally pointing you in the right direction.
It all sounds good. A stripped down ‘Clank and another Clank’, complete with robotic add-ons like hover boots and x-scanners. Every level you reach has a number of ship parts to find and, if you come across a damaged robot, a few robot parts as well. Some spare parts are easy to get, others take a small amount of puzzling or a couple of deft double jumps. If you need to climb up a sheer wall, you can use the magnetic boots or nanite gloves can help you activate alien switches. Once you have gathered enough hardware, Con-Rad will open the way to the next lush and detailed area. It’s all simple, friendly and familiar. But, quickly a number of frustrating problems crop up, giving a pretty short and simple game some frustrating moments.
To begin with, (and this is a phrase that should never be uttered in gaming) the camera is fixed in place. That’s right - fixed in place. It’s like a memo came down during the development of the game saying, “Sure the it’s funny, great looking and has a nice friendly tone, but what can we do to make it really bloody annoying?” And annoying it is. Falling off cliffs. Bouncing off invisible barriers. Making jumps, and then taking ten more goes to make the same jump. Keeping an eye on your shadow (if there is one) to try to figure out how far you missed a ledge by as you plummet to your death for the nth straight time. It has just picked the one thing that no gamer in the world misses, and makes it a defining gameplay feature.
Unfortunately, the gameplay problems don’t end there. The add-ons are well done and upgradeable, but there are not many. You can access them with the front triggers or with a menu wheel activated with the right stick (that’s right, the stick that would control the camera on any other game made in the last five years). For instance, activating the x-scanner goggles brings up a little icon over various objects. If the icon’s a fist, you need to punch something with your power arms, or if it’s a little boot with lightning, you walk up something with your magnetic boots. But, sometimes it won’t work because you aren’t in co-op play, or you haven’t flipped a switch or pushed on a panel somewhere else first. So even if the goggles tell you what to do, there are times when you might not be able to do it.
On top of this, add in combat that’s repetitive. Despite the usual combinations of kicks, jumps, punches, jumping punches and kicking jumps, you generally just end up mashing X. The online gameplay consists of dropping in a out of co-op games and, while you can also play co-op locally, there is nothing stopping you completing the game alone. Finally, because of the fixed camera, you die a lot. But, there is little consequence to dying, so you also respawn a lot, then you die a lot more, swear a lot, and eventually get bored a lot. Although it’s livened up by Simon Pegg voicing Con-Rad, being boring is saying something for a game that only lasts around four or five hours.
Frustratingly, there is a perfectly good game lost in there somewhere. It should be a polished, sleek and enjoyable ride. But, the whole things plays like such a rusty old clunker that if you found it on the side of the road, wouldn’t even be worth breaking up and selling for spare parts.