18 March 2016

'Choice of Robots'

In which I married a Man-bot and had no regrets

I've been pretty busy with my dissertation lately (hence this quick review taking place of the grand, thought-provoking editorial I'd planned to publish this week) and earlier this evening decided that I needed a fun break from translating stories about mentally unstable mothers abusing their children (modern Japanese lit, don't ask). In my search for a Mac-compatible game that would provide such an experience I stumbled upon Choice of Robots on Steam; a minute later, after becoming morbidly intrigued by its awfully designed and hilariously narrated trailer yet 'Overwhelmingly Positive' review score, I thought, "Well, it's only £4 and you can't go wrong with 'Overwhelmingly Positive,' right? What the hell," and promptly clicked 'Add to cart.' 

Fifty-seven minutes after that and I'm in little mood to continue working on my dissertation - I've got too many feels hanging about in my chest to properly concentrate, proving the age-old adage that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I must return to my translation nevertheless, but first I need to talk about my feels.

This joy of a text-based choose-your-own-adventure story puts you in the role of a Computer Science Ph.D student who constructs their own robot - and that's almost as much of the story as is standard, the rest being quite up to you: make the robot look human, or don't; choose to spend more time with it than with your human friends and family, or don't; get kicked out of uni, become a wealthy businessperson, and build a robot army to take over Alaska, or don't.

You have a number of stats (such as your wealth or your robot's ability to empathise) that are notably affected by your actions and in turn influence what sorts of paths will be open to you later on. So if you want your story to go in the cute and fluffy direction and you allow your mechanical friend's emotions to become increasingly humanlike, when you're asked by higher-ups to inhibit your robot's emotional capabilities you've got to think hard about what consequences saying 'no' might have. Ten in-game years down the line and you might be feeling bitter about having been so idealistic, but then again, you might not be, depending on what else you choose to do also.

Overall the writing in this story is just great: it's humorous, compelling, touching, and all three at once when it needs to be. I've found the writing in one or two other titles published by Choice of Games LLC to be a little stiff and purple (I'm looking at you in particular, Champion of the Gods), but at the end of the day they are all individual novellas authored by different people, and in this one writer Kevin Gold does a wonderful job of keeping the tech jargon understandable and his characters relatable and investable.

I've played through the game only once due to the aforementioned need to work on my dissertation, but from what I understand from reading reviews and the incredibly cringe trailer's boast of three hundred thousand words of text, there are enough major endings and minor differences throughout to keep plot and characters from getting stale after one run, so thumbs up for replayability. The user interface, on the other hand, is plain and simple with nothing to distract you save for a couple of tiny buttons to show your stats or reset; if I had to nitpick I'd say that it's a little boring to look at and the game might have benefitted from an option to enlarge the text in full screen for poorer sighted players, but I can honestly think of little else to criticise.

After less than an hour of playtime the single ending I arrived at was a tear-inducingly happy one, with my android husband and I living out the rest of my human days chilling with our sort-of robot child and blowing the fat stacks of cash I'd made off my multimillion dollar corporation on a nice house and various expensive holidays; normally I'd be dubious as to how an end in which my self-insert chooses manmade love over biologically natural affection could be so satisfying, no matter how rich she might be, but that I could be proved wrong merely goes to show how well done Choice of Robots was. 

And next week, when my dissertation's been handed in and reality can sit tight on its own again for a while, I think I might revisit this story and try my hand at conquering Alaska too. Because rather surprisingly, being a robot scientist in an entirely text-based game is simply way too much fun to give up just yet.

Picture copyright Choice of Games LLC