Review by sfcalimari

Reviewed: 09/26/06

Another one bites the dust, as it were

Steambot Chronicles! A relaxing, non-linear rpg, right? RIGHT? More like a frustrating, tedious, fairly linear rpg. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Steambot Chronicles is more or less an action rpg, somewhat similar to a Legend of Zelda game, but different in many ways. You get around with a trotmobile, which is a kind of robot vehicle you sit on top of and drive. It has feet for walking and fists for punching. To move it you use both analog sticks. If you've ever played Katamari Damacy, that's what the controls for Steambot Chronicles are like, pretty much. Your trot moves around slowly, which is rather annoying, though you can mash the L2 button, which boosts your trot forward with a rocket blast. So basically you will be mashing L2 all day just to get around, unless you want to walk around at the trot's usual speed of what seems like 2 mph.

Something that really annoys me about the trot is that it has a fuel meter, which depletes continuously when you are driving your trot around. You can refill it by visiting garages or killing enemies, but many garages are few and far between, and some areas have very few enemies. Honestly, how am I expected to have fun and explore around if I have to keep worrying about refueling my trot? Link never had to refill a gas tank, he just explored at his own pace. You never had to fuel up in GTA. Ok, a fuel meter is kind of realistic, but in such an unrealistic game, it really dampens any fun you could have exploring or just messing around, and the fuel meter is a big strike against this game.

Your trot is also your means of combat. It can swing its arms for close-range melee fighting, or shoot gun weapons, or pick enemies up and toss them. Perhaps because controlling the trot is somewhat difficult, the combat in this game is ridiculously brainless and rather easy. Basically you will just whack away at enemies with your melee attack, or stand a bit away from them and fire a gun weapon at them, and maybe dash to the side now and then when the enemies try to hit you. Overall the combat is brainless, repetitive, and really not any fun. Most of the enemies are very sluggish and their attacks are easily dodged. Any enemies with powerful short-range attacks can be easily dealt with by standing apart from them and shooting at them over and over again with a gun arm. Tedious.

From what I have seen, bosses are ridiculously lame and easy. They are generally some huge battle station of some sort which looks impressive but which is actually pretty useless. All you do is whack away on a turret or whatever until it is dead, then move on to the next part of the boss that takes damage.

Overall I'm not sure that the trot combat is a good fit for this game. It really is just too mindless, easy and tedious. It feels like a combat system from a little kid's game, despite the fact that overall the game is somewhat mature. I think that a more traditional turn-based rpg battle system, if done right, could have worked better. Otherwise, a stronger action combat system like that of Legend of Zelda games, with somewhat deeper combat and more interesting enemies, could have worked as well.

So what do you spend your time doing in this game? Basically, you have a run-of-the-mill plot, and to advance the plot, you have to move around the overworld in your trot, traveling from city to farm to cave and back to city, etc, meeting with certain characters, obtaining certain items, defeating certain bosses. When you get to cities or farms or certain other areas, you can park your trot and wander around on foot. On foot, you do the usual rpg things like shopping, talking to npc's, and exploring around. Fortunately you don't have a fuel meter on foot, but you do have to eat food every once in a while to keep your stamina up. Honestly, this is really annoying. I guess I can blame San Andreas and Metal Gear Solid 3 for starting this trend of pointless periodic food eating.

The load times for this game are atrocious. They aren't particularly long, but every darn time you pass from one small area to another, you have to sit through a tedious loading screen. Even worse is that when you are moving around a city, moving from one area to another always calls up a loading screen. The constant load screens mean that moving around is a chore, and deadens any interest in exploring around the cities or other locations very much. Considering this game is so recent, and the areas you move around in are fairly small, the load times are really unnecessary and rather unforgivable. Any sandbox game might have some annoying load times now and then, but not every time you drive to the end of the block! In any case I was pretty surprised at how frequent and lengthy the load screens are, and how little other reviewers have mentioned this annoyance.

So what are some other aspects of this game? The world the game takes place in, as you might have heard, is kind of turn-of-the century European, with wacky stuff like the trots thrown in to make the game rather steampunk. This seems like a good idea, but unfortunately isn't really pulled off very well. The landscapes and cityscapes of the game are quite dull and not very interesting. Cities are rather beige and feel lifeless despite the constant trot traffic and wandering pedestrians. You can talk to random pedestrians, which is sometimes funny, but usually they don't say anything interesting.

The characters in this game aren't anything to write home about. Your character is a young boy with amnesia, named Vanilla. Yes, Vanilla. The main group of characters you are most involved with are members of a band, and, yes, they also have food-related names like Cardamom and Bergamot. Unfortunately these band members, like most other random npc's, are pretty boring and uninteresting to the point of being annoying and yawn-inducing. They could have been charming or at least funny, but are neither. As you might expect, your adventures with these boring band members occasionally triggers a band performance where you play notes on an instrument with your controller. I found these sequences to be quite dull and annoying, and the band's songs to be cloying and dull, but I accept that some people might instead find the songs and song-playing to be fun.

Besides the main plot, there are various types of optional side-quests that you can perform. Mine at a quarry and then return your findings to a museum for a cash reward. Obtain a certain item and return it to so-and-so. Defeat enemies in a battle arena. Etcetera. For the most part these side-quests just feel like pointless padding, because they don't give you useful rewards, and just sort of cause you to run around back and forth from one faraway area to another. Most of the rewards you get for these side-quests are useless license plates you can put on your trot. Ok, maybe they are pretty, and make you feel like a proud collector, but performing tedious chores to obtain useless items seems rather pointless to me. And even when you do get a useful item for doing side-quests, the requirements are really ridiculous and tedious. An example is the dungeon quests--you can explore around three dungeons searching for jewels which, if you collect them all, you can use to obtain a powerful weapon arm. However, the dungeons are laid out randomly each time you enter them, are extremely boring and repetitive, and the jewels spawn randomly as well. Basically to find all the jewels you have to keep going back through the dungeons over, and over, and over again until you finally find the one randomly-appearing jewel that you need. Yuck.

So is there anything good about this game? Well, not much. The background music is generally pretty good, and I liked the music that plays when you are in cities. Most of the characters in the game fall flat and are boring, but when speaking to them, often your character has several options of questions or responses to give. This is fun to mess around with, and some of the questions and responses you can give are pretty amusing. Certainly it means that most of the conversations you have are different every time, although the end result is generally the same.

With its overly simple combat, underwhelming graphical presentation, dull landscape, and long loading times, Steambot Chronicles feels rather dated despite its recent release. A lot more polish and a bit more production time could have really spiced up this game. Like another reviewer said, I really wanted to like this game, but just couldn't get into it. Too many annoyances and tedious chores drag down the game too much for it to be enjoyable for me. I just found myself endlessly rolling my eyes, impatiently tapping my foot, and sighing while playing this game. Maybe you will enjoy it, but my guess is most likely not.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

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