So what's the story behind these Bionic Dues?
To put it simply; Bionic Dues is a turn based strategy game with RPG elements, in which players take on the role of a rookie Exo pilot tasked with saving the city from certain destruction by a robot uprising. If the rookie can't save the city... well, it would suck to be anyone in it, because the corporation in charge is quite prepared to nuke it back into the stone age and then some!
But who in their right mind would hand a rookie such an enormous task? The local Defense Force of course! And why? Because everyone in its elite and standard units has just been wiped out by crazed robots. Tough luck buddy! The only people left to have any sort of conversation with are the drill instructor, who breaks the delightful news to you, and the rebelling robots you will encounter.
So there really isn't much story here - it's sweet, simple and to the point, letting players know exactly why they're here and what they have to do. Beyond that, it's really up to the players to make their own story with each of their campaigns.
On the bright side, many of tool tips and item description in Bionic Dues are fairly amusing and worth a read, and the tendency of robots to shout things like "Why was I programmed to feel pain?!" as they get slagged had me laughing throughout.
Not much story? Well, at least there is plenty of pew pew to go around.
The real meat of the game is in the gameplay, and that's all I really asked for from this interesting looking title.
At the start of the game, players will have to chose between five different exo-suits to make up their four suit party. These suits take on the traditional roles of classes in an RPG. For example, an assault bot would be the equivalent of the warrior, being the most durable of the suits available and respectably hard hitting. On the other hand, if you want to simply lay waste to a large area you may want to consider dragging a siege bot along for the ride. Much like wizards, they have a tendency to nuke things, and whatever survives their blasts tends to be more frightening than a massive blob of robots.
Bionic Dues is fairly relaxed in its rules about party composition, so if a player wants a party consisting of nothing more than siege bots or snipers then they can do so! I wouldn't recommend this however, as it is quite helpful to have a nice bit of variety in the squad to adjust to all manner of tactical situations arising in the field.
Following the selection of their team, players select one of six pilots to take command of these four exo-suits. Each one of these pilots has a specific power up, which will vary in usefulness from player to player. Some of their powers include the ability to detect loot in any of the maps from the get go, being able to skip some missions in order to really control the world map, and simply starting with the epic variants of exo-suits from the start. I'm not sure if there are bigger variants of suits beyond epic, I haven't tried playing as that pilot just yet.
But wait! One pilot?! For four units?! What does this mean? Does one guy pilot these four units at once, making him some sort of joystick Jedi?! Nope! Bionic Dues instead throws quite the curve ball at players and decide that rather than having all four units available at once, the player will have to chose when to switch between these units. It can be done at any moment in the game, but be aware that doing so costs a turn and will allow enemies to close in on your unit. I found this out the hard way by switching to my science bot to lay turrets. Instead of victory, I got a heaping helping of plasma to the face. Luckily the game does not end with the death of one unit, and instead requires the full squad to be taken out before the mission fails and your HQ takes some damage without exo-suits to defend it properly.
One rookie against an army.
Once their team is set up, players move on to the world map where they are informed that they have fifty days until the robot army sends an all out assault on their HQ. Each mission the player takes on is the equivalent of one day having passed. There are several mission types available, but they generally boil down to 'kill all of the hostile bots' or 'reach the exit'. What matters, however, is the mission type, as they do different things to affect the meta game of saving your city. Some missions are all about building up your own forces by acquiring higher-end equipment, finding the epic variants of exo-suits or just plain loading up on money. On the other hand there are missions which serve the role of sabotaging the robot army. These missions include assaulting garrisons, destroying enemy factories and assassinating their boss units. All of these help in the end game, where you attempt to survive the final assault. Depending on how well things are going by the end of the last preparation day, players can face an absurdly huge robot army assaulting their HQ, or one that is little more than an annoyance they will have to remove from their base.
Each mission is randomly generated, as in any rogue like, and it keeps the gameplay fresh - you never know what horrible mess you are about to walk into. Then again, sometimes it'll put the player in a ridiculous situation like in my last stand mission! Half of my base was blocked off by the very generators I was supposed to defend from the invading robot army. Amusing as this was, it cost me what would have otherwise been a flawless victory!
Ooooh! A dakka master 9000? Yes please.
Since Bionic Dues doesn't offer any sort of noticeable levelling system to players, loot is where progression takes place. Each mission, no matter the type, will always have loot to reward at the end of a successful run, some more than others. Missions that assault parts factories will not really harm the robot army, but they will certainly land you a nice haul of what ever that factory produced. And what would a dungeon crawling game be without hidden loot? Exploring every map is not just worthwhile for the sake of loot, but as time goes on, or if you just decided to play on a harder difficulty, it is incredibly important to get every shred of high quality equipment to play with.
Science bots! For 1337 hacks and traps!
Remember how I said exo-suit variety was important? Well! As it turns out, the best suits for breaking through the indestructible doors which house this hidden loot are science bots.
But science bots aren't great at direct combat. If it's really not your style then, worry not! These exo-suits aren't terribly picky when it comes to what equipment goes on them. While each exo-suit is certainly specialized to fit a certain role, their equipment doesn't have any restrictions other than needing to have enough power running through it to keep all of its systems running. That being said, each exo-suit has a specific number of slots for equipment within each subsystem, and while there is a broad array of randomly generated parts that can fit any number of slots, players won't be able to swap out those subsystems. So, if you were hoping to have science bots with rocket launchers and the durability of an assault frame, that just isn't going to happen. However, you can make any bot, regardless of it's specialization, useful for more than what it was designed to do. It was pretty refreshing to say the least to have this amount of flexibility in an RPG when it comes to building your team.
It's not pretty but it's functional!
From the screenshots you've seen already, it's safe to say that Bionic Dues isn't going to be winning any beauty contests, but the graphics serve their purpose - in fact, everything serves its purpose very well. A quick glance over the visible battlefield will quickly let you know what's what, which even the prettiest games at times struggle to do.
The sound track is much better. Originally I wasn't much of a fan of the main menu track, but after hearing it a dozen times it started to grow on me. The music in game is much better, and it's worth giving a chance before replacing it with your own sound track.
A great buy for the tactical gamer.
Usually I'm not a terribly big fan of turn based strategy games, even when it's a great one like any of the X-Com games. The reason for this is that I feel they depend more on chance than actual tactics. It gets pretty frustrating when a full squad decides that their 90% chance to hit is going to result in nothing but missed shots.
On the other hand, Bionic Dues is more akin to a game of chess where every move matters more than the luck of a die. Opening a door, running over a trip wire, peeking around a corner - these things can very drastically change the tactical situation of each mission, forcing the player into what looks like a guaranteed defeat, but careful, well thought out moves can turn all of this around and make for great moments.