“A physics-based strategy game inspired by Frozen Synapse and Gratuatious Space Battles.”
If that sentence makes you smile, then Rigonauts – award winner of Activision’s first Independent Games Competition – by Engient, will be one to look forward to. For those unfamiliar with this genre, think of Rigonauts as an old “windup and release” car and replace it with “loadup and release” battleship.
Starting off with a basic ship on wheels, you gradually unlock a variety of weapons and building materials over the course of the storyline. The story itself is minimalistic – used to introduce new gear and different enemies types in the form of simplistic font and childish spelling. From a basic wooden structure with guns to a giant conglomerate of material monstrosity with flamer throwers, lasers, mortars and a variety of other weapons, your vessel and the strategy grows more complex.
Rigonauts keeps a good pace on introducing new materials – each with their own weakness – and the corresponding weapon to exploit their weaknesses. The goal is to knock out the enemy artillery or dislodging their captain, and each stage, there can be more than one enemy vessel. To destroy the enemy, a balance between the proper combination of defensive materials and weapons becomes increasingly important. Just surviving isn’t enough; in later levels, a certain number of stars are required to progress which means using less materials and weapons to win.
Getting a one-star to progress is easy enough and a few three-stars fall with ease in the beginning, but it’ll take skill – and a lot of trial and error – to obtain three-stars later in the game. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of trial and error throughout Rigonauts. Once your ship has been made and targets acquired, as soon as you press “Go” it’s out of your hands. Tweaks for holes in your defense and adjusting for targeted areas no longer being viable due to the physics of destruction will mean retrying a single level multiple times. Whatever your goal, disabling weapons or their captain will require strategy and luck.
Strategies evolve as weaknesses are exploited and physics itself becomes yet another tool in the arsenal. Finding the weakest point to destroy the strongest weapons first or toppling the structure to make an opening for greater attack are just two strategies. Though you can only designate the targets in numeric order – then it’s out of your hands – this small step becomes important. The points of attack and the order they are done must be established before entering the battle sequence. Setting up victory is all in the planning.
Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
-Sun Tzu’s Art of War
The thrill of seeing your planning and subtle tweaks lead to a victory helps alleviate the frustration of retrying the level but not completely. Similar to Angry Birds, a slight change and planning can lead to advantageous turn of events thanks to the logical physics-based structures. Repeatedly starting a level over and over – with at first larger then smaller variations – are par for the course. Fighting at most a handful of enemies, the course of the battle can typically be determined in the first few moments of action. These levels lend themselves great to short bursts of gameplay to fill in a few minutes, hence it’s no wonder that Engient also has iOS and Android versions in the works for later this year.
For those unfamiliar with the wind-up-and-watch style battles in Rigonauts, the loss of control during the battle scenes can be frustrating. The addition of a re-aiming mechanic during battles would have increased the accessibility to a wider audience. There are times that due to the physics system, the same try can be taken with no changes that result in a different ending. It’s these times that lead to the most frustration – the feeling of luck rather than planning being the ultimate reason for success. After a few levels of trying for perfect three-stars even I gave up on the attempt and went for any win, only going back for more stars to unlock higher levels when required.
Rigonauts offers a great physics-based strategy game that allows players to determine their own solution. The story is minimal, but it’s not of any real importance so it doesn’t detract from the gameplay. The music is suitable to the gameplay, being mostly consisting of pipes, but quickly become an annoyance after long exposure. This doesn’t present too much of a problem since the repetitive and frustrating nature of the game almost requires playing in short bursts.
Unlocking three-stars becomes as precipitous as a tight-rope balance of strategy and luck that will frustrate most players looking to do more than just finish the game. The short levels and repeated tries might fit the mobile platforms better due to the nature of their systems. Their success will be determined by how well they control, something Rigonauts does very well on Steam.
Rigonauts from Engient will be available August 7th 2012 for $9.99 on Steam.