Robot City

Developer/Publisher:  Byron Priess Multimedia
Year Released:  1995

Review by Steve Ramsey (May, 2002)

Having read the Isaac Asimov Robot stories many years ago, this game was like a small blast from the past. Based on a writing challenge he issued to a number of science fiction writers, and firmly grounded in the Laws of Robotics, it is a murder mystery set in a city of robots, where the only logical suspects are human, of which you make up 50% of the total. Unfortunately neither you nor anyone else knows who you are. In such circumstances, proving your innocence is unlikely to be easy.

First Law of Robotics - A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
The first thing you have to do is get out of the apartment in which you awaken to find yourself. It is here that you will first encounter the logical world of a robotic mind, and it is here you will stay unless you can utilise the three robotics laws to gain information, and ultimately access to the outside world.

You will then need to solve the murder, or at least prove your innocence, in a world that, despite its logical foundations, seems to have spun out of control. You will be aided by Alpha, a robotic assistant, as well as by the clues you find and the information you gather. You can question robots, although they may not be terribly forthcoming, and the only other human will contact you from time to time.

As you make progress, more city locations will open up to you, but not until you have worked out the transit system. You will eventually be able to contact certain robots by Comlink, and they may assist your investigation.

Second Law of Robotics - A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
Though you are allowed to investigate, you are also a suspect, and this will prevent you on occasion from accessing locations and information. Hunter robots are also scouting the city looking for you, and they will return you to your apartment if they find you. Curiously, rain will also send you back to your apartment if you can't find shelter quickly. Return too many times involuntarily and it's game over.

What puzzles there are in the game are generally straightforward, although a chase through the mines to enter the Command Centre seemed more random than logical. The game is essentially one in which you gather information, and sift through it to find the evidence that will prove your innocence. You can discuss the case with Alpha as you go, an essential part of collating the material facts. You will also have to find various items, including the murder weapon, scattered across the city sectors.

This searching is the most frustrating part of the game. Most sectors are essentially mini-mazes, with the capacity to change due to the fact that the city is comprised of micro-machines and is constantly growing. The sectors are small, and there are landmarks which can be recognised, but there were times I got tired of traipsing about between steel city walls looking for a certain robot or a certain item.

The transit system too had a tendency to bog things down, particularly as sometimes the destination you wanted was not available on the destination screen. This meant travelling to another sector, to simply travel to the sector you wanted. You might then have to change discs (there are two) to access that sector, and then change back again to leave.

Whilst things were moving forward, these aspects were pushed into the background. But if I was looking for one item, or one robot, they tended to combine to significantly downgrade the fun factor.

Third Law of Robotics - A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws.
Nevertheless I did have fun. The subtle manipulation of the robotic laws as a means to an end in questioning was ever present and ever interesting, as was the way in which key elements of the murder were discerned and assembled from the information gathered. The murder is also not the main game, being part of a bigger story that must be resolved. The plot is fairly tight, and neatly unveiled, and its many resolutions are up to you. You will have alternate endings depending upon the choices you make.

You point and click your way around in Myst-like fashion. The graphics are typical of the game's age (1995), and the colours are fairly flat. The game only uses about two-thirds of the computer screen, and the game play window is limited to another two thirds of that. The rest of the game screen is utilised by the game commands, including the conversation options, and a Comlink screen. You can learn a lot about the city in questioning the robots or you can limit your knowledge to the essentials. It took me about 10 - 12 hours.

There is a soundtrack and some ambient noise, but there are no subtitles. You can save anytime you like and as often as you like. It ran without any problems on Win98 PIII 800 MHz.

Robot City is probably best enjoyed by players who fondly remember the type of fiction the good Dr Asimov wrote (there are some nice homages throughout the game), and who have a soft spot for his robots. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2002. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
MS DOS 5 or later or Windows 3.1 or later. 486SX/25 MHz or higher, 8 MB RAM, 2-3 MB disc space, 2x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, 256 colours