The 90s were the golden age of point-and-click adventure games. An excellent but relatively unknown entry in the genre was Robot City.
Based heavily on Isaac Asimov’s Robot City, Robot City focuses on Derec, a n amnesiac that wakes up in a city populated entirely by robots. Not only is he unsure of who he is, but he’s also accused of murdering a human in Robot City. Since he’s believed to be the only other human in the city, and the Three Laws of Robotics make it impossible for the murderer to be a robot, he is the only logical perpetrator. Granted a small amount of time to prove his innocence, Derec starts out on his journey.
I’ll be honest, the general gameplay in Robot City is very similar to other point-and-click adventure games of the time. Players navigate through static backgrounds by moving along a grid, and click on parts of the scenery to interact with it. That’s about where the similarity ends, though. Robot City incorporates alot of voice acting, and, even though the backgrounds are static, the atmosphere is very heavy and deliberate. The presentation gives the illusion of actually walking through Robot City; even the various smells and “feel” of walking in an entirely sterile environment seem to emanate off the screen.
In order to prove Derec’s innocence, you’ll have to solve puzzles that stretch across the entire city. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, portions of the city completely rearrange themselves at random! That long alleyway you used to find the clue now staring you in the face? Guess what: it’s nothing but a solid building now. Still, considering all of the walls and buildings look quite similar and portions of the city change on a whim, navigating the environment isn’t as difficult as one might think. Speaking of navigation, the world is rather sizable, and due to the shifting nature of the city’s layout, the time it takes you to get from point A to point B can vary wildly.
Unlike Myst, the solution to the puzzles and mysteries aren’t buried in books or star constellations. As long as you pay attention to conversations and take semi-decent notes, you should be able to figure everything out without too much trouble. There are couple of real doozies towards the end, but nothing feels impossible to solve.
While the puzzles are decently challenging and the atmosphere is perfectly executed, it’s the various personalities given to the robots that inhabit the city which are the highlight of this game. Every robot you meet has a unique personality: some are hilarious, others are serious, and still others are borderline malfunctioning. You even have your own cut-up of a robot at your disposal that will assist you in proving your innocence. Depending on which module you outfit him with, he can defend you, figure out logic problems, and more. Regardless of which module you choose, he’s got a snarky attitude, like a less-evil version of HK from Knights of the Old Republic.
Released at the very end of 1995, Robot City was unleashed upon the gaming masses just as the CD-ROM speed wars were beginning. As some of you may remember, the mid-to-late 90′s saw an arms race between manufacturers trying to put out the fastest CD-ROM drive possible (this was similar to the clock speed wars between Intel and AMD in the early-to-mid 2000s.) I distinctly remember having a 2X CD-ROM drive when I got Robot City for my 12th birthday in April of ’96, and the load times were ATROCIOUS. It took a solid 20 seconds to load every time I went back to the apartment, and transitioning to a new area in the city could take upwards of two minutes. Luckily, I had gotten enough birthday money to go out and get a brand-spankin’ new 8X CD-ROM drive (which at the time seemed impossibly fast, although 12X drives were right around the corner.) The difference in speed was amazing: I now got into the apartment almost instantly, and transitioning to a new area in the city took less than 30 seconds. Never before or since had I seen such an improvement in loading times by way of a hardware upgrade (although a modern SSD upgrade is a really close second.)
Robot City is a classic of the genre, taking all the best parts of other games and combining them into one awesome adventure. Be sure to check it out if you’ve never explored its mysteries.
Note: the screenshots used in this article were found here, which offers a GREAT look at this classic game.