Roguelike Rumble Robots.
Both Bionic Dues’ gameplay and its story throw you in the deep end. You have 50 days to save 12 million people from the robot uprising. You’ll do so by tactically piloting a team of four ‘Exos,' developer Arcen Games’ slightly cooler name for mechs, through a series of missions which will see you retrieving additional parts with which to customise those Exos in preparation for the final battle, which will take place on the 50th day. On this fateful day, you’ll face a horde of enemy robots, the numbers of which you can deplete by completing certain missions, or you can instead choose to spend all of your time bulking up your team with upgrades and the like, and pray that you’ll be powerful enough to take them all on.
These are the basics of Bionic Dues which were instantly thrust at me via walls of text in the game’s opening moments, making my first few attempts at navigating my team to that final battle little more than exercises in self-punishment. Time and time again I’d swiftly find myself crumbling before even the lowliest of opponents, watching the HP bar of my Headquarters drop in the process. Once that life bar is empty the game abruptly ends, those 12 million people you were tasked with saving are doomed, and you’re forced to do it all over again.
Its concept shares similarities with that of another roguelike strategy game, FTL: Faster Than Light, but unlike FTL the action is turn-based which gives it more of a tabletop board game feel, and as such you’ll be more reliant upon devising a clever strategy to quell enemy attacks than you will the strength of your firepower. Stealth is an unlikely facet of Bionic Dues’ gameplay, and I found myself spending as much time patiently hiding behind cover for enemies to fall into my carefully laid traps as I did joyfully firing lasers at them. After some time I was clearing out whole rooms of robots with just my Siege Exo, the game’s rocket-wielding mech, whereas before I would’ve lost at least two of my comrades in the ensuing chaos. While some will find those first unforgiving steps onto the battlefield to be off-putting, persevering and learning each enemy’s attacks and how to use your environment to your advantage makes Bionic Dues an extremely rewarding game for those with patience.
However, surviving the full 50 days is in and of itself an arduous task, without taking into account that you must then face a sea of enemy robots in a gruelling final battle. Managing your time carefully prior to this confrontation requires almost as much careful planning as the battles themselves, as you must balance scavenging for upgrades for the various components of your Exos with ploughing through blockades and retrieving vital HP. Maintaining the stability of the Headquarters whilst simultaneously making the necessary preparations for the 50th day forced me to come unstuck multiple times, but the brilliantly addictive quality of the game kept me coming back for more.
Unfortunately, Bionic Dues’ captivating gameplay is contrasted by its thoroughly dull graphics. Each arena is indistinguishable from the last, with your Exos traversing across a floor of grey blocks against a backdrop of jet-black nothingness. The Exos themselves have had slightly more care put into their appearance, though not so much that you’ll feel compelled to zoom in the camera on the action to admire Arcen Games’ handiwork. This, coupled with a bland soundtrack that begins with an excruciating Evanescence-esque intro song and continues with generic guitar music throughout, causes me to worry that Bionic Dues will fail to make a good first impression with many and may therefore be unfairly overlooked.
I hope that will not be the case, though, because Arcen Games has created a masterfully addictive game here, one which successfully stands out in the crowd of roguelike titles that PC gaming has been inundated with recently. Beneath Bionic Dues’ bland appearance lies a thoroughly engrossing strategy game, one which deserves to be played by anyone with a keyboard, a mouse, and a hankering for blowing up evil mechs.