When I heard that Minecraft developer, Mojang, were to dabble in the publishing market, I was intrigued. What could the developer of arguably the last decade’s most appealing game, enjoy playing so much that they’d want to invest in its release?
Cobalt isn’t your average platformer. Let’s get this out in the open from the start. Cobalt harkens back to some of the platform shooters of yesterday. What Cobalt isn’t is a new Minecraft, despite the Mojang links. What developer, Oxeye Game Studio have delivered with Cobalt is an ode to games like Rick Dangerous with story elements borrowed from the likes of Wall-E and Short Circuit.
The story is pretty simplistic in its make-up. The titular hero is a cheeky robot, flying through the cosmos with his report-loving AI ship. They happen upon a distress call from what they believe to be humans, the first time they’ve had human contact in 50 years. You soon find out that there are dastardly plans afoot. An ancient AI has taken control of the planet’s robotic life and the indigenous population have either gone rogue or are a bit too pathetic to be of any use. So Cobalt has the task of defeating this alien AI and rescuing the imprisoned and weak all at the same time. Is this a little too much for our little hero to handle?
The first criticism I have with Cobalt is that it tries to offer a little bit of everything, but doesn’t quite offer the quality you’d be expecting at most of them. Take the first mission to transport down to the planet as an example. The hanger is unlocked by your AI and you’re left to wander over to it. I explored the area and from the off it really wasn’t clear what I should be doing with the various bits of robot that seem to sit on the shelves or the equipment upgrade machine that hides itself away in a corner. Transport down to the ground, however and the game takes on its actual persona.
Controlling your eager little droid is simplicity itself. He can walk around, jump, mid-air jump and tuck himself up into a defensive roll. This can help you deflect incoming fire and also enters into a Matrix-style bullet time, to help you avoid incoming fire, or watch helplessly as it impacts and you crumble into your component parts. Your hero can fight back however. You have ranged weapons, melee and throwables at your disposal. You can also grab pick-ups that are dropped. Add this to the crates, lockers and boxes that you can bust open, and you should be looking at plenty of firepower to carry out your mission. You should be.
Let’s talk about the class of enemy you’ll be facing. You’ll notice that your first encounter isn’t with rogue AI. Part of the story development is that you learn about things as you go along. You’ll have to look out for the wildlife as well as the curious mushroom folk as well. Here the game takes a little bit of a Dizzy turn (the Codemasters egg, if you’re wondering). The mushroom folk expand the story somewhat for you and you learn that there’s more than just the alien AI to contend with. This interaction comes to you in the form of picking lines in speech bubbles. It all feels a bit incidental though to be honest, as all options lead to the same place.
There are some genuinely cute graphical touches with Cobalt. As you take more damage, your little droid will lose bits of armour, or an eye. There are ways to get your health back to optimum levels however. There’s a mysterious purple gas that repairs you, which depending on your location could come from a number of scenery items. Don’t let this fool you though. There are some scenarios where one shot will junk your robot.
Handily, throughout the planet, there are save points, in the form of strange screens that give you the opportunity to teleport back to your ship for free. This is a one-time only deal per screen however, so take the opportunity when it presents itself or you may find yourself in the endless spiral of starting a new area without enough ammo.
There is another aspect to Cobalt that isn’t really covered in the in-game tutorials. You get the opportunity to hack computers, pick door locks and crack safes. The problem with these, especially with the security doors, is that there is the possibility of a multitude of combinations and you’ve no clue whatsoever as to what it could be. After a set number of tries, you might find that you’ve tripped an alarm and some enemies then come at you. It’s all a little bit too much down to luck.
The level design seems also to be somewhat slapdash. There is usually more than one way to navigate around it, but each route will take you through the same amount of danger. If you look at and think about the level, it’ll drive you crazy. It almost seems more of an option to go gung-ho through level to get to your next location. This will usually mean that you run out of ammo very quickly, or die very quickly. Some levels have some form of trap that you could trip on unsuspecting enemies. In truth, these are few and far between and you’ll likely end up dead by the time you’ve figured it out.
Multiplayer is where the game actually comes into its element. Without the need to think about the level design and whether you’re going to end up going home as a bucket of bolts, Cobalt is an enjoyable and fun experience. It’s fast too, with a variety of differing robots to choose from as your battle-hardened warrior. Each of these has slightly different characteristics so it’s in your interests to play at least once with them all to find your best fit. There are a few game modes to choose from in the multiplayer section too. The physics engine actually feels like it was made for this type of play over the somewhat ponderous story campaign.