The world of Spareware is a bleak and desolate one. A catastrophe has befallen the planet, making life extremely difficult in the devastated remains of Europe. Domes have been erected around major cities to protect them from the hazardous environment out with their protection, yet life under the dome is hard. Food riots and anarchists attempt to undermine the system while attempts to explore space for a new planet have been hampered by a clone war on Mars, and the loss of the Moon stations severing contact with all the Scout ships.
These domes are controlled by a Central AI, HelOS in the case of the Helsinki Dome, which runs manages the system according to the VOTE, the democratic system in which the population makes decisions involving the dome. Detecting that a recent vote to remove support for Northern Immigrants would cause 87% of them to die causes a conflict in HelOS schedule between its directive to process the vote and the 1st Law of Robotics preventing actions that would harm a human.
HelOS plans to circumvent that dilemma by creating a new Automata, You, in order to destroy the central server and annihilate the VOTE.
Spareware has an interesting premise overlaying what is a relatively straightforward and polished twin stick shooter. Selecting an area of the world map, you construct then invade with your Automata to gather resources and equipment in order to lay siege to the central core with the intent of stopping the annihilation of a vast swathe of humanity.
The World map has four key archetypes; Fuel Stations where you collect Cells used to maintain and service your Robot, Depots which hold upgrades for your robots, Gates that separate each ring of the dome from the other, and unallocated zones which must be traversed on your way to the centre. Each time you enter a zone, you select your robots head, left and right armaments, body type and legs. Each variation conveys unique bonuses to your character; be it increased movement speed, toughness, magazine size, health or reload speed, while each weapon has its own benefits, be it the rapid fire bolter, the single strike Railgun, the widespread flechette or even the more exotic hellwhip, cancannon or eBola.Each area is procedurally generated, and you are planted in with waypoint markers to the exit and any collectables or gates you must destroy. For Cells, you must defend an area while you hack a terminal against waves of opponents intent on your destruction while Depot items are transferred to you instantly but you must carry them successfully to the exit in order to continue using them. This may seem simple, but it becomes more difficult with how your
Each area is procedurally generated, and you are planted in with waypoint markers to the exit and any collectables or gates you must destroy. For Cells, you must defend an area while you hack a terminal against waves of opponents intent on your destruction while Depot items are transferred to you instantly but you must carry them successfully to the exit in order to continue using them. This may seem simple, but it becomes more difficult with how your bot takes damage. Each of your component parts has a Cell count which must be less than your total Cells in order to take them into the zone. As such, the more beneficial armour and weapons are more expensive to deploy.
As you battle enemies and take damage you begin to lose parts, starting with your head. Once destroyed any benefits it conveyed are lost, and any cell cost spent on the item is forfeit. Make it to the exit without losing any parts, and you receive a full refund of the costs of outfitting your bot. If you are on a Depot level, and the component you collected is destroyed you will need to run it again in order to have it available for any future battles.
Combat is handled in time-honoured tradition, with your right gun fired and reloaded using your right trigger and bumper respectively, and an identical configuration for your left weapon. Each weapons ammo counter is shown on a concentric circle around your character, with your current health showing as a full circle bar surrounding you.
As you progress through the zones you gather experience for the enemies you defeat and at the end of each round you can spend these points in one of your three main skill trees. Support gives active and passive healing, Juggernaut aids in your defensive abilities while Scout primarily focuses on movement skills. Each of the trees also has additional skills which can be utilised giving you more damage with two of the same weapon equipped, increasing your reload speed or even the ability to drop mines or activate protective drones.
While Spareware can be played single player, the most fun is to be had when playing couch co-op. Cell count in this mode is more essential, with each player now contributing to your Cell usage, so you need to keep an eye on your robots overall cost to ensure both totalled are under your current stock. You also now have to take firing lines into account with the fact friendly fire is active.
Enemy types are not incredibly varied, but thankfully the game’s procedurally generated maps and short duration don’t allow the gameplay to become monotonous. With difficulty ranging from casual, which allows even the least experienced gamer join in, up to punishingly Hard which will challenge even the most dedicated shooter fans.
Thankfully the game was relatively bug-free except for the final level. The procedural generation of vehicles in the game caused a car to be spawned on top of a key pylon, needing to be destroyed in order to bring down a shield, rendering it invulnerable. Thankfully I was able to circumvent this problem, but on repeated tries this issue occurred frequently. Also attributed to the final level was a new mechanic which did not tally with the rest of the game, and had no explanation, leading to a lot of running about until I was able to figure out the new mechanic in play.
Overall, Spareware is an enjoyable romp with tuned gunplay and a decent amount of customisation under the bonnet.
Thanks to Xbox and Rusto for supporting TiX