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Choice of Robots

by Kevin Gold

Science Fiction
2014

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Number of Reviews: 4
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cool story with lots of content and replayability, September 20, 2015
"Choice of Robots" is among the best-known (and most successful) games in the Choice of Games brand. It's the first CoG game I've played, and this is a very good starting point for whoever wants to check them out: it is a really good game that everyone loved.

You are cast as a grad student in Stanford working on a new robot, and you get to customise your robot and its education, which will orient the robot's stats (Military, Autonomy, Empathy, Grace), as well as yours (Fame, Wealth). Those stats orient the narrative in a rather explicit way: the choices you are presented with are the same (I think), but some of them will result in failure because a stat is too small, or some will not be selectable because a corresponding stat needs to be high enough. In particular, there's a big choice near the end that seems to appear in every playthrough, that determines which of 4 different chapters you will play (and some of them cannot be selected if some stats aren't high enough); structurally, this kind of acts as a funnel towards the endings, reducing the number of possibilities to get a more focused finale, which is nice. In the chapters that come before, there are a lot of events that can happen rather independently, depending on choices you've made and the relationships you formed with people, and it's a lot of fun to try to explore all of them (the number of combinations seem to be huge!); whereas the finale seems to have less important variation and opportunities to change what happens: the game still takes into account, say, your romantic option, but I found it was rather interchangeable (for instance, in my first and third playthrough, I ended up married to a human or to a robot, but their reactions and dialogues were the same, and didn't seem to depend on the personality of the mate very much). Also re:interchangeability, I 'discovered' my partner's secret twice ((Spoiler - click to show)we discovered Elly was Chinese when we got married, and then she told me she had just found out recently when we both got arrested), which made it feel like the game hadn't planned for that and that my partner really was supposed to be interchangeable.

For my first playthrough, I played as truthfully as I could, choosing things that made me happy and corresponded to my personality; I was happy with the options that were presented to me and where I ended up, even though (Spoiler - click to show)I ended up having a second robot that wanted to be romantically involved with me, when I didn't want to, which was hard to navigate (but hey, that's how life is sometimes -- and maybe I shouldn't have chosen what I chose at the 'funnel choice'). I was really heartbroken at the ending, but that was OK: it was really well written and I didn't feel robbed, and it still felt satisfying. It felt like "my story" -- which is great!
However, I thought that the game was fast-forwarding through some interesting parts, including my main relationship, which is a shame. I kept thinking that we were spending so much time talking about robots and work that my partner was going to leave me, but out of the blue the game skipped to a scene where we got engaged and got married. In that sense, what followed the 'funnel' choice (I had the (Spoiler - click to show)Empathy route I think) was more satisfying, as it was dealing with human-human and human-robot relationships in depth; I just didn't like that, before that, I was trying to build a relationship but the game didn't really spend much time talking about it, which felt like I was failing at building the relationship. I have no idea if it's like that in other CoG games, but I heard the style was to present you with big important choices; but I certainly wouldn't mind having more details put into relationships (more scenes, partners aren't interchangeable, etc) instead of fast-forwarding it a bit.

I came back on my third playthrough to this route / style of choices to see what changed and what didn't, when my second playthrough was a much more aggressive character. That second playthrough in particular made me notice something else (that in retrospect was also present my other playthroughs), that sometimes choices failed without really any hint that they might fail. So, you have a list of choices, and you can kinda guess what could happen, but then something else happens and it turns out it wasn't a good choice. I don't know if that's really a bad thing, I guess; certainly there are choices in life that you make that turn out to be bad ones, and you couldn't have prevented it, and it sucks and you have to deal with it. But in a game, it kinda feels to me like it was pulling the rug from under me; I was interested in the consequences of the actions, but turns out that no, the game isn't going to go this way, and by the way you lose Wealth. (Such choices that come to mind: (Spoiler - click to show)letting kids play with your robot, waiting for a clearance to start selling robots to the US Air Force, attacking Juneau.) Just to clarify, I'm OK with actions having negative consequences for the player, I'm just not really thrilled with the prospect of having random events blocking my way; I'd much rather have the game lay out the situation, give me a choice, then explore the consequences, negative or positive, without pulling something from its sleeve at the last second.

The writing is good, and the drama is well-managed, so that each playthrough feels like an exciting or interesting story. I also really liked that the world that is described is in the near future, and is very tangibly linked to our world; a lot of the times, I felt like I recognized the pattern from the present world that was brought up and explored in a section of the game, which made it feel very possible and grounded in reality. It's really not that far-fetched, in terms of SF, and I really liked it (see above: the game organically explores a situation we both know). There are also a few jokes in the game, most of them of the geeky kind (I loved the IF references), although at times they didn't really feel appropriate (there's a Konami Code reference at an otherwise pretty dramatic moment). Your mileage may vary. Also, the prose was mostly very good technically speaking: apart from a missing period once, I didn't really notice anything in 3 playthroughs.

To sum up, "Choice of Robots" feels very satisfying: the story is great, with lots of different possibilities each exploring different thematics; the world that's described is very interesting and grounded in reality, which makes it interesting even if you're not into SF. My only regrets are that the game fast-forwards a bit through the early relationships, and that some choices are unexpectedly bad. I'll definitely keep playing it and try to get as many achievements as I can, and I'll also probably check out other CoG games!