Review by Orb
Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics
1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction
allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except
where such orders would conflict with the first law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection
does not conflict with the first or second law.
I have a shelf of games I have collected over the years that
are all unknown quantities to me. After a graphics-intensive new
release, I like to randomly pick one and play, kind of like cleaning
my palate with a sorbet in between courses at dinner. So it is
always a treat when the sorbet tastes good.
Robot City is a tasty little mid-90s sci-fi morsel. The
landscape is linear and boxy and unrealistic to the point of gross
exaggeration. But don't let that put you off. The story is everything,
and here it really shines.
It is a city manned entirely by robots, and the story is firmly
grounded in Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, a very comfortable
landscape to anyone familiar with the master of robotic science
fiction. Playing a game involving robots with positronic brains
was just like slipping on an old warm glove to this sci-fi reader.
The three laws harken back to a time when there was a more orderly
concept of technology. The Terminator had not been devised,
Star Wars was still many years away. Computers were not
quite yet the ominous refrigerator boxes looming large over the
men standing next to them that they would soon become. Asimov
wrote the three laws in 1942, in a time when Hitler had come to
power and the Cold War did not yet exist, in the midst of the
golden age of science fiction. He had hinted at them in two earlier
stories that appear in I, Robot, but they were not fully
fleshed out until "Runaround," which originally appeared
in Astounding Science Fiction in March of that year and
was also included in I, Robot. (If you haven't read this
book, you shouldit's wonderful.)
It was a more naive time, when man thought to play god and create
robots in his image. The truth turned out to be much strangerwe
now have hundreds of robots of all shapes and sizes serving us
daily. A chaotic jumble of computerized compliance, if you will.
The game is clear in drawing the line and delineating the difference
between a processor performing a function and a robot performing
Despite the dated graphics, Robot City is worth playing
just for the surprisingly well-written murder mystery it contains.
You awaken in a Robot City apartment, an amnesiac. A scientist
has been murdered, and you are a suspectthe main suspect,
it turns out, as the three laws of robotics prohibit a robot from
being able to perform the act and the city manned by robots is
devoid of humans except for one other scientist, a woman. So together
with your personal robot Alpha, you must solve the mystery as
if your very life depends on itit doesand in the process
try to discover who you are. All games should have stories written
this well or that unfold in such an involving manner.
The game itself was made by Byron Preiss, the same people that
created The Martian Chronicles, obviously lovers of classic
science fiction. The look of it is similar to The Martian Chronicles
and also to Shono's L-Zone.
One has to admire the guts of the person taking on works of
classic literature as material for his games.
The playing areas is a city that is designed in large geometric
patterns, very simple. An interesting touch to the story is the
fact that the city regenerates and changes throughout the game,
so it is impossible, with a few exceptions, to map the landscape
at all. Despite the maze-like qualities of the city, it is difficult
to get lost as every other street contains a transport station
entrance that allows players to go to a location where they may
The game plays in a smaller window. It's first-person, and there
is not a lot of action. There is, however, much exploring and
talking to other characters to keep the story moving. There is
a small amount of inventory to be collected, and the inventory
management is done with aplomb. You are also given clues in the
form of electronic journal notes from the murdered scientist,
as well as a PDA that gives the three laws of robotics (a good
refresher for me, as I read I, Robot 25 years ago or so)
as well as more background on the history and characteristics
of the city.
You can die in Robot City, but in order to do so, you
must get captured by police robots roaming the city and returned
to your apartment more than six times. The other interesting quirk
about the city is that every once in a while it starts to rain.
When it does, it is important to duck into a transport station
at just the right time; otherwise you will black out and once
again reawaken in your apartment.
The game comes on two CDs, and interestingly enough it contains
a hints and tips booklet that is enough info to qualify as a UHS-style
guide, so there is no need to hunt around and dig up a walkthrough
for the game.
Robot City was a blast to play. Challenging without being
too complex, and with a surprisingly engrossing story, Robot
City is a forgotten gem that you should grab if you see and
give a whirl.