Mojang said the Cobalt alpha would be released before Christmas and sure enough, tiny robots invaded the internet this weekend. I really wasn't sure what to expect so I installed the blighter and had a quick go, all the better to share some brief impressions. There's no campaign at the moment and no online multiplayer, which isn't due anytime soon if at all, so since I couldn't tempt anyone to play I've had to make do with the tutorial, the survival map and a few team deathmatch games with bots. Not ideal but at least I know what it is now. There's a new trailer and thoughts below.
It's a 2d arena shooter that sometimes feels a bit like Nintended biff 'em up Super Smash Bros. More than anything I was reminded of the Madness series of Flash games, with more polish and less character customisation. Weapons drop throughout a stage and there's often a mad scramble to pick up the best guns, with agreeably animated robots wall-jumping about the place and bopping anyone who gets in the way. The robots aren't particularly swift, so despite the deadly arsenal scattered about, proceedings are fairly laid-back. Rolling does inject a bit of pace into movement but it mainly serves as a way of dodging projectiles.
Some aspects, such as thrown weapons, are either a little wonky or I'm hopelessly bad at using them. The tutorial instructs that charging up a throw, running forward, rolling and releasing mid-roll will send a grenade hurtling through the air. Mine look like a weak-armed and trembling child forced to bowl in a game of cricket has lobbed them underhand, failing to reach never mind hit the wickets. They are feeble and by the time I've switched across to them and charged up the throw, more often than not I could have killed everyone with a gun instead.
There are other bits and pieces to learn. Ground-punching during a roll can propel your little robot through the air. Again, I couldn't get that to work every time, so either the timing demands extreme precision or I'm not even capable of vague precision. Then there's the rolling again - shoot mid-roll and the projectile will fly directly upwards. Handy for killing people overhead but in reality, I suspect, far too precise for the chaos of combat, particularly since aiming up or down causes guns to auto-aim in a cone anyhow.
At the moment, there's not really enough content to delve into. An included level editor should ensure a steady flow of arenas, for a while at least, but what this game really needs is a steady flow of opponents. If I could play online, I'd probably be blasting my way through a server right now. The bots aren't broken, although they do have a tendency to stand around punching each other when there are grenade launchers a couple of hops away, but the game better suits human opponents. Some of the moves and weapons seem designed to elicit smiles in observers and victims rather than solely to provide a competitive edge. Your computer will not smile and that is a sad truth.
The survival mode is more fun than the arenas for a single player, with a variety of enemies and the sweet lure of loot gathering. There's not a great deal to it yet but there is promise at least. I'll follow the continued development, particularly in the hope of a decent co-op campaign, but in the meantime I've just been reminded to play more King Arthur's Gold and Cortex Command.
You can buy into the alpha now for €9.95 and receive all released builds up to and including the final game. I'd be very tempted to wait a while longer yet. For a game that is excitedly described by a list of verbs, there's not a huge amount to do yet, beyond shooting, jumping and dodging.