In a far-flung and ruined future, the robots want to do one thing: get on a rocket and escape the dead earth. This is the setup for the appropriately named Escape Dead Earth, a Steam game that I stumbled on recently via @microtrailers. To be frank, it just looked like a game where a bunch of robots beat the hell out of one another on the stepped-on, crumbling ruins of the planet. I’m not too proud to admit that I like to play games where robots beat the hell out of one another, and at the $2.99 price mark on Steam I felt confident that it was worth a gamble to find out if Escape Dead Earth was a top-tier robot beater.
What I found was something that straddled the line between a strategy game and a puzzler. The game asks you to guide a little cadre of robots around with your mouse. When you left click, they move toward your cursor. If they come into contact with enemies, they will fight them. The war of all against all proceeds until the enemies lie dead. Some kind of strategy game justice has been achieved.
What really makes Dead Earth work, though, is the right click of the mouse. It triggers a resurrection ability that uses an energy bar at the bottom left of the screen. The resurrection ability transforms all of the robots that you just beat up into your own robots who will, in turn, beat up other robots. It is a vicious cycle of nightmare violence, but it is all in service to finding a rocket and getting the hell off this dead planet.
That all sounds like strategy, but the puzzle element enters when you consider that you need to keep up resurrection energy by collecting it from dead enemies but also that the resurrection ability costs more to use than a single group of enemies will produce when defeated. The process of playing the game, then, is one of wandering the wastes looking for particular groups of enemies that look like they would go down easily underneath your robot horde. Even more puzzley: one right click resurrects everything in the area for a flat cost, so it is in your best interest to lure many, many robots to the same death pile so that you might resurrect them all in one fell swoop.
Then you create a death ball and try to make your way to a rocket that will take you off this scrapheap world. By “death ball,” I mean a large horde of troops, a massive collection that you send toward a target to annihilate it. Escape Dead Earth is a part of an emergent genre of these kinds of games (of which I also count Death Crown and Circle Empires), and I’d love to see more of them in the future.
What looks at first glance to be a shallow robot fighter really does call on a lot of finicky strategy and puzzle skills that I’ve built up over the years, and a little experimentation (sometimes you take a bad fight) and learning of the map (it is not procedurally generated) allowed me to create a massive robot horde, get to a rocket platform, and defend that platform from the creatures who would attempt to keep me on the hell orb. After about an hour, I escaped the dead earth, and now I’m eagerly awaiting an expansion or a sequel. It could be called Escape Dead Space. Or maybe not, on second thought.