Game

Developer: Sebastien Dubois
Price: $7/£7
Size: 157 MB
Version: 1.3.22
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Gladiabots

If we were to ask you to think of a game that plays itself, you might have in mind an idle clicker or some other uber-casual experience. But Gladiabots is anything but casual.

One way to describe it is as a gamified version of the popular IFTTT app. Instead of using a highly simplified programming language to instruct disparate smart home equipment to interact, here you’ll be constructing AI routines for a small army of virtual weaponised robots.

Battles play out in simple, charming top-down fashion

The game’s simple-looking robot-on-robot battles might technically take place without you lifting a finger to fire a Gatling gun or issue a direct command. But every move your minions make will have been carefully orchestrated before battle commences.

You’ll do this by building little flow charts of engagement rules for your robots to follow, with priority moving in a loosely anti-clockwise direction. You might have your attack robot flee when its shield drops to 0%, or chase after an opponent who’s doing the same.

Building AI routines resembles a basic flow chart

It’s possible to establish priorities, so that your robots will drop whatever they’re doing if an enemy comes into range. Or, you can order your shotgun-wielding robots (there are multiple types) to close the gap before engaging.

These are some of the most basic commands at your disposal. When you drill down into the game’s AI construction options, it’s possible to give out nuanced, priority-based ‘if this then that’ instructions. Provided you have the patience, that is.

Each unit type has its own attack range and capabilities

There’s a lengthy tutorial to guide you through how all of this is done. But even with this provision, it’s easy to end up floundering in the early stages.

Part of that is because Gladiabots asks quite a lot of you, but it also doesn’t help itself with an unwieldy and unintuitive UI that’s slightly too busy for a small iPhone screen. This is a port of a PC game, and it shows. If you have an iPad, the bigger display makes a huge difference here.

Editing AI nodes can get a little messy on an iPhone screen

Still, those who are logically minded and prepared to learn the rules of engagement will find a deeply satisfying and original tactical experience. Trial and error experiments aren’t just rewarded; they’re part of the core gameplay loop.

There are plenty of single-player missions across multiple game modes, including territory-based Domination and capture-the-flag-like Collection rounds. And once you’ve mastered those, there’s asynchronous online Multiplayer to contend with – which is where this game’s true potential really lies.

Your robot army includes snipers, shotgun-wielded and machine gunners

If you’re expecting to be able to sit back and take it easy with Gladiabots, you’ve got another thing coming. But if you’ve always dreamed of building a robot army and painstakingly coaching them in the art of war, then you’ll be right at home here. (And maybe you should talk to someone about those impulses.)

Gladiabots - build your own AI robot warriors
An uncommonly smart, if somewhat awkward, AI-constructing strategy game
The Good
  • Original premise
  • Powerful AI-constructing tools
  • Genuine potential for experimentation
The Bad
  • Fiddly, messy UI
  • Tutorial extensive but far from comprehensive
  • Not for everyone
3.5Overall Score