Within the boundless possibilities available through the wonders of VR, it’s never occurred to me that I might want to don my escapist goggles to role-play as a mid-level bureaucrat. Could it be possible that Border Bots VR has found a way to make professional purgatory a viable recreational pursuit?
Go stand in that queue, and I’ll have the answer with you in 5-7 working days…
ROBO RED TAPE
Border Bots VR sees the player embody the first human to re-enter a previously automated workforce to help regulate an influx of erratically behaving robots. There is enough of a narrative set up to justify why you have been granted the honour of manning the robotic equivalent of a customs booth, but it is rudimentary at best. Nonetheless, the plot unfolds as you progress through your career, offering occasional narrative devices that will have you navigating hostile colleagues and mechanised mobsters along the way.
In between work days, players retire to an apartment with various interactive components and house bots with which to engage. These sections are doubtlessly designed to add character depth to the game, similar to those found in the fantastic Startenders. However, Border Bots’ implementation of these activities misses the mark as there is little reason to engage with them. Sadly, in the end they prove to be utterly pointless.
In fact, after about an hour or so the story and home settings become less of a vague distraction and settle into annoyance. There are a few minutes of mandatory time-wasting between the levels that separate you from playing the game. Dialogue scenes are unskippable which compounds the frustration, and eventually, the well-intentioned world-building that the developers set out to deliver just ends up detracting from the core gaming experience.
The core gameplay loop of Border Bots VR sits somewhere between a time management and a job sim-style game. Each day, the player returns to work to find a line-up of robots trying to enter the city. Your job is to check that they are eligible for entry by checking several criteria before dutifully stamping their documents.
Initially, you will just be checking simple things like the expiry date on their passport or their designated classes, but as you progress further the checks become more numerous and time-consuming. From removing counterfeit badges and testing for fire resistance to searching for contraband hidden in secret compartments – there is a broad range of ways for rascally robots to evade detection.
New requirements are continuously added, and rules will change daily, keeping you on your toes and keeping the gameplay relatively fresh. By the time you hit about day 15 of your career, there is so much going on that trying to move quickly requires some fervent concentration. For gamers who enjoy games like Traffic Jam, Startenders or Job Simulator, there is some good, clean casual fun to be had with Border Bots VR, especially when played in smaller doses.
Where Border Bots really trips over itself is in some fundamental design choices that effectively rob the game of tension and create strangely apt “art imitates life” scenarios.
Seven minutes are allotted to each level, during which the player attempts to correctly process as many robots as possible. Points are rewarded for correct assessments and compounded for streaks of accurate work. At the end of each day, a score is determined and a place on that level’s leader board assigned, but herein lies the game’s undoing.
After a several hours in the game, I have yet to find any way to return to these missions to either check my place on the leaderboard or try the level again to compete for a higher score. What this does is effectively remove any impetus for you to work swiftly.
Work fast and achieve great results? Who cares!?!?!
Without the chance of meaningful recognition for being successful, I quickly found myself going through the motions, riding out the clock until my shift was done. Pedantically luxuriating over each detail with no care for how that impacted my queue of patiently waiting robots. Soon enough I actually felt like a jaded frontline bureaucrat, effectively becoming what they call in the UK, a Jobsworth.
And what reward awaited me at the end of my day? Token appreciation before returning to my small apartment with nothing exciting to do but take a nap, shower, and go back to do it all again the next day. Sorry, but even with cute mechanics and zany bots, a few hours of this cycle had me walking right up to the edge of a virtual mid-life crisis.
Border Bots VR is a bright colourful affair that uses a vibrant cartoonish style that is an excellent match for the game’s tone. The art direction and overall design of the game world are thankfully clear and distinct, a necessity for the attention to detail required for the gameplay. The futuristic cityscape that adorns the game is compelling despite being pure window dressing.
The audio is solid, offering a satisfactory range of bleeps and bloops to sell the futuristic setting. The voice work is well delivered, with a tone and delivery akin to a Saturday morning cartoon. This all works well in the context of the game’s character and despite not offering anything exceptional the game’s audio-visual components are resoundingly adequate.
COMPUTER SAYS NO
Border Bots VR is a unique twist on the Job sim/Time management genre that offers a casual, `fun for the whole family’ experience. From a technical standpoint, Border Bots VR achieves what it sets out to do, delivering a light-hearted gamification of frontline bureaucracy. Despite a variety of novel mechanics that do their best to add some frivolity into the proceedings the reality is that even in a colourful, whacky, robot-filled setting, being a low-level civil servant is just not that much fun.