One look at Tyler, the main character in Tyler: Model 005, and I was instantly reminded of 3D modelling lessons in my high school digital media class. When tasked with creating an original 3D character, nearly half of my class ended up producing something very similar to each other – a robot made up of a spherical head and body, with hands and feet but no arms or legs. How do a dozen students with active imaginations and ample resources all come up with the same idea? “They copied each other,” you say, ruining my anecdote. Well, yes, possibly a little of that. Mostly though, it’s because it was easy, and adequate. Which brings me back to this game. Tyler: Model 005 is like that school assignment; it’s technically functional and does what’s required of it to qualify as a finished product, but it cuts corners in both creativity and technical accomplishment to get there. Also, its main character is a robot made up of a spherical head and body, with hands and feet but no arms or legs.
Tyler: Model 005 is a platform action and exploration game starring the aforementioned robot, who is accidentally powered up by a freak lightning storm after laying dormant for a long period of time. Tyler wakes up with no recollection of who he is, who made him or why he’s been left behind in a house long abandoned and overrun by nature. Before long, Tyler comes across another robot, Conrad, and the two work together to solve the mystery. Of course by ‘work together’, I mean Conrad orders Tyler around on inane fetch quests while he pretends to not already know information vital to the cause. Look, the story in Tyler: Model 005 is not going to win any awards, because it doesn’t deserve any. Still, there’s enough mystery, and even a little atmosphere here and there, to see determined players to the end. It’s a real shame about the voice work though, which is both terribly acted and sounds like it was recorded and mixed on someone’s iPad in an aeroplane bathroom.
Why do gamers feel the need to put RGB lights in everything?
Throughout most of the game, you’ll control the diminutive Tyler as he explores the large, rundown home in which his creators once resided. Most objectives boil down to entering a room of the house and locating a certain object or flipping a switch to progress. Obstacles come in a few different forms, the most immediate one being management of Tyler’s energy levels. Tyler is powered by light, you see, and so pottering around in darkened areas for too long will rob him of his charge and result in failure. As the house hasn’t seen any life in years, most rooms start out in almost complete darkness, meaning Tyler must move carefully and activate any light sources he can find along the way. It’s a unique mechanic, and one that sounds interesting on paper, but the reality is that it’s never used in any more a creative fashion than ‘the thing you need is in a dark place, so go climb up to a light and switch that on first’. To make matters worse, the game does a really bad job of making it clear which areas are well-lit enough to be safe. The mechanic seems to be tied more to invisible, predetermined boundaries than what’s actually on-screen, making for a lot of darker areas being safe and vice versa.
The other challenge facing Tyler is the insect and rodent population that have made the house their home. All manner of ants, spiders, wasps and rats will attack the little guy as he makes his way around, and so you’ll use his trusty ‘bolt sword’ to fight them off. Attacks are as simple as holding down either of the triggers on the controller and watching Tyler swing at the creepy crawlies with wild abandon until they die. Combat is about as basic as it gets in this type of game, and yet it somehow still comes off as more half-baked than it should. For one, there’s very little in the way of visual or audible feedback to let you know that you’ve actually dealt damage to an enemy, or any kind of indication that what you’re doing is effective. Sometimes a spider would go down in one swing, other times the exact same spider would take four or five of what I thought were direct hits before dying, with no real guarantee that I was actually hitting them. Also, for some reason Tyler’s health is represented as his battery level, which can be replenished by finding spare batteries scattered around. The first problem with this is that the battery collectibles are finite and don’t respawn, so you could theoretically run out of them forever, although the penalty for dying is almost nothing so it’s not a huge deal. More importantly, if Tyler is powered by batteries then why does he also need light to stay on? Which is it, guys?
Not sure what a spider could do to harm a robot, best kill it anyway
When he’s not sunbaking or bashing rat skulls in with a rusty bolt, Tyler also gets up to a lot of climbing and parkour-type shenanigans. He’s actually fairly nimble for a robot, capable of scaling quite high surfaces, shimmying along pipes and even doing a spot of wall-running. Tyler: Model 005 puts these abilities to good use in providing plenty of environmental and traversal puzzles, but holy shit does it fudge the execution. Tyler controls like a dream in these situations, and by dream I mean one of those fucked up half-nightmares where you’re trying to do something mundane but the connection between your brain and body has been severed and the laws of physics have been rewritten by the guys that made Goat Simulator. Once you get a feel for how things work (or don’t work) it’s perfectly manageable, but to this moment I’m still not sure whether I broke the game multiple times while getting around or if I was actually just doing what I was meant to. If there was any evidence needed that the controls in the game aren’t up to scratch, look no further than the random time rewinding mechanic thrown in about one-third of the way through — it’s very useful for whenever Tyler randomly slides off of a high perch or launches himself in the wrong direction, but it’s never used in any actual in-game challenges. It takes a special kind of lazy to toss in an unnecessary mechanic in an attempt to ‘fix’ a fundamentally broken system.
Tyler gets dressed up for The Game Awards, unaware that nobody invited him
Honestly, the best thing that Tyler: Model 005 has going for it is that it looks… adequate. The lighting strikes the right mood most of the time, and there’s an undeniable novelty inherent in the idea of roaming around a big estate at rodent scale. Plus, the developers have done an alright job of picking nice stuff from the Unity Asset Store for all of their models and textures. Okay, that might be a little harsh and only maybe true, but if you looked up ‘generic’ in the dictionary you’d probably find the dictionary more visually engaging than this game. You can dress Tyler up in cute accessories though, which is something I always appreciate. The interface is equally unexciting, offering up all the necessary information in an unintentionally retro-feeling HUD. There’s a sore lack of tutorials or references as well, which may seem like a minor gripe in such a simple game, but would have really helped me solve one particular mystery. There is no better example of how bewilderingly undercooked this game is than the fact that I managed to complete it, with 1000/1000 Xbox achievements unlocked, and I still don’t know if the game has a tower defence minigame. I found a bunch of weapons to use in one, and a cursory glance at the internet would lead me to believe one exists, but I couldn’t find any other mention of it in the game. Not that it mattered in the end, I suppose.
Tyler: Model 005 is the video game equivalent of a bowl of plain porridge. It’s a perfectly fine concept with an approachable warmth that will no doubt appeal to some, but this particular serving lacks any added colour or flavour to elevate it from serviceable nourishment to memorable meal. Plus you’re eating it blindfolded, with the spoon in your feet and the oats aren’t affected by gravity.
Reviewed on Xbox One X | Review code supplied by publisher