Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Combat among Syfy's Robots Disappoint with Lack of Action

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Combat among Syfy's Robots Disappoint with Lack of Action

Article excerpt

It's easy to see how Syfy hoped to captivate viewers with "Robot Combat League" and its life-sized Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. Like the machines in the movie "Real Steel," the 12 robots are different in size and shape, with different strengths, weaknesses and "personalities."

When one takes a hit, sparks literally fly and, sometimes, hydraulic fluid spurts out of broken lines like the fake blood in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

A pair of operators controls each robot. Carnegie Mellon University grad student/tech superstar Heather Knight and CMU graduate Chris Hardouin, who is by profession a toymaker, are two of the experts charged with the heavy lifting.

It's their responsibility to work the fighters' movements in the ring. Their jockeys -- in these cases, John Peel and Diana Yang, respectively -- work the upper body movements for robots Medieval and Scorpio.

Scorpio won its first round, and Tuesday Medieval takes on the aptly named Steampunk.

Three rounds are contested. In 20-minute breaks between rounds, the techs scramble to fix what's broken or, if the fight is going well, do a quick maintenance check.

The single-elimination tournament is surrounded in trappings usually assigned to mixed martial arts mayhem or a prizefight. The problem is, beneath the crash and clank of robot warfare -- which sounds audio-enhanced -- the fights themselves just aren't that compelling.

Limited in mobility, the robots smash away at each other until something breaks. When a smaller robot defeats a big bulky bruiser, Commando, it literally breaks it in half. In another fight, a robot loses its head.

This should be cool. Instead, it leaves you wondering whether someone didn't just use really cheap materials.

AROUND THE REALITY WORLD

* Former Steelers punter Mitch Berger put his love life in the hands of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," Patti Stanger (Bravo, Tuesdays), and came away a winner. …

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