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Real robots are what happens when Humongous Mecha and Military Science-Fiction collide; they're mecha that are treated just like any other weapon of war. Unlike the Super Robot, real robots are typically mass produced units designed and built by governments and large corporations, rather than something designed and built by (or for) a single person — though the occasional Super Prototype or Ace Custom may be an exception. While real robots might be the dominant weapon of the setting, they frequently appear alongside other forms of combat vehicle (like the Cool Tank, Cool Plane, and Space Fighter) rather than replacing them entirely. In other words, instead of being the be-all and end-all of a conflict, real robots are simply another cog in the war machine.
Real robots also tend to be harder than super robots on Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness, often involving elaborate forms of Applied Phlebotinum to explain why giant robots are physically possible to create and tactically advantageous to use. On the harder end of the scale, this explanation may become a full-blown type of Minovsky Physics. Even on the softer side of the scale, real robots usually take into account things like the immense cost in time, material, and expertise of operating a machine as large and complicated as a giant robot would inevitably be. Expect to see references to things like extensive maintenance requirements, the logistics of supplying fuel, ammunition, and spare parts, and other such ancillary issues.
Of course, all of this won't stop an Ordinary Highschool Student with no one but a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits for support from Falling into the Cockpit and saving the day when the plot requires it, but it will make such a feat seem all the more impressive when it happens. Oddly enough, because of the emphasis on realism for the mecha, real robots tend to make their pilots be the ones to stretch Willing Suspension of Disbelief instead. After all, when you can't rely on pure Hot Blood and The Power of Love to save the day, then it's entirely up to the main character's Heroic Spirit and Improbable Piloting Skills to do the job instead — and how unrealistic is that?
Real robots are often Humongous Mecha, but other types like Mini-Mecha or Powered Armor are also common. They are often (but not always) featured in the Real Robot Genre. Compare and contrast Super Robot. See also Walking Tank.
Of particular note is Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, which is undoubtedly the hardest Gundam show to date. Much attention is paid to maintenance and logistics — to the point where some of the mecha in question undergo changes (including one near-total redesign) while being repaired, due to a lack of spare parts. The techs are basically MacGyvering them back together. There's also how they're actually used in the series - they're seen used in combined operations, supporting and being supported by infantry and other vehicles, rather than still being superweapons that handle their battles on their own like in the other series.
Patlabor, where mecha are mostly used in a non-military setting by industrial workers and the police. Some militaries (the Japanese Self Defense Forces in particular) have mecha too, but they tend to be of the Spider Tank variety... at least until they start to commission military versions of the mecha the police are using.
Predating Patlabor, most mecha in Combat Mecha Xabungle, with exception of few models (like the Xabungle), are actually working machines used for digging mineral. However, the savage Wild West-ish setting means pretty much every mech is also armed with a weapon.
Super Dimension Fortress Macross toyed with this for a while, as it did most tropes. While the Valkyries and Destroids are quite clearly just advanced military hardware from the outset, for a while it appears that the eponymous Macross itself might qualify for Super Robot status, what with its main cannon capable of blowing away entire enemy fleets in a single shot. That is, until the climax of the show where it's revealed that hundreds of thousands of Zentradi ship has a gun like that, they've just been refraining from using them as they wanted to study the Macross and its inhabitants before destroying it.
In Genesis Climber MOSPEADA the main characters' Plot Armor seems more super than their mecha. They've got futuristic technology; yet are still plagued by fuel shortages, easily tracked by their energy output, generally replaceable (with a main character loosing one mecha and getting a similar one later), and focused on super-advanced motorcycles which can be found lying around unused.
Martian Successor Nadesico: Played with, in that many of the mecha pilots are fans of Super Robot shows, and try to bring in the associated tropes. (Sometimes this is vaguely succssful. Sometimes this is tragic.)
Armored Trooper VOTOMS, which is famous as being one of the grittiest and hardest mecha shows ever released. The mecha are small, ugly and utilitarian and seemingly very disposable, at least to the main character who goes through dozens of them by the series end.
Dai-Guard has the odd distinction of being a Real Robot in a Super Robot Genre show. While the format is pure super robot genre — featuring the Dai-Guard versus the Monster of the Week — the Dai-Guard itself is extremely real robot, with not only maintenance and logistics taken into account, but also things like insurance for the property damage they inevitably cause, or the mountains of paperwork its pilots have to keep up with. The only reason the Dai-Guard is the only mecha they have to fight the Heterodynes is because no-one else bothered to build and maintain such an expensive machine when there was no obvious use for it. Once Heterodyne appearances become frequent, the military does eventually build their own.
Code Geass has a solid Real Robot setting where its small Knightmare Frames are originally used in a way that is halfway between modern entries in the Mobile Suit Gundam universe and Armored Trooper VOTOMS. During the second season, a rapidly-accelerating Lensman Arms Race takes place, which means that the two most advanced Knightmare Frames end up being head and shoulders above anything else by the finale.
HAVWC units from Flag are usually deployed from real-world Osprey transport helicopters, and use their four-wheeled mode to travel across terrain before the four wheels come together underneath the machine to make it "stand up" so it can fire its massive gatling gun. It also requires extensive modification and testing to attach a new weapon to it (to the point where an entire episode is devoted to tuning a machine in preparation for loading a giant sniper rifle onto it).
The Ridebacks from the anime/manga of the same name, vehicles with arms and the ability to convert between a motorcycle-style speed mode and a humanoid maneuvering mode.
The Air Gear manga has a few of these in the form of the 'Caesar's Chariot', a one-person vehicle similar to a tank. Although it has a turret, in place of tracks it has a twin two-segment legs with wheels on the end that fold up much like a human kneeling. It's considered a prototype, but being able to stand, crouch and even jump combined with its smaller footprint makes it far more maneuverable than existing tanks. Doesn't stop them from being thrashed by the series' protagonists though.
Gaiking: Legend of Daiku-Maryu uses a number of real robot conventions, such as having its own style of Minovsky Physics and paying attention to things like supplies, despite the original Gaiking (a Go Nagai anime from the '70s) being entirely Super Robot.
Blue Comet SPT Layzner is definitely one of these, to the extent that ammunition & fueling are actually key plot points.
Viper's Creed with the Maneuver-Roid, which can switch between a mech and a motorbike. These are heavily customized with different weapons and equipment, depending on the operator. Given that Shinji Aramaki made the majority of the show, it should be no surprise to anyone. The mechs are powered up thanks to the electrical supply built in the highways after World War III and global warming.
Gunparade March pits real robots against Kaiju. Another entry in the franchise, Gunparade Orchestra, is significantly softer than March but both treat their mecha as essentially giant infantry — with many of the same problems.
Shirogane No Ishi Argevollen: the titular mecha at first looks like it should be a Super Robot, and it's easy to make this assumption: it's a Super Prototype that can only be piloted by the main hero because it's synced to his thoughts, and it's ridiculously agile when compared to the other Trail Kriegers of the series. But we quickly see that it takes a lot of effort to get the Argevollen to be able to pull off these kinds of stunts, and it is in constant need of maintenance and system checks. In one episode, the Argevollen is out of commission because it needs to receive a firmware upgrade. In addition, it's hinted that the Mega Corp. that built the Argevollen considers it disposable, so long as they archive the combat data acquired.
The Powerloader from Aliens is a non-combat mecha that straddles the line between Mini-Mecha and Powered Armor (minus any actual armor; the "cockpit" is open-air), used — as the name suggests — for hefting cargo around. The depiction was so realistic that reportedly some construction firms asked the production company where they could get one.
The AMP suits from Avatar are fairly realistic Mini-Mecha. Their vaguely humanoid shape (including hands) is justified because it makes them more natural to pilot (and the audience actually gets to see this when the controls are shown in use), and gives them the flexibility to be used in many roles — several times they are seen loading and unloading containers and doing other heavy non-combat work. This flexibility also means the suits can operate a variety of heavy weapons, without needing to have Arm Cannons built in. The Pandorapedia has an article on them detailing lots of other realistic design details. It notes that the AMP suits were based on earlier powered military exo-skeletons (which are actually being developed in Real Life).
Most novels in The History of the Galaxy series prominently feature serv-machines, which are mass-produced and piloted by a human/AI combination, with the AI learning non-standard tactics from humans. Can also be piloted by AIs, but off-the-assembly-line models are not very effective, as they lack experience. The author likes to go into technical detail regarding the operations of these machines. Typical of the genre, there are multiple models geared towards specific roles on the battlefield. The most common ones are the heavy Phalanxer and the light Hoplite, which often work in combat pairs with the Phalanxer providing heavy, long-range support, while the more nimble Hoplite keeps it safe from enemies that get too close or provides scouting intel, such as target-spotting. Other mentioned models are the medium Raven and the obsolete Golden Eagle. There are also LDL-series walkers mass-produced by the Free Colonies during the First Galactic War. Unlike the Earth Alliance serv-machines, the LDL ("Large Driver Laser") walkers are fairly primitive, lacking a full AI and only fitted with a single weapon. The LDL-55 variant (the most commonly featured) has a 200-megawatt laser and is designed to network with other LDLs nearby. While no longer produced, they can still be found on old battlefields, possibly fighting their ancient enemies.
The Deinonychus Combat Mech and the Bellafaun Archangel types from Zetsubou Robo are a more recent American example of the trope. The book mentions that the Deinonychus itself is an evolution of standard industrial mecha found in low-gravity colonies and mining locations when military thinking is applied to what is otherwise a glorified construction machine.
The BattleTech universe. The BattleMechs are simply robots and their pilots simply humans. BattleMechs are akin to modern tanks in being kings of the battlefield, and like modern tanks they are still under threat from armored vehicles and even infantry; lone infantry troopers have been shown taking down a BattleMech with nothing more than a grappel rod and demo charge.
The Striders and Gears of Heavy Gear are somewhere between Humongous Mecha and Powered Armor, but they are clearly Real Robots. The only marker they don't hit is interchangeable pilots, and that's because most pilots are only trained for one specific type of Gear or Strider over an entire lifespan. Beyond that point, they're treated like lighter, cheaper, and more mobile tanks, without the tank's hefty armor and heavier firepower. This can lead to problems when the computer games pit you against dozens of tanks.
Warhammer 40,000 tends to treat its various Mecha along these lines, varying between different factions and types of giant robots. Imperial Guard Sentinels, Tau Battlesuits and Eldar War-Walkers are simply specialized units that die about as fast as anything else, while Space Marine Dreadnoughts and Eldar Wraithlords are a class up. Then there's the Titans. Subverted to some degree in that Imperial mechs are treated as walking god-machines, Eldar mechs use the trapped souls of their people, Chaos mechs are literally possessed by demons, and Ork mechs work because the Orks think they should. The Tau, however, use purely technological mecha, and with the newest edition they gained a Gundam sized Wave Motion Gun wielding Humongous Mecha.
Imperial Titans might be closer to Super Robot territory as, according to Tau researches, Ad Mecs are using some kind of Applied Phlebotinum to keep the thing from sinking into ground or crushing under its own weight.
The funniest thing is that the Ork's are actually the closest to being practical as giant war machines. Skirt like design to bring it a low center of gravity, large feet (for stompin') or treads that prevent the machine from sinking into the ground because of it's weight, a large operating crew for each indavidual part. Beyond that the rest is Ork belief.
The Imperium also has Imperial Knights, which are between Tau battlesuits, and Titans. They are awesome as they are big. They are manned by Knight houses, who are as autonomous as Space Marines and the Techpriest of Mars.
Warmachine has warjacks which are massed produced by the various nations and bonded to the minds of the warcasters that use them. These bonds can be easily severed so as to allow warcasters to switch warjacks as they are destroyed or otherwise replaced, though personality traits and sparks of self awareness can develop in warjacks if they are bonded to one warcaster for long enough.
Exalted's warstriders are usually a Magitek version of this. While one does have to be an Exalt to pilot one effectively, that's simply because they can provide the Essence to power them. They're tools of war, that provide greater strength and defenses (and bigger weapons) in exchange for being a massive pain to maintain. However, once Solars get involved, you get personalized Royal Warstriders that are pure Super Robot.
The most common kind of robot in Mekton, although you can do Super Robots too. In particular, anything costing less than 100 CP. The system tends to break when you go above two or three hundred CP, and due to the system using cost multipliers for many "flashy" (and a few core) system, making a typical Super Robot tends to cost several thousand.
Assault Suits Valken (a.k.a. Cybernator) employs this trope - the titular assault suits, as well as other Humongous Mecha, are deployed in large quantities, all very similar in design. As evidenced by the intro, any schmuck who was unlucky enough to get drafted can pilot one. In addition, the game's box art shows an assault suit being fueled and worked on, like any real vehicle would.
Goliaths from the original StarCraft. Terran mech play was expanded in the sequel, with Humongous Mecha Thors and Transforming Mecha Vikings. The Heart of the Swarm expansion was going to introduce the BattleTech-esque Warhound, but Blizzard was unable to iron out its balance issues. It still appears in the campaign, though.
The VTs of the Steel Battalion games are the most blatant example. Especially when you must figure out how to drive a Humongous Mechawith a Humongous Controller featuring 3 joysticks, 4 pedals, and more than 50 buttons and dials! Have a looksee◊. It's worth noting that one button is the eject button, which you must use in time or else the game will erase your save file, as if you died.
The Armored Core series is also an example. As of AC4, there are three types of robots: MTs, extremely expendable fodder bots that usually go down in one hit, "Normals", custom-built giant robot built to spec from the ground up for each pilot, with modular equipment and parts that can be swapped out between missions (also known as old-style Armored Cores), and the "Nexts", Armored Cores with the latest advances in Applied Phlebotinum.
The titular Hounds of Chromehounds. Essentially a combination of MechWarrior and Armored Core with a speed limit of 20 MPH, anything smaller than an ACV is essentially an non-entity compared to the Hounds. ACVs can still cause trouble when they have numbers on their side, though, and Hound v Hound combat is brutal almost beyond belief. One's first ten or so forays into multiplayer combat are guaranteed to end badly for the new guy, as the more experienced pilots rip both the rookie and themselves into tiny chunks of metal. Much like real life air combat, the victor is the one who screwed up the least.
The Front Mission series of games. War machines there include tanks and 'copters as well as robots, most of which are camouflage painted and equipped with bigger versions of infantry or armor weapons. Pilots can swap parts in and out as they wish, but their skill lists generally tend in a certain direction for each pilot in order to create a balanced team. Also, the mecha of this series see heavy use in construction and civil engineering as well.
The AFW units in Ring Of Red are examples of this trope — requiring a crew to load the main weapons, and additional infantry squads to provide support and cover fire. They also can only operate for very short periods before overheating, and visually are basically tanks with legs — many models take very obvious inspiration from WWII-era tanks. Crippling the legs is important; there are no less than four infantry techniques meant specifically to do just that, and an AFW's targeting computer is programmed to shoot the legs when allowed to calculate max accuracy.
Iron Soldier for the Atari Jaguar has the player piloting a stolen Real Robot against the enemy's forces.
Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, a PC FPS, made by the same people who made FEAR years later, was pretty much the closest thing to a Gundam FPS before they actually made a Gundam FPS. Completely deviating from series like MechWarrior, it featured multiple types of mecha, as well as on-foot sections, Critical Hits long before Team Fortress 2 popularized their use in FPS games, a story with Multiple Endings (complete with an Unknown Rival played for laughs), and it was an in Animesque style inspired by various mecha anime. Also, provided you have the right weapons, lots of Stuff Blowing Up.
The Vital Suits in Lost Planet: Extreme Condition are fairly realistic, at least until the final battle. Even the primitive "Rigs" in the Prequel would take years to emulate with our current technology.
The eponymous weapons of Metal Gear. The series even goes as far as specifying different mecha models for the US Marines, Army, and Navy, as well as mentioning copies being built by terrorist organizations and Third World countries.
The Tactical Surface Fighters of the Muv-Luv franchise, due to circumstances in the world they were developed, largely took the place of fighter aircraft in military combined-arms strategy. Most TSFs are even named after real-world fighters, and visually evoke the ones they are named after. The setting itself is among the more serious and realistic ones in the real robot genre, with the mechs limited to approximately modern-day weaponry (2000-shot 36mm chain guns, six-shot 120mm cannons, guided missiles), nations' reliance on combined-arms tactics instead of TSFs alone, and high casualty rates.
The FEAR games, while placing more emphasis on supernatural horror, takes place in a near-future Cyber Punk-esque setting where Mini-Mecha are a common fire support weapon in urban environments. These "REV" units range from heavy Powered Armor to several-meter-tall "elite" armored units, armed with lasers, autocannons, missiles, and grenade launchers, depending on the model.
The Ryders in Sunrider are usually mass-produced, and generally only make up part of any army, often being fielded alongside small fighters and large battleships.
HERCULANs from the Earthsiege and later Starsiege era are treated as mass produced war machines. They possess energy shielding to protect them from harm (while they last), but this is well-known and widely used technology instead of a rare special ability. Certain models of Hercs are purposefully designed with specific missions in mind such as reconnaissance or direct assault, just like modern fighting vehicles, and they can be customized to either pilot preference or mission requirements. Tanks still exist in the setting and can fight Hercs on almost equal footing in spite of a handful of disadvantages.
For all their size, Combots in Metal Fatigue are quite real. You mass produce them, throw them at each other, and support them with armored vehicles and aircraft. Given how it is possible to bring down a Combot with a well timed bombing run, they are not as invincible as they appear. There are no unique, one-of-a-kind Combot designs or unusuable technology—anything that you see on an enemy can be used by your forces, if you can destroy the opponent while keeping their parts mostly intact, then scavenge and research their technology, just like all warring nations have done.
Metal Marines treat their giant robots in a rather Gundam-esque fashion. While the robots aren't the only war machine in the setting (since things like DropShips exist), the general difficulty of fighting across terrain comprised of dozens of diminutive islands means that tanks will suffer from mobility and transport issues, and aircraft are too easily shot down by the standard in missile defenses (that border on the excessively paranoid). Metal Marines become the weapon of choice because they can attack any terrain and still quickly hop back to their shuttle to make a hasty escape in a fashion similar to a strike team. Metal Marine pilots, like all other crew in the game, are nameless, faceless soldiers. Most of the time, combat is conducted via missile exchanges, with Metal Marines sent in mostly for surgical strikes.
Arcade multiplayer team-based third person shooter Border Break features Blast Runners, which are specifically designed for certain roles and are not specially built for any one person. Units are built and lost on a regular basis and the whole game is based around territory control, base destruction, and other things that proper militarized forces would focus on.
Metal Warriors is a side-scrolling SNES Cult Classic that features a variety of pilotable robots fighting alongside infantry, turret defenses, and other vehicles. None of the units are unique, and in fact, one false move will actually allow the enemies to Gundam Jackyou and force you to fight your own suit! Fortunately it's possible to steal abandoned enemy units. None possess any particularly anomalous features (perhaps save the Ball droid). One scene actually shows Nitros being serviced in hangars just like any other war machine.
Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun features the GDI switching from standard vehicles to walkers. The most common is the Titan, which serves as the GDI main battle tank. Strangely, it's only weapon is on the side not in the center. There are also Wolverines, although they straddle the line between Powered Armor and Mini-Mecha, and Juggernauts, walking artillery pieces. The latter are actually 2-3 times the size of the Titans and mount naval artillery. The Mammoth Mk. II is a prototype quadripedal walker and GDI's supertank, although it never went into full production in time for the Second Tiberium War. By the time of the Third War, GDI reverses its military philosophy and goes back to wheeled and treaded vehicles, only keeping the (updated) Juggernaut design. A GDI faction called the Steel Talons keeps the walker designs but updates them for the new war. By the Fourth Tiberium War, the Offense faction of GDI also sticks with walkers, even bringing back the Mammoth Mk. II in the form of the Mastodon.
Exo Squad had very Real Robot mecha that got damaged or put out of commission as easily as most military vehicles in Real Life are. In fact, the eponymous Squad specifically included a repair specialist whose primary purpose was field maintenance of the others' E-frames. And, of course, she wasn't 100% successful. The squad's mechs did get a Mid-Season Upgrade but it only propelled them into Super Prototype zone appropriate for an elite regiment that they are, rather than Super Robot space.
The first remote-control tanks were deployed by Germany in WW2. The "Goliath" mini-tank was a one-shot weapon used to deliver a large explosive charge to where it would do most damage; it was steered by wire from a remote control station. The later version was a far larger remote-controlled tank that could be remotely steered, drop an explosive charge, and retreat to where it could be retrieved and reloaded.
The USAAF and the Luftwaffe both experimented with using redundant bombers packed with explosives which could be guided on-target by a mother aircraft. The German version saw a mannned fighter aircraft piggy-backing on a redundant bomber which was remotely steered by the fighter, which would set it on course to the target, detach from it, and then fly home under its own steam whilst the bomber was deliberately crashed.
The British Army pioneered the use of remotely-controlled robot tanks for bomb disposal work in Northern Ireland. The robot would be remotely steered to a suspect vehicle and would use a remote-fired shotgun to blow open the vehicle's doors, or else trigger the bomb without direct human involvement. The machines have since been improved and elaborated on and are now a standard part of bomb disposal technology worldwide.
The various unmanned and remotely piloted drone aircraft and missiles developed and used by Western armed forces (principally the USA, although Great Britain has its own home-grown versions) would qualify here. The Cruise Missiles developed in the 1980's would also count as "smart" weapons, although in terms of sophistication would not be on the same level. Drone technology, at least in Great Britain, is also seriously being considered for police surveillance work as a cheaper option than manned helicopters. A police drone that could accurately deliver riot control gas is thought of as a feasible crowd-control strategy in the event of rioting, or dealing with pesky political demonstrators and other subversives.