"Ranma no baka!"
Occasionally you see a game and wonder why a similar game has never before been made. A game which was never before crafted, but somehow it seemed as though its nonexistence up until this point has simply been a massive mathematical improbability.
Well, the current quandary is Monolith Productions' new first person shooter SHOGO: Mobile Armor Division. It's an anime-styled first person shooter (for those of you who don't know, anime is Japanese animation). Yup you critically huddled puppy masses out there, this is the first first-person-shooter ever to have and anime theme. Even though 90% of all console games in the world are made in Japan, there never has been a real anime-themed first person shooter on either a console or PC system until now.
Hey, the idea of ice cream being served in cones took a while to catch on also, but it sure worked out pretty god damn well (I send that one directly to my clean mouthed critics, may they roar and rumble).
Ok, enough rhetoric. This is the most fun first-person-shooter to come out all year. It manages to do everything right in design and is only held back from a top rating by 2 annoying little bugs (2, just 2!).
The gameplay is intense, the graphics and sound kick ass, the plot is ever-present and clever, the mood is comic, and the whole thing reeks of anime. You can even tell this game was made by some ugly Americans who have a healthy appreciation for, and wanted to make fun of anime.
Here is the basic plot for all of you to chew your cud on: There is this planet, Cronus, which produces Kato energy which makes space travel possible. Because of this commodity, the planet is highly fought over (anybody read Dune?). You are Sanjuro Makabe, a kick ass soldier who lost his girlfriend Kura, his brother Toshiro, and his childhood pal Baku in a large,disastrous and most unpleasant battle about a year ago. In the mean time you have been dating Kura's sister Kathryn, it's kind of complicated.
You are sent down to Cronus in your Mecha to find and kill Gabriel, the enigmatic leader of the Fallen, a mysterious terrorist group of some sort which is threatening the security of Cronus and the Kato energy. That's the beginning, and I ain't telling you no more. Ok, ok, there is this strange mystery girl who pops out of no where and tries to kill you every other level (it's never really explained).
Say, did you catch the Mecha in the last paragraph? Well kiddies that's right! About half of the missions are played not on foot, but in one of 4 super-ultra-mega powerful, two-story-tall Mechas. "Eeeeiiiiiiikkkkkk! Mechas!" I hear you brain-dead shooter fans shout. Well, fear not, these are anime Mechas, not cumbersome BattleTech BattleMechs a-la MechWarrior and Heavy Gear. They maneuver as nimbly as a human and can do all the same moves plus a few. They get to step on things, jump real high, transform into extremely fast hovercraft, and terrorize metropolitan residents.
The rest of the missions are on foot. Now, the graphics in this Siamese cat are just a step or two down from those found in Unreal. Using Monolith's new technology, LithTech, the graphics are definitely much better than those found in dreary old Quake 2 and are just ahead of the modified Quake engine found in Half Life.
The lighting effects are done just right, not to thick, not to shallow, very ambient. The character models are quite stringy and really convey a sense of being 2-D anime characters cut to 3-D. The textures lack the extreme detail found in Unreal but are very well made nevertheless and superbly effective. The engine can do some cool tricks, as well as the usual fair. For instance it can project moving cloud shadows over the terrain in the exterior Mecha levels.
The game supports any 3-D accelerator that can do D3D, but a 3Dfx caliber card is really needed. The level design is just about the best seen yet in any action game. The levels all convince you that their environments are totally real. They feel like real estate, just in 3D... 3D-Real Estate (call the patent office editor boy!).
The weapons in this game are truly of the kick ass variety. From the shining twin pistols, to the TOW rocket launcher, to the Mecha's nuclear blast weapon, every implement of destruction is highly satisfying. There are sniper rifles to get the cheap 'n easy kills. There are the rocket launchers to shower the levels in blood and flying body parts. There are the knives to cut your opponents in half. Its all just so cool it makes you smile.
There are 9 weapons for on foot and 9 for Mechas so I couldn't possibly describe them all to you but trust me boys 'n girls: They kick serious carbuncled ass, leave permanent marks, and cause massive amounts of brightly colored blood to be spilt and splashed around.
One cool feature in this game which really sets it apart from the pack is the Critical Hit system. If you hit someone in the head or just particularly hard, they flash purple and you gain health, giving you not only an incentive to kill your enemies, but kill them with style.
The plot, once you get into the game, is conveyed by an almost constant stream of communications from the other characters in the game and by skillfully directed cut scenes rendered seamlessly in the game engine. It works very well and makes you feel like you are playing a very good movie, er, Anime cartoon. What makes it even better is that Sanjuro has a highly American witty repartee, which serves to turn this game from cool anime techno adventure to cool anime techno comedy.
Oh, and, um, does anyone else besides me think that "Kato energy" is a rip off of Final Fantasy VII's "Mako energy"?
The bugs. Yes, I did mention those. Well here they are: One; the AI is almost brain-dead. Enemy placement is good enough that the game is still very, very fun, but that's just no excuse for idiotic enemies. It will also limit the design of future levels.
Two; there is some serious lag in the internet multiplay. However, a patch is promised by November 15th so this probably isn't very much to trip about. On the other hand, the one player game is fairly short, so the longevity of Shogo, and whether or not it was worth the money in the long run will be dependent on them fixing the multiplayer.
Still, this is one of the coolest first-person-shooters ever to be released. The only real competition this year has been Unreal, and there are problems with the multiplayer there, too. Still the question remains: Will Sanjuro dump Kathryn when he finds out that Kura is alive? Will there be violence? Will bar ladies die? Will toll both Willie come out of the Boooooooth? Play the game and you'll find out. If not then get out of my office, stop troubling me with your little foo-foo problems, and GIVE ME BACK MY COCOA!