I've heard of mechs and mobile suits, but what the heck is an Orbital Frame?
When it comes to real-time giant robot combat, I'm the guy you want to see. Piloting ACs (Armored Core series) for the last four years has bestowed upon me a preternatural skill approaching superhuman proportions. In any mech, I am a god. Now if I can only figure out how long to set the microwave without burning my popcorn.
When I'm not off blasting inferior pilots and laughing at their dusty remains, I'm hard at work trying to arm readers with all the ammunition you'll need when you enter the most grueling battlefield of them all - the video game store. The game in question this time around is Konami's Zone of the Enders.
Zone of the Enders is a fast paced third-person action game set in the far-flung future. Amazing framerates, PS2-worthy graphics, easy control and jaw-dropping battle sequences makes ZOE something special. Unfortunately, it also degenerates to sheer button mashing with no customization or depth of any sort. But as you all know, the uber-highly-anticipated Metal Gear Solid 2 graces this game with a playable demo. Mmmmm......
In the 22nd century, a colony (Antilla) inhabiting Jupiter is suddenly attacked. During the onslaught, a prepubescent introverted young man named Leo Stenbuck witnesses the death of his verbally abusive friends. Fleeing for his life, Leo stumbles upon the cause of the whole problem - a giant "Orbital Frame" called Jehuty. The enemy wants it, you now have it and there will be no compromising.
Players will find themselves travelling from area to area (which are basically arenas, due to the confining barriers), easily dispatching enemy "frames" (robots), searching for passcodes and picking up power-ups & other items. How many civilians are killed due to collateral damage directly relates to your overall ending score. Pretty status quo stuff.
Ada, Jehuty's on-board computer, guides you through the game, pointing out key spots and essential locations as well as blatantly obvious facts. You don't need to tell me every time I shoots something down, baby.
Most of the power-ups come in the form of weapons and ammo. Some of the artillery you'll utilize are sniper rifles, automatic machine guns and javelins, which can be thrown in an arc, Olympic style. You will also find a Bounder, which allows you to spring off the ground or wall to attack your enemies at an obscure angle. Then there's the Halberd, which functions as a giant carving laser. It's cool enough, but very hard to use effectively.
My personal favorite is the Geyser grenade. Throw these babies and when they land they will affix themselves to any surface, and for a brief period of time, nifty laser beams will jut out from each one, carving up anything that treads across their path. Pretty hot, eh?
The ease of dispatching enemies is due in part to good, old-fashioned dumb AI and the super-simple button mash control. Just pummel the Square and X buttons for a beautiful series of maneuvers. You can also flee any battle and completely leave the area if you want to find a smaller compliment of enemies or a "Metatron" life-restoring orb. This makes dying extremely hard, making the game extremely easy.
For that matter, the range of enemy types is really limited. It gets repetitive beating the crap out of the same three types of enemy Frames.
On a more positive note, Zone of the Enders is a really pretty game. The textures are well-defined and vibrant without being obnoxiously colorful. The City areas achieve a great level of detail. And for those keeping score, there are no obvious anti-aliasing problems. Die jaggies! Die!
And quite honestly, I have never in all my days of mech piloting seen aerial robot fighting so fast and furious. The battles are just great fun to watch, thanks to the slick framerate. It's so smooth and consistent - you just have to see it to believe it.
I also give a gold star for the camera, which seamlessly captures all the action, even during the most intricate and confusing exchanges. It's great! No one can say that these battles don't look good. For the most past, this is the way a next gen. game should operate.
But why is there no customization? I want to build my own Frame! I guess Konami just can't compete with Armored Core 2's 10 billion possible combinations. But then, who can?
This is where ZOE leaves us virtual mech pilots high and dry. Without the ability to customize your Frame with various body parts, weapons and other items, you're left feeling like there is something missing. I 'll be the first to admit that Armored Core and Mechwarrior have done a good job shaping my view of mech combat games. But this is because these are the giant robot games that provide the most immersion and depth, and both elements are sorely lacking here.
While Zone of the Enders is very arcadey and lacks the depth that will lead to much replayability, it does offer some very good and nicely-rendered mech mayhem. Under normal circumstances, it would make a better rental than purchase, but that free MGS 2 demo is a great bonus.