It's high time that someone made a game about ENIAC!
Since it's pretty obvious now that no one will EVER make a good Robotech (or Macross) game for the PSX, then I guess we'd better start looking for good imitations. Armored Core was pretty fun, but it didn't have the cool space combat, transforming robots or giant battleships. There actually was a Japanese Macross game for the Playstation, but the memories are too painful to bring up. Now comes Polyphony Digital, the developers of the masterful Gran Turismo, with another stab at it: Omega Boost. If anyone can do it, they can, right?
The story of Omega Boost is as follows: Sometime in the future, we humans are smart enough to build a sentient computer. It works fine for a while, but one day the computer decides that humans are bad and it decides to kill us all. In order to kill off the humans, it decides to kill their leader, John Connor, before he is born. Wait, I meant to say that it decides to use humans as energy sources and it develops something called "the Matrix" to create an imaginary world in our minds. No? Okay, it actually decides to make a special vacuum tube, go back in time and stick it in the original ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator) computer. Then ENIAC will be able to crush the humans with its tremendous weight and mass of vacuum tubes (you liked the other plot ideas better, right?). In order to stop the computer (called AlphaCore), the humans build the Omega Boost robot. And guess who gets to pilot the Omega Boost? That's right, you get to save the human race!
Omega Boost is a 3D shooter played in the third-person perspective. The gameplay is reminiscent of Star Fox 64 in that you fly around a 3D environment and fight waves of small enemies and bosses. Instead of being confined to a small area, you have total freedom to travel in the environment. The thing is, your enemies always appear in close proximity.
Omega Boost definitely shows signs of influence by the classic Robotech cartoon series. First of all, your pilot wears a helmet that mentally connects his movements to that of the robot. You'll also see similar tidal waves of missiles that fan out in arcs and leave a tangled mess of vapor trails. And finally, you'll be dashing through fleets of enemy battleships and maneuvering huge swarming battlefields. Ah, the memories...
If you've ever put any thought into how someone could make a successful Robotech-esque game (like I have), then you're sure to be stumped by the controls. How can you move a robot around in a 3D environment while controlling the aim of the weapons at the same time? Well, the folks at Polyphony have the answer. Your Omega Boost is equipped with a scanner that points it in the direction of the nearest enemy target. The only problem is that the scanner cannot be used incessantly; it needs to be recharged after a while or it loses accuracy. Once you're facing the correct direction, your weapons can auto-aim and you can pilot your robot with ease.
There are 19 different "zones" in Omega Boost, each of which is composed of five or so levels. There are also hidden zones that can be uncovered by attaining high scores. Thus, there are a pretty fair number of stages to complete in order to finish the game. However, each stage can be finished in a few minutes if you know what's going on.
Coming from Polyphony Digital, Omega Boost should deliver excellence in the graphics department. Indeed, this is the case. Instead of sleek cars, we get awesome explosions, lasers, bullets, giant robots and furious flying. Some nice touches include particles flying through space and cool lighting effects. Not everything is perfect though; some of the enemies are just big blocks and moving parts and don't really seem well-designed. And in my opinion, your Omega Boost is a rip-off of one of the Big Bad Beetle Borgs (a sad little show from the makers of Power Rangers) [why do you know that, Clint? - Ed.].
Gameplay-wise, there are a lot of nuances and tactics to learn in order to battle effectively and efficiently. The scanner is important to master because you rely on it to pilot your Omega Boost in tube levels, where you plummet down a small tube and have to avoid obstacles. Aside from learning how to scan well, you need to learn how to brake, boost and fly. Fortunately, there are training levels that give you a head start on the program. The controls are easy to learn but tough to master.
The game sounds pretty good so far, doesn't it? Well, it does seem like a lot of fun at first, but the honeymoon's over pretty soon. First of all, Omega Boost can be frustrating as hell. The difficulty is like an exponential curve; it's pretty easy at first, but spikes up like a mutha in no time flat. That's why you absolutely must master your scanning. If you die, you have to start over at the beginning of the stage, and you only have five continues for the entire campaign. No mercy.
Continuing with the difficulty theme, I hate how you can be hit continuously without any relief. This is important in the tubes, because once you snag an obstacle, you plummet into this horrible spiral of death, crashing into everything and taking enormous damage. What happened to that little grace period of invulnerability after you get hit? Now that was a good idea.
The repetitive nature of the levels is also a bit annoying. Every stage goes like this: swarms of small enemies, mid-boss, more swarms of enemies, final boss. There is some slight variety, but not much. The only thing that really changes is the scenery. Also, Omega Boost lacks in weapon variety. All you get is your machine gun, lasers, and super attack. It's rather tedious to have to kill all those enemies with the same weapons over and over.
Omega Boost has a lot of potential, but in the end it turns out to be less than spectacular. It certainly isn't the Gran Turismo of Robotech wannabe games. There are a lot of bright spots in the game, but there is also an equal amount of disappointments. I'd certainly like to see a sequel to this game on the Playstation 2 with all the rough edges hammered out. Right now, it's worth a rental, but not much more.