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Gun Griffon Blaze
Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Game Arts
Publisher:  Capcom
Features:  Dual Shock 2 Control, Vibration Function
Ratings:  Early Childhood
Memory Req.:  8MB Memory Card required

Released early in the too short lifecycle of the Sega Saturn, Game Arts'
fantastic mech combat simulator, Gun Griffon, was one of the systems' many
underrated highlights. Combining tactical battle planning with super fast
arcade-style action, the game is still a blast to pick up and play, despite
some occasionally choppy graphics. The opening CG movie is also one of the
more powerful intros for a console title, even after four years. The game
did well enough in Japan to spawn an excellent sequel, Gun Griffon 2, which
like most of the better Saturn titles, never made it to these shores. The
gameplay and graphics were pretty much unchanged, but if it ain't broke....
Still, once the Dreamcast was released, I hoped that Game Arts would do one
more game, taking advantage of the DC's capabilities. Well, the DC never got
it's GG, and GA must have known that the PS2 needed a shot in the arm as far
as quality software goes, so the third game in the series, Gun Griffon Blaze
blasts its way onto the system in a big (and much, much needed) way. Oddly
enough, Capcom is publishing the import version of the game, and it's a
welcome change from the usual repetitive (but high quality) fighters,
shooters, and action games they're known for.

The intro is similar to the first game, mechs dropping onto a battle field,
and laying waste to the enemy- but on the PS2, your eyes will bug out the
first time you see it. As Sammy Sosa says, "It's so reeeeeeeeeeeal!"
Strangely, there's no gameplay demo- you'll see some burning mechs as the
camera pans across a gloomy-looking battlefield while some really mournful
music plays. It almost makes you want to not play the game, but it sure
looks great. Another odd twist comes when you view your mech of choice or
some of the enemy forces from one of the option screens- they shows up as a
models in boxes, complete with a diorama! It's a nice touch of humor seeing
your mech go through it's movements as little men run back and forth. I was
thinking that the game was going to go a less serious route than the others,
and I'm more than pleased to report that Gun Griffon Blaze goes for the
throat right from the start, and doesn't let go for one second. Each of the
missions takes place in some incredible realistic locations all over the
world, and There are 3 basic mechs to choose from, each with it's own
strengths and weaknesses. You can equip them anyway you want from available
parts, and more become available as the game progresses. It's no Armored
Core 2 (I'm in the process of reviewing that one...), but this is actually a
good thing, as it makes setting up less of a chore, and the action quicker
to jump in to- so lets go!

Just like the first game, you can choose from a number of world locations to
fight in, ranked on difficulty, and the action is faster and better than
ever. Where the first two games suffered from enemies popping in a few
humdred yards (or somtimes feet) in front of you, in GGB you can see for
miles in every direction. The formerly cluttered screen has been replaced
with a simple proximity locator which, once you get used to it, makes
finding enemies a snap. Combat is more arcade-like than before, with
weapons, repair units and the occasional deadly enemy grenade hidden in the
buildings and mechs you'll destroy. The missions are all timed, which makes
for some interesting combat decisions. There's no set way to complete a
mission, provided you do it in the required time limit, and for the most
part, there's more than enough time to complete your objectives. You'll
probably run out of time the first few times you play, simply because you're
in awe of the graphics.

Along with the superior draw distance and sweeter that tastykake 60 fps
action, the details on everything in the game are staggering. the speedy
enemy mechs, the dust and rocks kicked up by stray shots and explosions, the
way buildings can be shot apart piece by piece before exploding- it's all
simply exhilarating. In one early mission, you have to destroy a space
shuttle before it launches, as well as the enemy bases surrounding it. I
played this mission about ten times just so I could fly up all around the
shuttle area, and see how much stuff I could blow up. Pretty much
everything, folks, pretty much everything. The only odd thing is, that in
the future, trees seem to be made from high grade redwood or solid titanium-
you can't destroy them! This bugged me a lot, as in the the first two games,
trees could be blown up by weapons or crushed as you passed through them.
I'm guessing that since the conventional radar is no longer there, and a lot
of enemies are hidden in forest areas, it adds a bit of strategy and
suspense to the action. It's the only gaffe in the game, but it's a big one.
Fortunately, the game has a lot of other beautiful environments to blow
stuff up in, so I can deal with the too-tough trees

The controls take a bit of getting used to, but going through the training
mission two or three times should make you a master. The right stick and
buttons are used for moving, firing, and weapon selection, and the left side
of the controller is for adjusting your viewpoint and using the boost. The
boost fuction is great for getting airborne and taking out enemies hidden
away in the trees firing missiles at you, avoiding ground hazards, or coming
face to face with the helicopters that will pester you like horseflies in
the game. Just remember that you can move in the air, and the game becomes a
bit more fun. The Dual Shock 2 is becoming my favorite controller- the
slightly smaller size and weight make a huge difference in a game like this.
The music is a mixture of great militaristic stuff, and fits the action
perfectly- just don't listen to the sad theme after the intro; you'll be on
the phone to Suicide Prevention in about two minutes flat.

Game Arts has been quietly creating some of the best, most challenging home
console titles for the past 10 years, and Gun Griffon Blaze joins Alisa
Dragoon, Silpheed, Grandia, and the Lunar games as part of any true gamers'
essential collection. Thanks to Capcom Japan for publishing this one, and
hopefully the U.S. version will make it here unchanged. Well, except forthe
addition of some destructable trees, and perhaps a multi-player internet
mode for those that need it- then it'll be perfect.

Greg Wilcox

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