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Slave Zero
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1-4
Developer:  Infogrames
Publisher:  Infogrames
Features:  Jump Pack, VMU
Ratings:  Early Childhood
Memory Req.:  
Action fans, rejoice. American mech fans, rejoice doubly. While it won't get your gizzard like, say, an American port of Frame Gride or Virtual On, Infrogrames' Slave Zero will still allow you to get your groove on, robotically speaking.

The obligatory and somewhat tiresome back story goes something like this... somewhere along the line you decided to forsake your humanity and become eternally melded to a 65-foot "slave", or in layman's terms, one big-ass robot. Working for an organization of special operatives, you blast your way through a Blade Runner-esque urban landscape in hope of defeating some nefarious, post-punk Asian warlord. Along the way you'll encounter robotic foes of varying size and intelligence, dispatched by said warlord. The rest writes itself, really.

Dropped into the middle of this towering urban sprawl, you'll no doubt want to have a look around. Buildings stretch up on either side of you, seemingly into eternity. It looks great, with neon propaganda plastered onto the sides of buildings, and tiny cars scurrying underfoot. The reading material accompanying the game calls attention to the life-like, teeming city in which the action takes place, boasting interactivity with all the city's elements, from hapless pedestrians to apartment buildings. And while this sounds great, I can't help but question their selling point. Sure, you can stomp on cars and crush small buildings with one swat, but this is by far the least interesting aspect of the game. First of all, there simply aren't enough of these smaller elements in the game, from which to derive your own sense of how huge your mech is. You'll no doubt be more impressed with how mammoth the city skyline is, but at the price of feeling small with your measly 65-foot mech. And in the opening level, you'll wonder if this isn't just some far-removed cousin of Rampage, with some robot battle tossed in for spice. But I assure you, once you enter the underground waterways, protecting a cadre of tiny ships from menacing mechanical spiders, you'll be sold, and the occasional worker that gets squashed underfoot will be mere frosting on some good, intense, robot action.

The controls are somewhat intuitive, utilizing the analog stick for aiming and the four button layout for movement (a la Turok), allowing you to, run, jump, and strafe, all while moving your upper torso independently. You'll need this flexibility, as the AI is somewhat good, with certain enemies weaving in and out of your sights (hint: find the seeker missiles early, off the main road), and employing various modes of locomotion to attack you. The early enemies are standard bipeds, but before long enemies can fly and crawl on the ceilings... creepy.

Graphically, the game is quite good, with no draw-in even on the first level's sprawling metropolis. But it comes at a price, as you will no doubt notice in your first major battle, halfway through the opening missionů slowdown! On a Dreamcast? Aargh! I thought we'd outgrown this! It's even bad enough to momentarily render gameplay difficult. But don't let this dissuade you from an otherwise enjoyable and technically sound gaming experience. Once the environments become a bit more confined, the game runs smooth as butter.

Just one side issue I'd like to bring upů as I was playing the game, a plot point came up which made me housemates' ears perk up. During the game, you discover that one of the necessary ingredients in creating these 65-foot "slaves" is something called "dark matter". Dark matter? Slaves? Does anyone else smell a video game designer with a leaky id? Not that I'm accusing anyone of anything, as so many terms get jumbled together in these waning days of post-modernity, but you gotta keep a watch out, y'know? Of course, some could say I'm pointing out things that aren't there, and in doing so, exposing my own prejudice, and perhaps they're right. Just think about it.

Anyway, the game isn't rewriting any rules with regards to storyline, or even play mechanics. When playing it, I felt the same adequate thrill I used to get when playing slightly above-average action titles for the NES (say, Jackal or Commando, both games I loved). But with three different difficulty settings (easy will litter your path with power-ups, hard will leave you wishing you'd put it on easy) and a tried-and-true structure (diverse missions, with an ultra-cool boss waiting for you at the end of each level), this is a title for all you action lovers out there who might have been left wanting by Infrogrames' other action title, Expendable. Oh, I almost forgot! Shell out sixty bucks for those other two controllers, 'cause this baby's got four player deathmatch! Switch into a first-person view and frag your friends into oblivion! Just keep an eye out for any hidden politics, you get me?

Seth Berkowitz

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