Call me crazy, but in my book, you're either a Gundam fan or a Macross fan. Sort of like the Stones/Beatles arguments of years past (bonus points if you're old enough to remember that); both series have their strong points, as well as a few flaws worth pointing out. The main problem with Macross is that the series is pretty much a happy memory these days, while the Gundam series is still going strong some 20-plus years down the road. The overall quality of most of the Gundam games has been better than the Macross titles, and the newest title, G-Saviour, arrives on the Playstation 2 with a few surprises, and a few problems as well. But the surprises outweigh the problems here, and for Gundam fans, the game is definitely a worthy purchase.
Surprise number one: The game is entirely in English. Everything from the in-game speech to the option screens are in easy to understand gaijin-friendly English, with Japanese subtitles- so you don't need to worry about struggling with the Kanji. This was good for a laugh, when a friend watching me play thought that all Japanese games were this way (if only!). If any import game were a no-brainer for localization, this would be the one. Number two: there are 10 minutes of footage from the live action G-Saviour movie- also entirely in English! The movie looks really great, combining decent acting with some really fantastic computer-generated mecha battle scenes. No bargain basement Robot Jox acting and effects here (Although the main villain seems to have inherited the late Raul Julia's M. Bison costume from the horrid Street Fighter movie). You can select from 1, 6, or 10 minute clips, and after sampling the preview, all I have to say is someone better be on top of the U.S. release- at least it would make a good TV movie…
The actual game itself is based on the new live-action Gundam series, or more precisely, it takes place a year after the events in the film. You play as Reed Fox, an experienced mobile suit pilot trying out a brand new configurable MS unit in a series of strike missions against the Zeon army. The game is presented from a third-person perspective, but it plays similar to one of the older Gundam Side Story games for the Sega Saturn. The controls aren't too complicated and can be reconfigured via the options screen- but whatever you do, don't use the manual aim at all, as it makes the game pretty much unplayable. You move with the left analog stick, and the right one is used to move the game camera around your MS. I found that this also was pretty useless, except to look at all the great detail on the suit you're using. If you watch the gameplay demo, you'll see some really impressive cinematic action shots, but using these camera angles as you play is a dream, at best. Check out the life bar during the demo, and you'll see what I mean. Pushing the L3 button activates your Vernier unit, which gives you a limited speed boost- great for getting past rows of guns or a crowd of Zekes. You also have a special attack with a limited range and number of uses. The best strategy comes from knowing when to use the boost and/or attack move, as it also makes you a lot more mobile.
The gameplay can be fast-paced and hectic, or slow and steady, depending on your style of play, but you'll do better if you sweep through the early stages, picking off enemy units and avoiding the guns that line your path. There isn't a training level, so you'll have to use the sparsely populated first stage to get used to the slight stiffness of your MS. Unlike the Side Story games, you're not penalized if you leave the combat area- in fact; you can't leave the area at all! I found this to be a bit disappointing, but the game is structured to keep you focused on your mission objectives and shooting skill (or lack of it). The mechs you'll pilot have auto-targeting, but it seems to only work just as you're in range of the other guys shots. This means that you'll have to be really quick and accurate if you decide to go up against a bunch of enemy mechs. The game sort of evens the odds a bit by giving you the ability to take down most of the enemy with one shot or sword swipe, while you have a life bar of varying lengths depending on the suit you get. The early stages are pretty simple until you reach your very well guarded objective. Later on in the game, it's nearly impossible to stand still, as the enemy mechs get faster and have the tendency to gang up on you.
The graphics range from incredible (the assorted mobile suits) to bland (some of the backdrops), and as much as I enjoyed the game, I wish that the developers had added the ability to destroy or damage buildings and other obstacles. It's odd to unload a cannon shot or laser and not see any sort of collateral damage. At least Armored Core 2 and Gun Griffon Blaze have stuff to blow up scattered throughout their levels, and at this point in time, details like that in games like this should be standard issue. If you compare what's here to another PS2 game, Armored Core 2, for example- the graphics aren't so impressive, but then again, it's silly to think that every single PS2 game is going to have the same impact. The levels are pretty much laid out the same way, as in they all have a start and an end point. As I said earlier, there's very little exploration in the game, and it would be really nice to have a Gundam title with more open environments to run about in. As it is, everything looks decent, and the frame rate is respectable. The music in the game is some excellent techno stuff- you'll definitely be bopping your head to the block rockin' beats as you're playing through the game. But a few little things about the game got on my nerves.
My few complaints start with the sounds and voices. While the movements of your MS sound great, most of the shots and explosions are the same throughout the game. I wasn't expecting Sunrise to go the Lucasfilm route and use different effects for each type of weapon, but it would have been nice. After seeing the excellent work on the movie, I expected the voice work to be the same in the game. Unfortunately, it sounds like they got one guy to do all the guys, and one girl to do the girls- and they just so happened to be twins. Who don't do voice acting very well. Usually everyone is yelling at everyone else, or reading off sentences that seems like they're strung together from a couple of sets of refrigerator poetry magnets. I'm guessing that the translation was done phonetically- I'm sure it makes a bit more sense in the original Japanese (hopefully this will be fixed if the game makes it over here). Finally, what's up with the loading times? It seems as if the more powerful the console, the longer you have to wait for the games to boot up
In any event, this is probably the most import friendly PS2 game since Fantavision (and yes, that's a complement), and since there's no word at all on a U.S. release, running out to your favorite import shop would be a good thing. Hopefully, some smart developer will see fit to snatch this one up at the same time someone is thinking to release a U.S. version of the film- it would be one of those rare licensed games that actually lives up to its source.
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