Zone of the Enders

Zone of the Enders
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PlayStation 2
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It seems as if every game that Hideo Kojima develops has a special magic to it. Granted the series known best by him is Metal Gear, but his other titles are worth mentioning as well. I was a big fan of Snatcher when it was released for the Sega CD (which even today can go as high as $100 on eBay), and I helped sign the petition to release Policenauts for either the 3DO or the Saturn back in 1995.

His storylines are well known for having powerful moral values, and anyone who is well adapted in Metal Gear Solid knows the message of how human beings are not chained to the fate encoded into their DNA.

With the launch of the PlayStation2, Kojima-san is keeping his legacy going with a one-two punch. Already in the works is the amazing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but to start off with, his latest title Zone of the Enders. It provides a quick, yet entertaining addition to the PS2 menu. I will be reviewing both ZOE as well as the demo of MGS2 that is packed in.

ZONE OF THE ENDERS

ZOE was first introduced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, and while it didn’t garner as much attention as MGS2, it was still a worthy view. As a young child named Leo, you witness your friends being killed when an Orbital Frame (ZOE’s name for mech) crashes on them. These Frames are part of an army sent to invade the Jupiter space colony where Leo is living. In fear, he runs off into a back alley, and into a factory.

It is in this factory that Leo falls into the cockpit of an Orbital Frame, called Jehuty. Jehuty’s AI, codenamed ADA, assumes Leo is Jehuty’s new operator and instructs him on how to pilot the frame and face the invading army. However, as in many other games of this caliber, Leo is resistant to this new position he is set in. He does not want to kill, and shows a strong protection for human life.

In conflicts with ADA, he continuously expresses his stand on the matter, yet goes on to eliminate the invading Orbital Frames. Along the way, Leo reunites with his friend, a girl named Celvice who resides in a local church, and is recruited by an agent known as Elena.

As for the invading army, the main antagonist is a woman known only as Viola, a woman with a strong hatred for Leo and a passion to fulfill her mission, no matter the cost. I will not go any further about her without ruining the storyline, but it is her experiences in the past that fill her inner rage.

Controlling the game is easy. The analog pad is used to fly around the area, while the four buttons are used to fire primary/close range weapons as well as special weapons, while the two vertically based buttons (triangle and X) are used to control altitude. R1 activates Jehuty’s shields, and the R2 button doubles as both a speed boost and a weapon power up which creates a powerful ball of death or a devastating sword strike.

The game mostly consists of traveling from one area to another, dispatching incoming Frames and finding the right programs to power up Jehuty. However, at times a town can be under attack by Frames, and Leo must make a decision of continuing the mission or saving the town.

That might be the only problem about ZOE: its simplicity, not to mention that the game is quite short. This might not be Bouncer short, but I was able to finish the game in a little over five hours. There is a versus mode available as well, but it’s simplistic and similar to the skirmish modes from The Bouncer.

One thing is for sure; for a short game it definitely is gorgeous. After seeing the graphic potential increase with The Bouncer, ZOE actually takes it further. There is a lot of detail around, and the Frame design (which was developed by the same designer who worked on Gundam X) is top notch, even if there is a lack of variety. The game is also lightning fast, running at a near constant 60 fps even when filled with special features.

Motion blur is also used a lot, but it is not distracting at all. What is distracting though, is the voice acting. This can be considered a surprise since a lot of reviewers (myself included) consider Metal Gear Solid to have the best voice acting in any game. I guess that changing the dialogue to English can be a possibility as to the failure here.

I know this might not be as bad a translation as the famous "All your base are belong to us," but it still needs to be worked on. In addition, the voice acting is a bit on the weak side. Leo whines a little too much for my taste, and ADA sounds too dry, even for a sentient AI.

METAL GEAR SOLID 2

Now I’m sure everyone jumped to this part of my review to see how the MGS2 demo came out.

In one word…wow!

When I saw the trailer video at E3 last year, and it was mentioned that the game was running on actual PlayStation 2 hardware, I was thinking "B.S." Turns out that I should be the one eating my words. After watching the gorgeous opening, the smoothly transitioned camera, the vast detail in the environment and gameplay, basically after everything, I’m now a believer.

The hour-long demo takes part on board the Marine transport Discovery when a group of Russians execute a silent assault and hijack the ship. We are reunited with three of the original MGS staff: Revolver Ocelot, Otacon, and of course, Snake (who now brands a 5 o’clock shadow in addition to his trademark bandana). New to the story line is Col. Gurlukovich (who was briefly mentioned in MGS), and his daughter, a gun-toting loyalist named Olga.

As Snake makes his way through the ship, we are treated to the new game engine and its new features. The first person perspective presented in MGS Integral for the PC and the Japanese PSX is upgraded, allowing the ability to fire weapons and attack. Now a headshot can be performed without any problem whatsoever (pending you don’t get detected first).

As I mentioned before, the graphics have to be seen to be believed. Some of the most amazing weather effects ever seen on a console, not to mention even the slightest detail being brought out, and a constant 60 fps (even with all the effects going) prove to me that MGS2 will definitely be one to watch out for next month at E3.

The dialogue for the demo is still in Japanese, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the American dialogue will be. After the impressive quality of MGS, I can only see things looking good for this version. And it will sit nicely beside the soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams. I have also confirmed that David Hayter does make a comeback and will be voicing Snake. In this reviewer’s opinion, he IS Snake!

OVERALL

You can’t go wrong with this package. On one side, you have an amazing demo worthy of the purchase, and on the other, you have a mildly enjoyable mech combat game worthy of the Kojima name. ZOE earns 4 GIN Gems, losing one for the short gameplay, the bad translation, and the average voice acting, while the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo easily earns 5 Gems, and I’m sure the final release will be a sure-fire 6 Gem title!

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