Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: May 2, 2001
If there’s one company single-handedly spearheading the rush into the “mature” second generation of PS2 games, it certainly seems to be Konami. Ring of Red has filled a void in the strategic market, while Shadow of Destiny‘s intelligent gameplay reminded skeptics that the adventure genre isn’t half as dead as they once assumed. One of the key players in Konami’s strategy is Hideo Kojima, the mastermind behind the original Metal Gear Solid. Having earned near universal acclaim for his work on that title, Kojima turned his attention to a sequel, the demo of which we previewed recently. That demo, however, was merely a bonus packaged with yet another big-ticket item called Zone of the Enders.
Zone of the Enders is set in the 23rd century, a time when mankind has broken free of the Earth and moved much of its population to vast colonies orbiting the other planets of our solar system. Life on these colonies is fairly harsh, but the colonists pull together and try to make their lives better through mutual cooperation. Not everyone sees the nobility driving their pioneering spirits, however, and the richer segments of society simply refer to these settlers by the diminutive “Enders.” As our story opens, a military guard for the Jupiter-orbiting colony of Antila has a group of Ender children tied up and is taunting a young boy who must make a choice between attacking the man to rescue his friends or to simply escape. He elects to flee rather than fight, a choice seemingly made easier as the fair-weather comrades fling thoughtless accusations at Leo, blaming him for their predicament.
As Leo will soon learn, though, every decision has its consequences. Moments after seeking refuge, a massive battle breaks out in the skies and a gigantic robot falls to the ground, severely damaged. After taking a few halting steps this two-story mechanoid surrenders to irreparable damage and topples forward onto the trapped Enders as the helpless Leo is forced to watch. Understandably distraught, Leo escapes another battle and literally stumbles into a top-secret warehouse that holds the secondary target for the invasion: a prototype orbital frame (read: giant robot) known as Jehuty.
Fans of anime are most likely ahead of me in recognizing the clear anime influence in Zone of the Enders. The orbital frames have that distinct Gundam look about them, similar to Robotech, Patlabor and countless other animated series. On top of this, Leo’s character is archetypical for this genre: his childish outer shell soon strips away to reveal the rock solid skin of a true hero, and he simultaneously proves that the poor can be even more skilled and resourceful than those born to advantage. It’s a classic general plot that has played out more times than I dare count in anime (and just about everywhere else), but this time we’re the ones in control of the action.
As an advanced orbital frame, Jehuty moves gracefully through the air on multi-directional thrusters; this is a far cry from the lumbering Battlemech with which gamers usually identify. Instead, this frame climbs, strafes and closes for the attack with all the grace of a master dancer, and in many ways controlling the frame requires the same grace of the player. Fortunately things are kept fairly simple on the control front, at least as far as movement is concerned; all motion is relative to the camera. Push forward and the massive robot moves ahead and so forth, while the camera’s staunch balance ensures that descending always takes you to the floor of the colony. Normally the camera tracks slowly behind the action, allowing a free-exploring Jehuty to change direction without changing the camera angle too much. In battle, however, the camera locks onto the current target, ensuring that the player can always move in relation to their current enemy. More often than not, this system results in circling battles that more closely resemble human fighters warily seeking an enemy’s weak point than the plodding action delivered by some mech sims.
Of course, human fighters rarely carry the kind of armament any right-thinking engineer would pack into a thirty-foot tall combat robot. When attacking at range, Leo’s Jehuty frame uses a simple, but effective blaster with a high rate of fire. Up close, the integrated sword snaps into position and the robot lances out with powerful slashes designed to quickly reduce enemies to tatters. When fighting up close and personal, another option presents itself in the form of the grab. Using a special and very short range beam Leo can immobilize an enemy frame, and when the player releases the grab, Jehuty will serve the helpless enemy like a volleyball. While this does nominal damage by itself, the effects may be exaggerated by slamming the enemy into a building or the earth. Economically minded fighters will be more likely to switch targets while holding the grab and launch their victim into one of his comrades, damaging them both in the process.