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The Next Level In Gaming

The first of a selection of older titles I will be covering is Konami’s Zone of the Enders 2. From the mind of the man who created Metal Gear Solid comes a fast-paced mech action title. You may or may not recognise the name – it seems to be very much a cult title, although it does have a fairly large fanbase. The first game was released in 2001, before the release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the Patriots, bundled with a demo of MGS2 – undoubtedly to promote MGS2, whilst inviting MGS fans to try some of Hideo’s other work. ZOE2 was released in 2003.

The original introduced the concept of ‘Orbital Frames’ – powerful mechs capable of high speeds, devastating power and other abilities depending on the individual mech. A child, Leo Stenbuck, citizen of a gigantic terraformed space satellite, found himself in a war far larger than himself as his home was attacked by the heartless BAHRAM forces. He stumbled upon the mech Jehuty, seizing it’s power and escaping with his friend Celvice as his world around him fell into ruin.  Befriending the on-board female AI, ADA, Leo shares his human values with the heartless computer and she begins to change as she becomes more humanised. Together, they learn from one another, whilst Leo (albeit against his will) battles mechs and the evil pilot Viola who destroyed his home.

Zone of the Enders 2 takes place two years after the original, and is very much improved in most aspects from before. The gameplay was tweaked, the levels more varied and interesting. The game looks great with impressive graphics, the Mechs looking highly detailed with a mix of different environments, while the cutscenes focusing on the game’s characters are done using new manga style animations.

Taking the helm of Jehuty this time is Dingo Egret, a former BAHRAM soldier who left the squad when their cold blooded leader Nohman betrayed him and his comrades and left them to die, showing Dingo his true face. Discovering Jehuty hidden on the icy planet Callisto, he ends up facing Nohman, outmatched by his all-powerful Orbital Frame, Anubis. Killed by the cold hand of his former colleague, a girl named Ken (yes, strange name for a girl, I know) revives Dingo, finding his life bound to Jehuty – the mech powering the very life support that keeps him alive. With no place to turn, he follows Ken’s demands to fight BAHRAM with Jehuty, vowing to take revenge on Nohman.

The game is almost pure combat, a high speed hack and slash, linked with cutscenes and radio communication (not unlike MGS’s Codec calls, though much shorter). The story holds the game together well, but the focus is largely on the gameplay. The game works in a 3d environment, Jehuty able to move in all directions – analogue to move forwards, backwards and sideways, triangle to move up, and X to move down. It takes a little getting used to but quickly becomes natural. Jehuty has both a gun and a blade at his disposal, although which is used depends on proximity to the nearest locked-on enemy. Locking on helps vastly, since Jehuty will automatically move up or down as you move depending on where the enemy is. As well as these basic functions, you also have the ability to perform ‘burst’ attacks, which are slower, stronger attacks. By holding R2 when stationary, Jehuty will move to burst stance, and a press of the attack button with either do a spin slash, or a giant energy ball attack, again depending on proximity to the enemy. Jehuty may also use his force shield to guard, boosters to dash with R2, and may also grab most enemies, to use for smashing, shielding or throwing into other opponents. Jehuty also gains various sub-weapons as the story progresses which are used by selecting with L1, and pressing O to activate, consuming some of your SUB gauge – these weapons vary from abilities such as GEYSER to stun enemies, GAUNTLET which sends out a powerful blast, or WISP which draws enemies into a grab from a distance. Lastly, Jehuty is able to fire a burst of homing lasers by holding and releasing the square button while dashing – the longer the square button is held, the more targets can be locked on to and when released, Jehuty unleashed a barrage of lasers which are great for taking out large groups of smaller enemies.

The combat is fairly simple but flows well, different stages mixing up the gameplay and keeping it fresh – you start fighting basic enemies in a snowstorm, later finding yourself in cold metallic passageways, chasing trains, fighting in large scale battles and taking down a fleet of warships in the cloudy sky. The areas look nicely modelled and the effects are good for a game from last generation – such as explosions and lasers, with rubble from lots of destructible environment.

Aside from fighting regular enemies, the main focus is on the Mech battles, the bosses. Old Mechs return – a revamped version of Viola’s Neith mech, named Nephtis, and Anubis who played a small part in ZOE1 – and a whole host of other mechs have been added, including Vic Viper, a transforming Orbital Frame piloted by Jehuty’s original owner and friend of ADA, Leo Stenbuck, and a mech called Ardjet, piloted by Ken. These battles can be long and gruelling, but are also a large part of the game’s core gameplay, adapting to each Orbital Frame’s fighting styles and tactics. The battles are fairly challenging, and often have different strategies to beat – although ADA is always there to help you know what to do. These fights can be incredibly fun and heart racing, although can be a little frustrating if you lose since they can be quite lengthy battles.

The game also offers extra missions that can be unlocked, such as survival type modes which are good to increase the game’s longevity. ZOE2 also offers a 2 player versus mode, which also allows 1p vs COM. This mode is good for trying out the other Orbital Frames the game has to offer, but unless you are a big fan can get old fairly fast.

In the end, the game is good fun with a decent challenge, and offers nice visuals and a decent story. If you’re looking for a Mech game, a hack n slash or something else by Hideo Kojima, I urge you to find yourself a copy. ZOE1 is worth playing – but ZOE2 is where they perfected the game.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgeQor_asog]

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Leon On July - 24 - 2009

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