Let’s be honest, the majority of us - including myself, only bought Zone of the Enders on its original Playstation 2 release because of the free Metal Gear Solid 2 demo. The hype was enormous for the follow-up to the hugely successfully MGS, and out of the blue came this game about giant fighting robots that we didn’t mind paying full price for just for a demo. It was a masterstroke by Konami, getting a game that probably wouldn’t have sold all that well some attention and appreciation. I’m not going to lie, it sat on my shelf collecting dust for a while before I finally decided to hammer it; although when I say ‘hammer it’ I mean about 4 hours worth of gameplay that left me feeling a bit unfulfilled.
Giant robots smashing each other up inside a space colony sounds kind of cool, and it is for the first 5 minutes, but I don’t believe that Zone of the Enders is the classic that some people make it out to be and this HD re-release confirms it, at least for me. There’s nothing wrong with the concept, but the execution is deeply flawed. It took me a further 10 minutes to realise that ZoE was never anything more than a button masher, with the same battles with the same enemies in the same dreary locations again and again. I suppose you should be merciful that it doesn’t last that long.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, but think about this. This game is from the same guy who created the extensive, complex and utterly brilliant Metal Gear Solid franchise – Hideo Kojima – yet has such a basic childish story that sort of tries to hit on some big themes but always goes wide of the mark. This story is full of irritating characters with whiny-ass voices, such as a nauseating child controlling the Jehuty ‘Orbital Frame’ robot and an AI computer whose voice grates on you like a drill slowly being driven through your brain. Even Raiden deserves more respect than the characters here; they’ll just flit into and out of your mind before you can say Laborious Extra-Orbital Vehicle (e.g. mecha).
Combat wise it feels clunky, with the fast fluid movement you expected not quite meeting up to expectations. Moreover you end up doing nothing more than hitting the same button over and over again, with the occasional pause to retreat from the close range only to spam the button again to do a long range burst attack. While there are certain special weapons you can pick up, such as dart like bullets you can toss, none of them are all that interesting when it all just boils down to ‘go there, kill this’ or ‘go there, destroy this’. The camera also plays havoc with any tactical plan you may have had while going into battle, and you often come out of battle wondering how you even took out the enemy. It doesn’t help that the lock on system is incredibly finicky, although this is something I’ve always felt was pretty bad in 95% of games.
One positive note is that the graphics on the mecha’s look sharp and cleaned up, but the same can’t be said for most of the scenery. The cut scenes haven’t been improved either, painting a grainy picture of the cut-scenes that were once spectacular to our unspoiled eyes and looking completely out of place compared to the HD work that’s gone into the rest of the game. However, the games sequel (and second game in this pack) goes some way to improving what could have been a total let down.
Visually, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner looks gorgeous, with brilliantly crafted anime cut-scenes and some fantastic looking smoky effects when the many explosions start going off. You could even go as far to say as it could pass for a modern day release, although hardly one with the funds of an AAA title behind it. As for the story, well, again it’s not about to win any awards; yet there’s a relieving lack of any whiny kids, although main character Dingo can do his fair share of moaning too. Dingo is also an awful name; then again half of the names that pop up in the ZoE universe are no better than what would be suggested by half drunk writers who’d stayed up all night to hammer out a poor attempt at weaving a space opera style tale.
Battles are a far more fluid affair and you also have your fair share of moves to play around with. In essence, combat isn’t a great deal different than the first game, but it feels a lot smoother and it’s a lot more fun to play around with. The ability to grab your opponent and swing him around before sending him crashing into other opponents is a nice touch; as is the ability to pick up certain objects to either throw or use as a makeshift sword.There was also a greater variation in the enemies; from flocks of bat like attack ships to robotic spiders that leap around.
So, yes, The 2nd Runner fares a lot better than its predecessor, but it’s still marred by a series of faults. The frame rate can be hellish at times, especially with all the extra things that are going on around the screen and the camera itself is slow to respond or at times all over the place. The story, while more bearable, is still largely forgetful and doesn’t last all that long. Plus, whilst more diverse, the combat still gets terribly repetitive after you’ve got over the glee of using a skill for the first time.
Extras wise there’s nothing much of note, aside from the 1 v 1 splitscreen multiplayer and a few extra missions that previously only appeared in a special edition release. It doesn’t really matter that this is only local multiplayer; I don’t think it’d garner massive interest in the online community outside of the first couple of weeks anyway. Konami has missed a trick by not including at least something from the animated series, or even just a few bits of concept art. Fans would eat this stuff up, but instead there’s not much to push them into getting this ‘update’ if you already own the PS2 copies.
Weirdly, as much as I’ve slated it, this is better than the Silent Hill HD release that I reviewed earlier this year. At a mere 40% though, and plagued by a myriad of technical problems, beating that doesn’t exactly take much work. Zone of the Enders is as shoddy as it ever was; it’s no classic despite its few good ideas. The 2nd Runner isn’t perfect either but it’s still the saving grace of this pack and the far more enjoyable of the two, even though a heavy bout of repetitiveness lingers around both.. That said I wouldn’t exactly say that it makes this pack worth picking up at full price, there’s more than enough releases out there vying for your time and money and you may find you’ve wasted both if you get this.
Apparently there’s a third game on the way, although I doubt this HD update is going to supply the renewed interest that Konami may be expecting. However, sneaky Konami have decided to bundle the game with a demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. You get that odd feeling that Konami may have figured out that was the only way to make any sort of profit from this.