Monday, August 9, 2010

Zone of the Enders: Not Just a Metal Gear Solid 2 Demo Anymore

Poor Zone of the Enders. Like the younger, quieter bother of the high school track star or baseball prodigy, the only reason people even knew about this PS2 game is because it came packaged with a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the sequel to one of Konami’s hottest PS1 games. To be fair, this gimmick might have been the only way to sell a significant amount of copies of Zone of the Enders, because the game itself is unremarkable: It’s short, the storyline provides little in the way of closure, and there’s mot much here that experienced action gamers haven’t seen before. But ZoE also has a sliver of charm all its own, which, if you’ve got the time, makes the game worth playing.

The story is lifted almost directly from every mech anime ever. In the heat of battle, a hobo child named Leo unwittingly becomes the pilot of Jehuty, an advanced “orbital frame” (read: Gundam). Leo is forced to kill to survive and he makes everyone in the game well aware of his displeasure through a futuristic technique known and “b*tching and moaning every five minutes.” Whiny, whiny Leo is cursed with the most static personality Konami has ever penned. I wished more than once during the cutscenes that there was a button combination for wrapping Leo up in a carpet, covering him with honey and leaving him next to a bee hive that someone just hit with a big stick.

Thankfully, every other aspect of the game compares favorably to the storyline. The graphics are still pretty good, even by today’s standards. Normal enemies and backgrounds look suitably space-age and bosses are big and detailed. The first time you take control of Jehuty, you’ll have great fun zooming about the screen, blowing things up like there’s no reset button. However, the controls are a little wonky and take some to master; even after finishing the game, I still had some difficulty keeping my mech on course. The action is repetitive, but that's all right, as the game is so short and the fighting is great. Jehuty’s giant death ball, crazy lasers and one heck of a sword give you the advantage in battle, while a boost button increases the speed of the gameplay exponentially.

Zone of the Enders’s technoish soundtrack ranges from head-bangingly awesome to boring background noise. The sounds are fitting but forgetful, but you might find yourself reaching for the mute button anyway: Every time your situation changes, such as your health going below 50 percent or running out of ammo, Jehuty announces it an a tooth-grating, monotone voice.

“I suggest you escape from this battle,” says Jehuty when your health is low.

“I suggest you shut the heck up and let me play the game I purchased,” I reply, though I know it can’t hear me.

The ending is not satisfying in the least and playing the game a second time through will leave you wanting to hurt yourself at about the midway point. Zone of the Enders is fun while it lasts, which is about 10 hours. But if you think about it, 10 hours is a lot more fun than most games can provide.

Maybe because the hoopla surrounding Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty ceased long ago, Zone of the Enders will have a chance to be its own game. While it’s nothing remarkable, it certainly ain’t bad. If you want a weekend worth of frantic flying combat and you’re on a budget, I suggest you snag yourself a copy.

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