Game: Zone of the Enders HD
Developer: High Voltage Software
Available on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Hideo Kojima is someone who, perhaps more so than any other mind operating in the industry today, understands how to make games that are almost cinematic in scope, underpinned by storylines and background mythology as rich and heady as the best movie franchises. Kojima-san is unquestionably best known for his Metal Gear series, however back in 2001 he released another oddly-named title, the anime-styled mech actioner Zone of the Enders.
At the time, it sold well, arguably due to the inclusion of a playable demo for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, but was at its core a short, often sweet, yet undeniably limited game which split the critics and fans alike. Zone nonetheless went on to receive a much improved sequel, for which Kojima took a back seat in a producer’s role, a Gameboy Advance spinoff, and even a surprisingly ace anime series. The series has always been held in good regard by gamers. It lacks the quality of anything involving Solid Snake, but benefits from having the Kojima name attached to it, achieving something of a cult status. Mirroring the events of 2001, this HD-enhanced Zone of the Enders collection includes a playable demo of the forthcoming Metal Gear Solid Revengeance; something that will stand it in good stead and tempt many gamers to part with their cash. The question is, with the much-clamoured-for Zone of the Enders 3 on the horizon, do the two games, one of which is well over a decade old, provide us with a playable dose of nostalgia, or a reminder to leave the past behind and move on?
Zone of the Enders HD Collection brings together both the original PlayStation 2 titles, resplendent in glorious high definition with some sterling work having gone on, smoothing some of the jaggy textures from days of yore, and providing some sharp, dazzling effects that really pop on an HD display. While it looks much better than the original, it is clear from the get go that the first ZoE is the definite weak link in the package.
You take on the role of Leo Stenbuck, a young lad who ends up in the unenviable position of having to defend his home colony from the advances of the evil BAHRAM forces and their monstrous Orbital Frame mecha. I say unenviable, when in fact the story takes something of a turn for the awesome when Leo comes across a completely bawse mech of his own, called Jehuty, which he gets to strap himself into and embark on an ass-kicking series of battles, aided by a handy in-suit AI, culminating in a final showdown with chief antagonist Nohman. The whole crazy space opera is chock full of dodgy voice acting, confusing storylines and lengthy cutscenes. Names and locations are borrowed wholesale from Egyptology – Anubis, Jehuty (derived from Egyptian God Djehuti, fact fans) – and there are a smattering of ridiculously named characters, including Rock Thunderheart, who sounds like a rejected concept name for an 80s WWF wrestler. In other words, it is vintage Kojima, yet while the title was actually developed in tandem with Sons of Liberty, the original ZoE is nowhere near as compelling.
Gameplay is probably best described as a cross between a beat ‘em up and a shooter, as you traverse the intergalactic arenas, defeating enemy Frames using a combination of ranged projectiles, melee attacks and close range throws, all the while using the powers of your own suit to boost and fly your way out of dodge. There are a ton of different attacks in your arsenal, and your weapons can be upgraded over the course of the game, yet you will often find yourself mashing the same old attacks over and over again, with very little reason to dip into the considerable array of combat techniques at your disposal, other than the fact that it looks really cool. Sure, it is possible to rack up a beautiful sword based combo, finishing with a flurry of missile and laser death, IN HD! But when you can achieve the same effect by using two buttons, you have to balance out whether the effort is worth the aesthetic rewards. It is simplistic and repetitive, something that also applies to the environments, which are much of a muchness.
Now quite as tricky to get hold of in its original form, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner was always one of the better-looking PS2 games. Like Okami, Viewtiful Zoe and Wind Waker, it is another triumph for cel-shading and proof if needed that this particular graphical technique has stood the test of time perhaps like no other in the recent history of games. In HD it now looks even better, and unlike the preceding game, the cutscenes have also been given an overhaul and look absolutely first class.
Visuals aside, the sophomore ZoE is a far better game. The plot is more interesting, helped along by the aforementioned cutscenes which are still completely mental, I am pleased to say. There are more enemies to take down, more ways to achieve this, and better opponent AI, meaning that this time around, a bit of variety in your tactics is actually required in order to progress. You level up by taking down enemies, and there are a superb clutch of ace sub weapons collected after completing one of the many highly entertaining boss fights. There is also a ranking system which affects the abilities and performance of your mech. You are graded for each stage, as well as your performance over the course of the entire game, lending it a great score attack feel, something I feel is essential for an arcade mech title where combos and flawless accuracy in combat is key. There is a great deal more diversity in the environments, which helps spice things up a bit given that the first title often felt like a slog through the same old locales over and over again. Those 3D arenas are far more important too, as you need to be aware of your surroundings, and the camera does a pretty good job of following the action. The sequel also benefits from a terrific multiplayer mode, and there is an unlockable extra in the package which I won’t spoil for those new to the series, but just let me say that fans of a certain Konami shoot ‘em up franchise featuring Easter Island statues will be delighted, and leave it at that.
VERDICT: This is a decent HD package, made all the more palatable by the inclusion of a Metal Gear Rising taster. You get the best possible versions of Kojima’s talky, quirky vision with a wealth of extras, including all of the additional content that was included with the original NTSC-J version of 2nd Runner, such as enhanced difficulty options and Metal Gear-esque VR Training missions. High Voltage Software have even been kind enough to produce an all-new anime intro sequence which does a grand job of tying both of the convoluted storylines together.
Both titles have splendidly crap voice acting and banging J-pop soundtracks, and are helped along by the whole Kojima mystique, even though he was minimally involved in the second game, when you fire up this collection you know straight away that you are dipping in to the work of the crazy genius we know and love. On the downside both games are pretty short, clocking in at around six hours each at best, and the original is markedly inferior to the cel-shaded majesty of the sequel. But as a way back into the series and a perfect opportunity to ready yourself for the forthcoming third instalment in the franchise, this is well worth a look.