Zone of the Enders HD Collection ReviewJoe Shaffer
When the announcement arrived that Konami would be reviving its two console Zone of the Enders titles in HD, I was thrilled. For it meant that a lazy gamer like myself could revisit the original and finally play the second game without having to hook my PS2 back up. Of course, there were other perks involved in securing this package. For starters, I could finally confirm or disprove my suspicion that the original game isn't aging well. Most of all, I could finally have closure to the story arc.
And closure I would have, but not before simultaneously suffering through and enjoying the first entry in the franchise.
Upon finishing the first ZOE, I found that it was precisely as I remember it: lightly entertaining and action-packed, yet short and repetitive. Here you play a typical petulant youngster, who happens to be a prodigious mech pilot, caught in the middle of a war. While fleeing impending doom, he hops onto
As you can tell, the story isn't the entertaining part of ZOE, as it mostly contains cliches found in nearly every anime, space opera, or sci-fi video game. What should hopefully keep your attention long enough for you to stomach this brief affair is the simple, fast-paced combat system. For the most part, it involves mashing the hell out of the 'Square' button while in close or long range. Up close, this allows you to repeatedly cut foes to ribbons with a powerful energy blade, while from afar you fire inept energy shots that will send you rushing back to close range. Even when you nab long range subweapons, you might find melee combat preferable. Sure, firing a homing shot like Comet or rattling off a round of rapid-fire projectiles like Phalanx might seem cool at first, but you'll find that most subweapons are useless in comparison to Jehuty's vicious blade.
Honestly, there isn't much more to this game than combat. You rush from one cityscape to another, mercilessly hacking up all three different opponents with ease while completing menial tasks, sitting through cutscenes rife with whining and basic philosophy, and occasionally taking out a massive boss. At no point does ZOE stray from this structure. You essentially fight the same battle a few dozen times over, only switching up your strategy a couple times to incorporate dodging (which amounts to mashing 'Square' while occasionally pressing 'R2+Triangle or X').
I will say in favor of the combat, though, that it's nice to play a mech game that doesn't require you to acquaint yourself with wonky mechanics or memorize a complex control scheme. With a few button presses, you can dance around opponents while delivering punishing slashes, nail them with a charged melee attack, then retreat into long range and finish one or two of them off with a charged energy ball. Not that flashy action adds much substance to the game, but it sure is awesome to behold.
While this makes for a repetitive experience, it also provides a little catharsis. I don't know about any of you readers, but some days I like to blow off some steam with a mindless action game. I just turn my brain off and mash, baby mash. That's precisely what ZOE was made for, as it provides a quick fix for rudimentary action. Ultimately, though, it's a forgettable game that wouldn't be worth a damn were it not for its superior sequel.
What's tough as nails, addictive as hell, and blows it predecessor violently out of the water? If you said ZOE2, then grab yourself a cookie. I was skeptical about this game at first, thinking that it would be an unfortunate case of "more of the same syndrome." However, I gleefully tossed that expectation out the window as hundreds of miniature adversaries glided towards me. With a charge attack, I fired myriad homing lasers and blew them out of the sky. It was a fantastic way to kick off the game, and let me tell you, it continued to impress me the entire way.
Once again you engage in the same combat, but with improved opponent AI. Enemies no longer wait their to turn to be slaughtered, but ban together and attack you from all angles. If you're not careful, you could be cornered, overwhelmed, busted up, and reduced to a smoldering pile of ash and scrap metal. In other words, fighting off foes is not a matter of mashing them to death this time around. Sure, your melee attacks dish out more damage than anything else in your arsenal, but combo attacks also leave you horribly vulnerable.
This is where the developers put right one of the errors committed in the original game by improving long range combat. Your ordinary energy bullets, for example, are no longer weak blasts that accomplish little to nothing. In fact, you'll find yourself shooting more often than slashing, and carefully dashing around opponents rather than holding still. Bear in mind that this doesn't rule out the energy blade, as it does come quite handy when you can find an opening.
Remember the subweapons from the last game? (I know you can't, because they were awfully forgettable, but try.) They reemerge in ZOE2, also revamped and actually useful this time around. One of my favorites is Gauntlet, which acts like a shotgun. It nails enemies for a decent amount of damage, blowing them backwards with a sickening BOOM and causing additional damage if they hit walls or obstructions. I'm also a huge fan of the Homing Missile, which fires multiple explosive homers that devastate everything they touch. The number of missiles you launch depends on how long you hold the fire button.
Of all the improvements featured in ZOE2, the most significant one is mission variety. No longer are you confined to robo-brawling through bare bones cityscapes. This game shoves you into a well-guarded canyon where you fight off a horde of foes while avoiding cannon blasts. A little after that, you'll defend a city from spider-like adversaries while stunning allies so they don't accidentally kill innocent civilians. You'll also fight a boss while partially blind, using ADA's voice to guide you through the battle. One of my favorite segments, even though it annoyed the hell out of me, involved decimating an armada of warships. To achieve this, I had to contend with opposing Orbital Frames, disable bow-mounted laser turrets, avoid crippling energy cannon blasts, and finally annihilate each ship's engine with a subweapon called "Vector Cannon." This attack was so powerful that it took around twenty or thirty seconds to charge, assuming I wasn't attacked in the process. As much as I ripped my hair out and swore at the screen playing this scene, I loved every bit of it. There was so much daring and danger, so much forming and executing plans that I was totally immersed in the game at that point.
In other words, if you need any reason to pick up this double-game collection, ZOE2 would be it.
There's always a "but," isn't there? As awesome as ZOE2 is, there are some complications with this collection.
One major issue that both critics and fans report is some nasty slowdown with ZOE2. Depending on which version of the collection you pickup--360 or PS3--you may experience this phenomenon and a few visual glitches at various points. The degree to which players have experienced this seems to vary. Some have reported lag during key battles, throwing off their timing, while others only noticed sluggish animation during the VR training segments. Personally, I only noticed slowdown during cutscenes.
Usually, I don't discuss my score in my reviews. It's kind of an unwritten rule for some critics, but I'm going to break that right now. My 8/10 reflects my own experience with the games, which was great. I'm not going to dock the collection points based on what I haven't experienced, as that would be intellectually dishonest. At the same time, I am going to warn you that your experience could differ based on whether or not the game's slowdown is noticeable or rampant.
If you already own the PS2 versions of these games (or at least ZOE2), then stick with those and don't bother with this bundle. Apart from slightly sharper visuals, there's nothing new in either game. It would be a waste of cash to purchase a game you already own, the stability of which is already guaranteed.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.