IGN Review of Dynasty Warriors: GUNDAM
Grab your laser swords and ridiculously over-sized shields, kids - Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is upon us now. Another title published by Namco Bandai and Koei, and developed by Omega Force, this science fiction action game follows in the footsteps of previous Dynasty Warriors games; just replace the ancient warriors with giant, interstellar robots. So hang on tight... Gundam, launch!
Actually, before we get started, we think it would be appropriate to establish a few important points for your consideration. First and foremost: if you love the Dynasty Warriors series and you love the Gundam universe, you might as well get the game. You don't even have to finish reading this review, actually. Check out
Warhawk or something, instead. On the other hand, if you really love either Dynasty Warriors or Gundam, think about renting this one and maybe you'll get a kick out of it. If you really don't like either of them, or perhaps (like several people in our office) you have a blood-curdling hatred of them both, then avoid this like a plague.
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is a straight-forward action game that puts you in control of a single Mobile Suit (a.k.a. a giant robot) aligned with one of several different factions / military powers. More specifically, you pick a pilot first, and then a Mobile Suit. Generally speaking, you run around and cut through literally hundreds of enemy Mobile Suits in an attempt to win area "Fields" - locations on a map that can be captured by your team or your opponent's. After destroying the opposing forces and taking down the enemy officers, you move on to your next mission, each mission being separated by either a brief cinematic sequence or a spoken exposition. The game follows this formula quite strictly and continues on in this fashion for just about the entirety of its course. If anyone's looking for a radical departure from these hack-n'-slash style mechanics, you're going to be disappointed. This is extremely standard fare, and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is in no way redefining the genre or awakening the latent power of the Warriors/Gundam universe(s).
However, this game has a somewhat odd setup that we should mention before diving into the finer details. When you launch the game, you have the option of selecting Official Mode, Original Mode, Versus Mode, Gallery or Options. Here's where things can get a little confusing, because there's virtually no context for any of these modes of play that orient the player in the experience. Although the game does provide you with short, one-line descriptions for each mode, they're lacking at best. From what we understand, selecting one of three initial characters in Official Mode lets you play through missions that are rooted in actual Gundam canon from some of the much older series. For example, you can play through famous conflicts between the Zeon and the Federation that actually took place in the anime, though the developers may have taken creative license with the narrative elements. Unfortunately, there's really no summary or prologue to any of this, so the missions just sort of start with dozens of characters bickering and shouting at one another about things that you may have never heard of before, unless you've followed the original Gundam series.
This brings us to one of the more crucial points we should stress to you: if you want a solid story out of this experience, than you have to have some familiarity with Gundam, or with anime, in general. A more intimate knowledge is better, and hardcore fandom is probably for the best. Even with our understanding of the overall thematic and emotional elements of the Gundam universe, we still had one hell of a time trying to follow what was happening in Official Mode. And then, of course, there's Original Mode also. This can get even more confusing, since this particular set of stories is entirely unique to Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, and entails a strange planet, appearing from beyond "time and space," that heads ominously towards the Earth. Heroes from all throughout Gundam's history take part in these stories, and interact as if this were one giant, inter-dimensional, time-bending fraternity mixer. We found that it was a little easier to start with the Official Mode, since the alternative involved the shattering of time and space, and that crap can confuse just about anybody!
You can play any of these various stories with a friend, splitting the screen down the middle so each of you take on the role of a different pilot and Mobile Suit, or you can engage in some happy-go-lucky deathmatches. But be warned: the multiplayer modes are terrible. The only respectable mode to try is the co-op. If you were hoping to get some fun, competitive action going, please see elsewhere. A severely limited number of boring arenas and lame multiplayer parameters leave a lot to be desired here.
So let's talk about how these massive war machines control. If you're going with the default setup, you can melee attack with square, charge attack with triangle, execute a special attack with circle and boost with X. You can also guard with L1 and jump with R1, but you won't ever jump. In fact, during our entire time with the game, we only had to jump once. Anyway, those are the important buttons, and you simply move with the left stick and rotate the camera with the right. Very standard, very simple. This game actually functions well if you want to immediately start killing robots, since there isn't much else to learn besides what we just told you.
The true problem, as you may have predicted, comes from the core gameplay. Yes, it's exciting to swing your laser sword in magnificent, sweeping combos and chew through a horde of invading enemies, but as soon as you realize how terrible, how atrocious the AI is in this game, you'll start feeling a little depressed. We purposefully allowed ourselves to be surrounded by about twenty to thirty enemies in a small enclosed area. We stood there and awaited the coming onslaught of attacks that would surely result from such a situation. It never came. You may get shot by a single stray bullet, or perhaps one enemy unit will swing its sword at you (you go get 'em, tiger!), but most of the time, they just stand there. Standing. Waiting. Watching. And it's this particular flaw that makes Dynasty Warriors: Gundam suffer so, on top of the incredibly bland environments and embarrassing pop-in.
However, as much as we hate to admit it, there are some fun things about the game that make it more enjoyable than other button-mashers of its type. Working vigorously to control the level's Fields can be thrilling (you know, since your teammates don't do anything), and you have to go out of your way a lot to protect your battleships and fellow officers. In order to take an enemy field, you simply destroy as many enemies as possible within the Field's glowing perimeter and then defeat any last-line guards that may appear afterwards. Once the enemy Field falls, it will be reclaimed for your team, and strengthen your surrounding Fields, while weakening the Fields of your opponents. These sorts of strategic elements, while present in previous Dynasty Warriors games, still add a little something more to the otherwise generic (yet somewhat simplistically enjoyable) combat.
One of the game's greatest strengths, however, is also its greatest weakness. Gundam is, among other things, known for presenting serious moral issues to the viewer to deepen the value and raw power of the combat being displayed on screen. There were moments in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam were it almost felt like we were participating in such a galactic conflict, that would decide the fate of countless, innocent people; a conflict that was waged by an emotional, war-ravaged group of young pilots that struggled with the notions of death and justice. Unfortunately, the gameplay problems and poor AI take away from this experience, and we couldn't enjoy the trauma-ridden dialogue that was trying to be presented to us. For example, one of the first pilots we played as, Kamille Bidan, mentions before his first mission that he met one of his current enemies back during high school. This simple moment glowed with nostalgia, and invoked images of a soldier before his innocence was taken away from him. Yet despite the weight of such a touching story, we never hear about his past again. Sigh. If only the game more fully capitalized on the power and emotion of the pilots, we might have had a much more gripping story to enjoy.
We'd like to mention one final point to those that are still interested in this game: this is old school Gundam. Although some newer characters are present during the Original missions, most of the game is dominated by the characters, plots and stylistic themes of traditional Gundam anime, which can be quite shocking for recent fans of anime who are more accustomed to modern works. On top of that, most of the game's dialogue is presented by showing a still picture of the character and having only their lips move to talk. Nothing else. No animated cutscenes, no fully-rendered character models. Nothing. Whether or not this is a result of laziness on the part of the developer or a directorial choice is irrelevant. You need to have an old school mentality when approaching this game, or else you will laugh at it.
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