IGN Review of Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire
Most geeks love big robots. Like pizza and ice cream, it's just one of those things. Which makes it really sad when a videogame about giant robots ends up not playing well. Or worse, not play well and not look great. Because if it's one thing imaginary machinery needs to do, is look downright badass. Just look at Transformers, for instance. But when it comes to the obscenely popular Gundam franchise, developers have failed repeatedly to conjure an experience worthy of the name.
The first Gundam game for the PS3 keeps the unfortunate tradition alive. Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire lacks just about everything required of a cool robot game. It doesn't play well, for starters, but it also doesn't look very good. It takes a handful of concepts from older mecha titles and tries to make the Gundam experience deeper than in times past - but fails. It also takes a more realistic approach to robotic warfare, so combat chugs along slowly. Throw in shoddy game mechanics and a severe lack of style and presentation, and what remains is just painful to behold.
With a little bit of time - a year or two - the game could have done something great. It has all the right parts, namely building-sized robots with guns and an interstellar conflict, but damn if the pieces don't gel together. Worse, each aspect, from the combat to the story, simply fails to excite much at all. The story, which serves as a backdrop for all the destruction, has a severe lack of drama. Not just that, it doesn't make that much sense from a narrative standpoint. Players just know there's this war going on, and that each side has big ol' robots, but it never affects gameplay in any way. Instead, the struggle between the Earth Federation Forces and the Principality of Zeon Army is a shallow string of engagements.
The biggest offender by far is combat - the one aspect that really needed to work. The problems stem from multiple directions, but the first worth discussing is the framerate. Holy Moses, is this game slow. At times it feels like watching a Gundam slideshow. And no, that is unfortunately not a joke of any kind. About the only time the game runs decently is when the environments lack detail of any kind - trees, buildings and rivers. And this rarely happens. Not that the locales in Crossfire appear overly complex, in fact they all look rather simple. But this doesn't stop the game from running poorly most of the time. Heaven forbid more than one mobile suit appear at the same time - in the middle of structures - because then it's curtains. The game just about dies.
That aside, blasting things isn't much fun, either. Gundam uses a mix of ranged and melee combat, but they both lack refinement. Players can lock on to enemies by tapping the left shoulder button and then fire using the face buttons. This part actually works ok. Actually having to move around the environment and shoot stuff doesn't. Enemies will use thrusters to blast away when shot, which is fine strategy, but the controls are so awkward that it's hard to zone in on them again. Of course, enemy units don't have to struggle with an odd camera and controls, not to mention shameful framerate, so they can blast players with precision from great distances. Panning the camera to find targets, especially when engaging more than one, is laborious and frustrating.
Slashing at targets with melee weapons is devastatingly effective. It works so well, in fact, that at times it negates the use of any other weapon. Why get shot in the face while circle strafing when a simple beheading will take any enemy down in seconds? Use it too much and enemies will eventually choose to keep their distance, but for the most part, they seem content to lose limbs at an alarming rate.
Here's something that's mildly entertaining. It's possible to buy new mobile suits and upgrade their defensive and offensive capabilities. Within the first handful of missions, players will accrue a hangar full mobile suits. Players can hire pilots in between missions, as well as repair damage incurred while fighting. There's also the option to purchase new weapons and an advanced suits. Since the game actually progresses in turns, players need to juggle the repair and modification of hardware. Crossfire usually grants enough time in between turns, so it's usually not a problem. But if someone messes up and takes too long, it's possible to miss assignments. This translates to a lack of funds and experience, which can hurt later down the road.
The missions themselves offer little variety. Regardless of the objective, it rarely deviates from simply destroying everything in sight. The only change is cosmetic - as certain missions take place in jungle, while others in barren wastelands. There's little chance to use the environment to any kind of advantage, even though Crossfire once made a big deal about its destructible buildings that adhered to real-world physics. Missions lack the depth and satisfaction of far older mecha games. Placed next to something like MechWarrior 2 - the pinnacle of the genre - Crossfire simply doesn't cut it. It would have been nice to have dynamic missions, or at least branching pathways, but gamers get none of it.
Gameplay aside, Crossfire looks like a work-in-progress. It does next to nothing to demonstrate the power of the PS3. Some of the texture work on the mobile suits looks decent, but damn, everything else is PS2 quality or below. The water effects will make an HD TV set cry. The ground textures and explosion effects look bad enough to make eyes vomit. The menus and interface fare about the same. It all looks terrible. Everything from the text to the mission briefing graphics cry for polish and a dash -- just a dash -- of style. But they don't get any.
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