is a first and third-person shooter that takes place during the third Robotech series, known as New Generation in the States and Genesis Climber Mospeada in Japan. The original Americanized cartoon chronicled the adventures of Scott Bernard and his crew as they fought the monstrous Invid for control of the Earth. There was Lancer, who disguised himself as a female singer named Yellow Dancer to gain entry into backward towns that pledged their allegiance to the Invid (whoops). Then there was Rand the vagrant, Rook the sensible, Sera the Invid princess, Lunk the pacifist, Marlene the Invid spy with amnesia, and Annie the ultra annoying kid who never seemed to die. With two actual Invids in their ranks, a cross-dressing singer, a giant sissy, and a little girl, you'd think Scott's army of resistance fighters would be completely outmatched and outclassed. It may look like a sad squad, but Rook, Rand, Scott, and Lancer took care of business using a variety of Alphas and REF cyclones (cool mechas).
Their mission was to prance across the Earth attempting to rid the planet of the alien Invid that planned on continually colonizing our world, for they thrived on the flower of life -- the protoculture upon which human society had learned to depend upon. Scott's goal was to survive and to destroy their centralized hive, the Reflex Point. Invasion tells this story, only not from those perspectives. While it throws out the occasional nod to Robotech mainstays, it focuses on an original cast.
Players assume the identity of Locke. In actuality, Locke was once an unnamed REF pilot who found himself kidnapped by the Invid during the initial Expeditionary Force assault to retake the planet. Four years later he awoke with no memory of his previous life. He just fell from the sky, the other resistance fighters claimed. Now he gets blurry vision and hears a lot of voices in his head, but his opposable thumbs are apparently good enough for the resistance, who are quick to give him a cyclone. And on the cyclone he'll stay.
Invasion is all about Cyclone action, which offers on-foot and motorcycle play modes. The on-foot gunning is fairly straightforward, and remains best played from the first-person, even if it does come plagued by some incessant head-bobbing. What I find most pleasing about the on-foot action is the targeting system. The game plays like a typical first-person shooter, where one analog stick is bound to movement and the other to free-looking, but when it comes time to aim for that soft Invid eye and get a quick takedown, it's possible to snap the camera onto the enemy, where it'll automatically track. This frees up the analog stick normally assigned to handle free-look. Since the game is tracking the enemy for you, your free-look stick now becomes a sort of critical aim, confined by the size of the enemy's bounding box. This system works fantastically and makes pinpointing specific areas of any enemy a breeze. It does only work on protoculture using troops, so actual humans can't be locked onto, but since Invasion still uses the standard first-person shooting control scheme, it's easy to plow through just about anything, regardless. More games with broken controls need to look at how Robotech handles things.
If only the same kind of ingenuity were applied to motorcycle behavior. When in cycle mode, the game immediately switches from an otherwise tight first-person shooter to a loose, clunky, and absurdly balanced motorcycle...er...thing that is neither precise, nor fast. Curbs cause you to sail through the air and turning is twitchy and feels more like some kind of awful hover bike than a motorcycle attached to the ground. Moreover, there's little benefit to rapidly switching between the two modes to gain an advantage on the enemy since the switch to motorcycle mode is somewhat slow in terms of gameplay time, and the only benefits the bike offers are extraordinarily weak missiles that rarely hit their targets, save for in multiplayer where they do not need to hit to be lethal. In fact, the general feeling of being in control of one of these amazing cyclones isn't that great. The limited flight function feels more like a weak double jump and all the swirling missiles and advanced acrobatics of the cartoon are totally lost. This is perhaps the biggest problem with Invasion: It just doesn't feel cool like Robotech -- like a game about cyclones. When Invid shocktroops are barreling down on my position and I'm double-jumping to avoid their swipes while simultaneously trying to nail one in the eye, it can be fun. But, since the AI is daft and easily confused (as it seems to carelessly spin around in circles from time-to-time), I get the impression that hollow toys powered by AA batteries are halfheartedly stepping toward me. I'm not afraid. In fact, I don't even care. Even if they weren't thin sheets of plastic, I still can't ever really unleash my cyclone power, so what does it matter? I guess I'll just continue stepping to the right and holding down the trigger. Whee.
This disjointed sense of being is pervasive. One moment you're shooting, the next you're haphazardly falling off your cyclone. From beginning to end, it doesn't feel right. The motorcycle clunks around, the big pieces of plastic come sauntering past, and the war seems laughable.
Invasion also isn't the prettiest game around (angular models and environments, fairly short draw distances, and some underwhelming effects). Still, it does offer a lot of on-screen action at any given time, and it offers it consistently. In fact, this game is amazingly designed in such a way so that there is rarely, if ever, a segment of loading. Only where the environments change dramatically do we have to stop and wait for one breath to continue. It's very well done. The levels also offer a disparate set of challenges, from tight interiors, to crumbling cities, to the pulsing Invid hives, to rotted freeway systems. There's definitely a lot to see and hear.
The music comes from Jesper Kyd, who must have been responsible for at least eight games since 1999, and it's pretty good Robotech stuff. The old music fits superbly with a variety of original tracks. Naturally, the voices need work. Hey Guppy! Do us a favor and kill yourself. Sound good, sweetheart?
Don't worry, she doesn't ruin the game and can't ever infect the online play, which works solidly given our time on the Xbox and PS2. Unfortunately, actually finding games to play, especially on PlayStation 2, is next to impossible. For the past week I've logged on consistently and never found more than two or three active games (usually empty ones, too). But it seems to work well, if and when I did happen to find a server to play on. The different modes are all passably enjoyable, especially when more advanced stop-spin and launching cyclone maneuvers are used, but the eight-player gaming feels a bit restricting, especially considering the size of some of the maps.
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