Featuring the original Zone Of The Enders (ZOE) and it’s sequel The 2nd Runner, this HD collection has much to prove given the way Konami’s Silent Hill HD restoration was widely criticised for being a bit of a shambles.
After viewing a nice but slightly over-indulgent anime intro movie, I booted up the original ZOE. The first thing to note is that following the plot is like untangling spaghetti, but all you really need to know is that the emotional core focuses on the bond between a young boy Leo and ADA, the operating system of Jehuty, the robot or ‘Frame’ he accidentally finds himself piloting as you make your way across a space colony orbiting Jupiter to defeat rogue Orbital Frames.
The narrative feel is clearly that of an anime, spliced with references to Egyptian mythology (bot names like Neith, Anubis) and a healthy dose of futureworld speak. It’s a nice blend of meanings, and it’s a little like Stargate for those who have seen that film/TV series.
Anyway, to the meat and bones (or steel and rivets should I say). Combat is the heart of the game and being so crucial, it’s pleasing that it feels immediate and involving, the switch between long and short range attacks being effortless. Add to that a lock-on and some evasive dash moves and you’ve got a system that makes engaging multiple enemies a near-tireless joy. Successfully guarding or evading an attack and dashing in for a close range strike is a great feeling and the intuitive controls haven’t dated a bit.
The music is also cleverly implemented, switching between subtle background ambiance while exploring to more pulsing, up-tempo beats when engaged in action. Konami have always been good at getting dynamic music into their games and ZOE is no exception.
All this action is now rendered in superb high definition gloss. As robots clash in what feels, brilliantly, like a graceful dance, the graphics work overtime to ramp up the spectacle. The backdrops are functional cityscapes but add to the sense of scale as a smaller enemy you’ve just thrown destroys an entire apartment block. Explosions go off with considerable aplomb and the combat actions are all clearly animated and well defined.
Also well defined is Jehuty and the games enemies, both taking inspiration from the natural world. For this we have Yoji Shinkawa (the man behind Metal Gear Solid’s Mechs) to thank. Their design is the most impressive visual thing about the game. By making clear and striking visual choices the team behind ZOE has produced a game which transcends it’s PS2 era and remains fresh and vital. In short; it’s still beautiful after all these years.
That is not to say it is without flaws. The combat system isn’t really linked to a progression tree of any merit and these days that’s an almost essential part of player and character development. Another problem is that you’ll often find yourself backtracking in order to acquire the next program for Jehuty. This laborious process means plenty of combat, but with no real sense of why you’re performing these actions, other than to drive the aforementioned tangle of plot along. Anyone who remembers backtracking for the sniper rifle in Metal Gear Solid 1 will know the feeling.
ZOE feels like an interesting trial run and a flawed gem. But The 2nd Runner feels like an expansion on the first game and a real under-appreciated classic.
The obvious graphical improvements are there (if anything it looks even more pretty) and the normal tweaks you’d expect from a sequel are in place. What really shines is the addition of a plot that takes in themes more mature in nature. Add to this a visual style that now includes more spectacular backgrounds (the snowbound opener is brilliant) and you have all the components of a bone fide stunner. It’s just a shame that the game isn’t longer as I’d love to see more.
Combat feels more frenetic but is much the same, the controls wisely remaining similar. The crucial difference being that, having realised the success of the evasive dodges in the first game the developers have given the player more reasons to use this, actually turning it’s combat into a more thoughtful slice of action.
The original visuals in the two games are splendid, so with the HD polish, removal of jaggies and ensuring the frame rate keeps the action flying along without any hiccups, means this HD collection is well worth looking at. Konami have more than redeemed themselves with the tasteful and craftsman-like way they have handled this HD re-spray for a great series.
To sum up
All in all then, you have a package which includes a flawed diamond of a game and a flawless gem of a release. Although there is no additional content, bar a demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, this collection may not be worth your money if you have the original versions of the game. Otherwise you have a comprehensive package, featuring games that deserve as wide an audience as possible. It seems churlish, therefore, to point out the short playtime in each game. But the world needs games like these. Games that head off down their own path past the well-worn tracks of others. Which might seem a surprising thing to say about a game featuring big robots fighting each other. But then again the charming ZOE series is capable of surprising, if you give it a chance.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360