Robotech: Invasion Review
If you have ever (and I do mean 'ever') played another first-person shooter, you should be able to dive right into Robotech: Invasion. The analog sticks let you walk around and aim, and the various controller buttons let you jump, toss grenades, toggle a sniper sight, perform a close-up melee attack, and switch between primary and secondary weapons. The controls are very reminiscent of Bungie's Halo, right down to the ability to chuck grenades and pick up dropped weapons. In a much appreciated nod to Nintendo's Metroid Prime, you can also hold down the L1 button to activate a lock-on sight, which makes it easier to maintain aim on the insect-like Invid enemies. Even with the lock-on sight activated, you can still fine-tune your aim, which is nice since head-shots tend to bring down the Invid faster than body-shots do. In all, there are probably a dozen unique enemies--mostly Invid scouts, shock troopers, and pincers, although you'll also run across human bandits and big boss baddies here and there. CPU A.I. is generally good. By the time you're about a third of the way through the single-player campaign, they'll be ducking out of the way and taking pot shots at you from behind outcroppings and stacks of crates.
For the most part, the level designs in the single-player mode are interesting. Settings include open deserts, bombed out cities, cramped tunnels, fortified outposts, wet sewers, the innards of space ships, and so on. You'll find plenty of structures to explore and hide behind, and there are a few non-taxing switch-based door and elevator "puzzles" here and there. Passing through a checkpoint tends to unleash the next wave of enemies, but certain checkpoints also cause scripted events to occur that move the story along. One particularly nice thing about how the story unfolds is that your main weapon, a Protoculture-powered handgun, is automatically upgraded every few levels. By the time the final battle comes, it's a tricked-out rifle that packs the punch of a missile launcher.
Despite the game's decent FPS chops, fighting the Invid becomes a boring, repetitive chore after a while. First off, they're ugly mothers, but have all the personality of a rock. If we learned anything from games like Halo, it's that we enjoy the way that Elites get angry before coming after the Master Chief and we really love watching Grunts scurry around while we unload with a plasma rifle in their direction. The Invid just don't react. As a result, there isn't much thrill-reward gained from blowing them away. The other drawback to combat, at least in the single-player campaign, is you can actually predict when you're going to be ambushed. The first couple times it happens, it's a surprise, but real quickly you learn to run for cover with guns blazing whenever you pass through a door or into a clearing.
Another thing going against Invasion is that it's based upon the third installment of the Robotech animated series, Robotech: The New Generation, which was thrown together from a totally-unrelated Japanese animated series called Genesis Climber Mospeada. Now, I'm not going to make you read 2,000 words in order to find out why the insect-like Invid invaded Earth right after the Robotech Masters left and I'm not going to explain every nook and cranny of the game's story to you. The developers did an excellent job of tying the game into the TV show through a series of character cameos and shared events. The story is fine. Unfortunately, basing the game on New Generation means that the armored suits the resistance fighters wear don't transform from robots into airplanes like the Veritechs in Robotech: Battlecry (previous game, from TDK Mediactive) did. Instead, their suits transform into motorcycles that don't have much in the way of offensive capabilities.
The folks at Vicious Cycle have faithfully incorporated the motorcycle aspect of the "Cyclone" armor--for better and for worse. By tapping the triangle button, you can transform into bike mode and drive fast. That's it. While the Veritech fighters in Robotech: Battlecry could do barrel rolls and launch volleys of missiles, the Cyclone bikes in Robotech: Invasion can merely take you from point A to point B. That's all they can do. The Cyclones were a let down in the TV show because they were so boring, and they're a let down in the video game for the same reason.
It seems like all of the flaws and shortcomings in Robotech: Invasion are of a subjective nature. Robotech: Battlecry fed off the nostalgia from the TV show it was based on by using a cel-shaded look that matched the TV show's look, and by incorporating series-reminiscent music and voice work that further strengthened the bonds between the show and the game. Those of you that liked those things about Robotech: Battlecry may not like that Invasion uses a gritty graphical style that makes the game look more realistic than cartoon-like, or that its music (although wonderfully composed) rarely incorporates the familiar fanfare or themes that fans know and recognize.
Visually speaking, the PS2 handles the large environments, the dozens of on-screen enemies, and all of the miscellaneous gunfire fairly well. Unfortunately, going the "standard" route means it's much easier to notice the weaker points of the PS2's 3D capabilities. Specifically, the textures are horrific and the character models are blocky. Things like the Invids' heads, humans' helmets, and the wheels on the Cyclone armor, which ought to appear perfectly round, look noticeably angular. Still, rough graphics aside, those obviously are the Invid and those obviously are fighters dressed in Cyclone armor. You don't have to tax your imagination to realize that Robotech: Invasion brings the world of Robotech: The New Generation to life.
Let's assume that you're still interested in Robotech: Invasion even after hearing about how lifeless the Invid are, how weak the Cyclone concept is, and how the game doesn't try to mimic too closely the sights and sound of the cartoon it's based on. At $20 MSRP, it's worth the "risk" so long as you remotely care about Robotech and are curious to find out how the whole thing ends. The single-player campaign clocks in at about 8 hours to complete all 15 missions, and the game also includes LAN and Internet modes that allow deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and protoculture hogging games for up to 8 human players.
(I tried for days to find someone else logged on to play with, and never found a soul, but perhaps your mileage may vary.)
11/1/2004 Frank Provo