Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Review
The Dynasty Warriors franchise is still going strong, and for the most part, those games are generally very entertaining and solidly produced. On the other hand, Gundam hasn't faired nearly as well in regards to review scores, and there's a darn good reason for that: they typically suck. So what happens when you combine the two series? Well, we were hoping the accomplishment and entertainment factor of one would override the sluggish, horrid controls of the other, and in truth, that almost happened. Almost. Dynasty Warriors: Gundam really does blend the two concepts together so avid followers of both franchises will spot familiar aspects of the gameplay. Believe it or not, you're looking at the best video game we've ever played with the name "Gundam" in the title. ...but remember, that's not exactly saying much. You may recall the absolute disaster that was Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire; it remains the worst game on the PS3, by a long shot.
Unfortunately, this one is hardly what we'd call a top-notch graphical presentation, but at least the game looks halfway decent. There isn't a whole lot of detail and there are several clipping errors, but at least there's solid consistency and a few well-produced cut-scenes. There just isn't enough variety in terms of mechs and environments, which makes the game feel extraordinarily repetitive, but it does look a lot like any Dynasty Warriors title. There are plenty of wide-open maps (despite being ridiculously bland), a lot of units on screen at once at just about all times, and fans of this particular style (anime fused with average visual production) should come away satisfied. However, it's not anywhere near as flashy as it should be, especially considering the fast-paced structure, and without enough variety, most players will be bored with the graphics by the third mission. There's more to like than we initially expected, but again, that's not exactly a groundbreaking achievement. There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of effort, here.
Essentially, this same diagnosis gets applied to the sound. The voice acting is mediocre, the soundtrack is generic and never even remotely engaging, and the sound effects are good but don't emphasize the action the way they should. It's as if the developers took both the graphics and sound from recent Dynasty Warriors titles and knocked the overall quality down a couple notches for DWG. On the other hand, we'll assume the voice acting isn't much better than the Gundam television show, anyway, and we didn't have very high expectations for the soundtrack. How many times can they recycle the same lame hard rock track for battle? And if the characters were going to have little battle exclamations, couldn't we have had more than one? Yeah, there's some consistency and acceptable implementation in battle, but that's nothing to really crow about (even if is better than Crossfire). This generation has already provided us with some exquisite sound, too, so the contrast is even more evident.
But hey, as always, a great gameplay mechanic can easily counteract lackluster technicals, as everybody knows. On the other hand, any Gundam game has normally suffered badly in this department, and if this one turned out equally atrocious, there'd be no hope. Oddly enough, though, the gameplay very nearly turns everything around and ends up giving the player a worthwhile experience. No, really. We've finally got some hectic action and we can finally control it, which was such a revelation, we were almost taken aback when we first started playing. That is, until we realized it wasn't downright terrible; it was just playable, which is what most games are. But the fact remains: this is the first Gundam title we were able to play for several hours without it being an exercise in pure torture. Forcing our way through Crossfire was akin to laying there during open-heart operation without anesthesia.
You'll notice you have three gameplay options right off the bat: Official, where you play missions based on the official Gundam series, Original, where you go through missions based around a mysterious planet, and Versus, where there are three more game types awaiting you. Players have the option of trying the Normal Match (standard 1-on-1), the Warriors Match (weapon abilities can be acquired), and the Shotdown Contest (defend a field against an enemy onslaught). In addition to this, you have the now-traditional Gallery and Options selections on the main menu, so at first, it appears there's a lot more here than you might've anticipated. But once you start toying around with the different modes, you'll come to that ol' familiar disheartening realization that, "damn...these modes are all pretty much the same." Yeah, you'll be in different environments between Original and Official mode, but what you actually do in each mode is virtually identical, and only Versus provides even a small change from the battle norm.
And it doesn't help that the gameplay itself rarely changes. Ironically enough, there are dozens - perhaps even hundreds - of customization options to unlock for your mobile suit, and there are all kinds of cool pick-ups on the battlefield. But for whatever reason, almost none of this significantly alters how we play the game, which is as follows: charge into a group of enemies and lay the smackdown over and over and over and over. You do have combination attacks, but you'll soon find that a select few work best and you can just abuse them throughout every mission. The mission-based structure shows us why "Dynasty Warriors" is in the title, because it's extremely similar to any one of those games. The only difference is there is less strategy - you basically just travel to different regions on the map and secure them - and there isn't anywhere near as much flash, depth, or challenge. Sure, DW was always repetitive, too, but Dynasty Warriors: Gundam takes "repetitive" to a whole new level.
You use the triangle button to fire a shot from whatever long-range weapon you have equipped, but that's mostly useless early on. You can boost jump (and you can even do it more than once), but there's not often a good reason to do that. Therefore, you spend 95% of your time dashing into a slew of enemy mobile suits and mashing a bunch of buttons in only a semi-coordinated fashion. The combos aren't hard to pull off, and very few enemies provide any sort of difficulty, so factoring all this in, every new mission feels almost exactly like the last. But still, we have to say it's pretty fun for a while. Beating on legions of baddies is exactly what we were looking for, and even though the control isn't as responsive as we would've liked, it's still a solid combat interface. We just wish the AI wasn't so braindead: both allies and enemies will often stand around staring at each other until you take care of business on your own. This can get really frustrating (and even comical), but that doesn't mean it's a good thing.
We would, however, like to make one thing very clear- after the clunky, sluggish, and completely dreadful control we experienced in Crossfire, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is a breath of fresh air. We can actually move and attack relatively quickly at all times, and even though it's too easy and not anywhere near as refined as the better action games out there, it's still a step in the right direction. At this point, we'll take any positive we can get when it comes to a Gundam-based video game. We still don't understand the fascination with the storylines; perhaps it simply appeals to the Japanese culture, but nevertheless, the plot seems very basic and almost completely uninteresting. There's some okay interaction between a few of the main characters, but it all comes back to the battlefield. And it should. That's not a downfall, but when they attempt to give us a cohesive plot that's supposed to keep us intrigued in between all that fighting, we expect to see moderately effective storytelling, and we simply don't get that here. This may not be a problem for some gamers out there, and it really doesn't hurt this review too much, but it still needs to be mentioned.
In the end, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is fun for a little while, and its entertainment value is surprisingly acceptable. I realize we keep saying "surprising," but given previous installments in the Gundam series, you can understand where we're coming from. Thankfully, the new twist offered by the Dynasty Warriors franchise has made a positive impact, and even if it isn't anything special, it's still playable and accessible. No, we can't possibly recommend dumping $60 on this (there are far too many superior options out there), and even fans might be a touch disappointed, but at least it's not a train wreck. At least we're not sitting here, whining that we had to suffer through yet another awful title. DWG ain't awful, it's just not what we'd call "good." At the bare minimum, it's a game that won't annoy you to play.
Holy God, a Gundam game broke into the 6 range! Yes, it needed the help of Dynasty Warriors, but that doesn't change the fact. There's still hope for the future.
9/25/2007 Ben Dutka