We recently had a chance to sit down with a pre-production copy of Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam, and we were pretty happy with what we saw.
The game's story is set seven years after the One Year War. The Earth Federation, which won the war, has become corrupt, and its Titans police force has become a dictatorship. Now, the Anti-Earth Union Group and the formerly villainous Axis coalition find themselves on the same side in this new conflict. At the center of it all is a new hero, Kamille Bidan, who is the pilot of the mysterious transforming Gundam known as Zeta Gundam. Basically, the story is an excuse to pack nearly 50 different Gundams from multiple Gundam TV series and games into one single game.
You'll find mobile suits and mobile armor here from Mobile Suit Gundam, G-Gundam, and Zeta Gundam, along with a few stragglers from other installments of the anime. Those of you that have played the many video games based on those series will recognize 'bots from the Federation Vs. Zeon, One Year War, and Z: AEUG Vs. Titans games. So, in a manner of speaking, this new game contains everything those games had... and more.
Typically, robot fighting games come in two flavors, those that favor mission-based multi-opponent combat and those that favor 1-on-1 arena battles. Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam shakes up the paradigm by putting players into 2-on-2 battles. That's right--you've got a CPU-controlled partner helping you to take on two CPU-controlled opponents. This setup also makes multiplayer play interesting, because a second player can join you on your team, or opt to stand against you with his own CPU-controlled ally.
The main menu offers a multitude of play modes, include arcade, vs., universal century (story), survival, and training. The arcade and vs. modes, as you'd expect, let you compete against computer-controlled or live opponents in standard 2-on-2 fights. The universal century mode is a story style mode that lets you pick a particular pilot and try to change his or her history for the better. Matches in the U.C. mode are also 2-on-2, but the game doles out specific objectives that you have to achieve in order to earn a victory. We were very surprised, for example, when one objective told us to keep one of the enemy's mobile suits alive while knocking out its partner and subsequent replacements.
Fans of slow-paced, simulation style robot combat games probably won't like how Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam works. Fans of fast-paced, arcade style games like Zone of the Enders and Virtual On, on the other hand, will probably eat this game up. In fact, we noticed a lot of similarities between Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam and those two. Health, for instance, is represented in battle gauges at the top of the screen. In order to win, you have to damage the CPU until its combined battle gauge drops to zero. The controls are laid out so that you can jump, fly, and dash (on the ground or in the air) just by pressing a single button or double-tapping a direction on the analog stick. Each mobile suit's projectile and melee weapon is mapped to an individual button. You can perform special attacks by holding down the shoulder buttons, or lock-on using the circle button. Like the battles in Konami's Z.O.E., the fights in Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam play out like cinematic dogfights, since all four mobile suits are constantly in motion. We're glad that the game has a lock-on button, because it's often tough to aim while dodging a volley of missiles.
Graphically, the game looks just about as good as a PS2 game can look. There's a great deal happening during each fight, what with missiles and lasers constantly flying by and the camera constantly changing position, but the game never stutters or slows down. From the handful of fights we managed to play, we noticed that the major share of polygons went into the mobile suits. They look gritty and dirty, but also exhibit a massive amount of detail--right down to moving parts like ankle joints, thruster cones, and wings. The environments, by comparison, aren't as intricate, but they are rather large. Many are populated with destructible objects, including enemy gun turrets, mobile armor, and space cruisers. Although roughly two-thirds of the game's 40+ stages are ground-based or located in areas with gravity, some are set in the vacuum of space or in underwater environments.
We'll have to put in more time with the retail version of the game before weighing in with any final judgements, but, so far, we get the impression that Christmas is coming in June for Gundam fans.
6/21/2005 Frank Provo