Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner

Overview

In the early months of PlayStation 2, the original "Zone of the Enders" was hyped as being a game that could deliver the new types of experiences gamers had been hoping for with the new generation of consoles. The game was decent on its own merits, but it’s widely acknowledged that the included demo of Metal Gear Solid 2 ended up being the main draw of the package. A little over two years later, producer Hideo Kojima & company finally deliver a sequel that lives up to the promise of the original. ZOE 2 is not only an impressive technical feat, but one of the most action-packed games released in recent history.

Gameplay

As a space miner known as Dingo, you come across the derelict orbital frame Jehuty while under attack. After the initial battles that display Jehuty’s abilities and a plot twist that leaves you at the whim of one of your comrades, it’s your duty to take on an advanced militaristic force that has overthrown the democratic colonies of Mars and has remained unchecked for over a year.

The adventure that follows delivers some of the best action sequences you’ll see in a game. Helping you decimate hordes of enemies is a great control scheme and Jehuty’s range of abilities. Taking place in a full 3D world, you’ll have to engage in combat from every angle in direction. Every action needed is easily performed, and there are quite a few of them at your disposal.

Starting with standard projectile and "hack ’n slash" attacks, the improvement in combat performance will result both from sequenced upgrades and your own ability to master the nuances of battle. Some of the best moments come from stringing dozens of slash attacks together to destroy the dozen plus enemies in close proximity. You’ll also be able to grab opponents, using them as melee weapon, to deflect enemy fire, throwing them at surrounding areas to destroy them, and even throwing them at other foes to cause massive explosions. Making use of objects in the environment will also be quite crucial. You can use steel beams to perform a futuristic homerun derby with mechanical heads or to impale them by throwing it. Objects will also be required for defensive measures in certain situations. Making use of grids and steel plates to deflect their attacks or to penetrate a force field will all come into play.

A majority of the game will be straight-up action that will please fans of such blister-inducing hits as Devil May Cry or Dynasty Warriors 3. However, there are some varying missions to breakup the flow of the game. One instance will find Dingo using Jehuty to locate, protect, and escort an engineer throughout a space station. You’ll also have to infiltrate certain facilities, and help defend a colony city from a full-scale assault. Some caution is required as the damage you inflict the city and its structures can have negative repercussions. There is some nice variety, but overall ZOE2 is simply a marquee title for diehard action game fans. You’ll be able to finish in five to seven hours, but the multiplayer vs. mode and hidden features will keep you coming back for more.

Graphics

Characters, designs, and settings are often a matter of personal taste, but there is no disputing the fact that Zone of the Enders 2 is one the best looking, most technically advanced games on PlayStation. From the real-time intro in the snow to chaotic battles on Mars, ZOE2 barely gives your retinas a moment’s rest.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the developers behind Metal Gear Solid 2, one of the best looking games of this generation, are capable of delivering where many others have failed. ZOE2 sports terrific animation, meticulously detailed adversaries, and some of the best special effects yet seen in a game.

Early encounters will impress with the fast moving foes, great lighting, and cel-shaded explosions. Where the game really delivers are in the massive, full-scale battles against dozens of enemies. Skilled players will be able to light up the screen with exploding adversaries, while also inflicting damage to the surrounding environment. The sheer number of moving objects and amazing particle effects rival those of any game, regardless of platform.

Most impressive is the fact that a majority of the game moves at sixty frames per second. During some of the more chaotic sequences, such as destroying a train carrying enemies, there will be some noticeable slowdown. However, it is quite fortunate that this does absolutely nothing to hamper the game’s playability. The slight hiccups would not be as noticeable if the rest of the game was not so smooth.

The graphics also excel in terms of model design and animation. Jehuty, the orbital frame you control, looks incredible and moves brilliantly. Even subtle details can be noticed, such as the flexing of mechanical joints. Jehuty will also display outward physical signs of damage. Rather than the usual green light waves that streak through the frame while in good condition, red waves and sluggish movement will become visible. The enemy designs, particularly the bosses, are great. Each orbital frame has a unique design that almost gives the respective hunk of metal a personality. Anubis, the frame used by the protagonists arch enemy, looks like a fusion of futuristic weaponry and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Some of the interiors can seem a bit drab, but given the context of the game, it wouldn’t make sense to expect interior decorating on par with that of your living room. Simply put, ZOE2 looks great in screenshots and low-resolution video clips, but the game must be played and experienced in person to recognize its beauty. To see is to believe.

Fun Factor

As mentioned, ZOE2 genuinely delivers where its predecessor failed, and this includes both the initial enjoyment the game provides and its longevity. It certainly falls under the "short but sweet" category of games, but there is indeed a learning curve, and certain battles can be outrageously challenging on the higher difficulty levels.

The amount of unlockable challenges, mech variations, and characters to use in the vs. mode is also quite good. Longevity aside, an initial play through of ZOE2 is a terrific, sometimes awe-inspiring experience. It would not be out of the question to play through the game a second or third time just to experience certain massive battles or memorable boss encounters.

If longer titles only warrant a purchase from you, than the game should at least be given a rental. ZOE2 provides a visual and action-oriented experience that has no direct peer among recent games.

Overall

If you were the least bit interested in the hype surrounding the original ZOE but felt disappointed with the final product, than this game deserves your serious consideration. The same can be said for anyone who enjoys frantic action, rewarding learning curves, and a genuine challenge. The productions values and well animated cut scenes only help to round out a great package. All serious action game fans should play this.

Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com