November 8, 2012

Review – Zone of the Enders: HD Collection

Review Zone of the Enders HD Collection
Animation studio Sunrise lends some love to see this HD revisit for Zone of the Enders open with a fresh and lengthy montage for the robotic space opera. Stirring early anime memories is a sweet touch here, since Zone of the Enders aimed to create a videogame channeling that spirit when it first released for the PlayStation 2 back in 2001.

The added attention is also a promising touch, considering Konami hasn’t been entirely on the ball when it comes to HD revisits, contributing to an environment that leaves me hesitant to review any of them without the time and means to stress test and analyze the effort frame by frame.

But if the Silent Hill HD Collection left a bad taste in your mouth – and it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t – there’s relief to be had in the revelation that Zone of the Enders hasn’t aged all that badly considering that videogames age approximately ten times faster than most domesticated dogs, which perhaps aided the effort here.

Review Zone of the Enders HD Collection
The original Zone of the Enders still carries the burden of its release window, with 3D cut-scenes and pacing that proves a tad awkward, particularly compared to the sequel’s stylish animation sequences.

Given the distance of time and the tedious designs of the environments however, it’s surprising how good the player and enemy craft models look in Zone of the Enders. Players will find themselves confined to small play cages while taking first flight with their orbital frame, searching out items that easily stand out against the bland environments, but enemy units maneuver and shine much brighter than I remember.

Zone of the Enders is still dated further by awkward sequences that surely seemed spectacular during the launch of the PlayStation 2. But stepping out of the Kojima zone, where the horrific, humorous, and sometimes ridiculous all occur within a few moments, the oddity of the narrative helps offset the repetitive play to some degree, offering reasons to carry on through some simplistic play requirements and tasks.

Review Zone of the Enders HD Collection
That the game is accessible and playable seems like a ridiculous mark in the plus column, but given the age of the original title, that’s where I’m at it with it. If you’re coming purely for the gem of a sequel that is The 2nd Runner, it might be tempting to skip the original altogether, and play-wise you wouldn’t be missing a lot by doing so. But I’ll contend that it’s worth following characters through both releases and continue expressing relief that it’s not overly awkward doing so.

If you’re looking for evidence of dating however, both games offer a joyless tutorial that further reminds me of how much games have changed over a short period of time – your orbital frame brings up a menu that leaves you flipping through every available command while the game uses the slowest pacing and most words possible to explain without the charm of a codec. Though both games still bring a bizarrely hypnotic and atmospheric soundtrack to the table, so there’s that.

Review Zone of the Enders HD Collection
It isn’t lost on Konami that The 2nd Runner is the purchasing incentive for this collection – the 2003 release was certainly difficult to find on shelves and offers a quantum step-up from the original game. It was rather easy to dub the game unique at a time when cute platformers still ruled and the forward looking agenda was finding any means possible to cram a Halo-killer onto the PlayStation 2.

The 2nd Runner remains a success at capturing the essence of the anime it takes inspiration from, with melodramatic scenarios and characters, as well as a narrative focus that can feel awkward in just the right way at times. But the enduring energy of The 2nd Runner is the way in which it allows players to effortlessly move as if they were conducting an animation of their own design – again, at a time when plenty of games still left an awkward feeling whilst stumbling through evolving 3D worlds.

Review Zone of the Enders HD Collection
Piloting Jehuty, players can glide and boost through open spaces, targeting swarms of mosquito-like enemies and unleashing a barrage of missiles that, thankfully, doesn’t seem to find the frame rate left in tatters for the trouble. The combat options remain initially accessible but difficult to master, switching between long range lasers and intimate sword strikes – along with those delightful moments when you simply grab an enemy and swing them around before tossing them into their own ranks.

The 2nd Runner opens with a sequence that requires players to pilot the slowest clunky mech ever created, cleverly building anticipation and ensuring the ride in Jehuty feels like the greatest freedom of play imaginable.

Environments also offer a significant leap over the original game while searching to create new levels of destructible details, with more objects exploding during battle and pieces of the environment available as makeshift weaponry. And resisting the temptation of games even today to descend into mindless hack and slash, The 2nd Runner presents combat situations where attempting to mash your opponents continually leads back to the gameover screen.

Combat with your orbital frame requires learning the details of the dance, using long-range strikes to clear out nests of enemies before closing in to shield and strike stronger foes, who won’t wait for the game to develop very far at all before swarming players with devastating efficiency.

Review Zone of the Enders HD Collection
The HD endeavor holds together rather well under the threat of having the bolts shake apart with the demands on the frame rate underneath the action. There are more precise measurements of the effort for those seeking it, but on the Xbox 360 I haven’t encountered any bouts of excessive slowdown that really draw attention and invite controller throwing. The rather washed out original animation sequences caught my eye instead, particularly with the new animation that the collection opens with being as shiny as it is.

This isn’t as ideal an upgrade as hardened fans will be looking for, and certainly leaves a want for a true evolution of the series with a proper third release on current hardware that we aren’t likely to see anytime soon. But in the meantime, this collection does a competent job of bringing both games back for another round, offering a chance to play one of the shiniest lost gems from the PlayStation 2 era, with The 2nd Runner remaining a game capable of demanding attention nearly a decade after its original release.

Konami, High Voltage Software


PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Xbox 360 Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Multiplayer

Release Date
October 30, 2012

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

1 Comment »

  1. The art book is pretty sexy at least. ;)

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — November 9, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

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