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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

 

Konamiís Zone of the Enders represents a major landmark in the history of gaming. Developed by a team with impeccable credentials, including Metal Gear Solid producer Hideo Kojima, the title successfully blends anime mech action with and engrossing storyline and surprisingly intuitive controls. Whatís even more impressive are ZOEís incredible graphics and state of the art camera system. Look inside as The Laser reviews this heavily-hyped PS2 title. 

At the start of ZOE, players meet the protagonist, a young boy named Leo Stenbuck. Leo is a resident of the Jupiter colony Antilia. Suddenly, the peaceful colony of ďthe endersĒ comes under savage attack. We see the invasion through Leoís eyes, the fear of these giant mechs and the destruction and devastation they cause. This is brought home as a terrified Leo watches helplessly as his friends get killed. This immediately makes him a sympathetic character whose mixed emotions at the combat are highly understandable. The colony comes under attack from the dark forces of Bahram and faces complete destruction unless something stops it from happening. Through a series of incredible seemingly random events, Leo finds himself thrust into the controls of the Orbital Frame Jehuty and itís up to him and the player to save the colony. Whatís immediately apparent is that Zone of the Enders isnít your typical mech game, though all the traditional elements are there. There is much more to it than mindlessly bashing your opponents as you want to cause as little damage as possible to the colony, which is also your home.

At the beginning of your adventure, you are very limited in what you can accomplish, but the Jehuty gradually gains power as you gain experience and pick up program modules in the course of the game. The game feels very simple initially, but as the storyline grows more complex you become more fully immersed in the action. ZOE starts a little bit slowly but quickly picks up momentum as players gain more experience and powers. Helping players along are the series of tutorials that help you to acclimate to the controls and master the Jehutyís abilities.  This gives ZOE a reasonable and painless learning curve plus effectively avoids the problem that too many mech titles like Armored Core 2 suffer from, which is throwing too much at you initially. Though make no mistake, the Jehuty is quite a versatile and powerful mech, just not overly sophisticated.  Instead of overwhelming the gameplay with technical aspects and overly complex controls, ZOE opts instead for a simpler, much more intuitive interface. In fact, ZOEís controls are the key to the gameís long-term appeal and allow the player to concentrate on the storyline. The plot is paramount and sets ZOE apart from the other titles in the genre. Some may find the simple interface off-putting, but on the other hand, this isnít designed as a hard-core mech game, instead itís been developed to have broader appeal.

When it comes to the operations during the actual game, this design philosophy is quickly apparent in all aspects of ZOE. Itís surprisingly simple and intuitive to control your Jehuty in ZOE taking a surprisingly little amount of effort. The Jehutyís operations are simple and straightforward taking little time to learn and never becoming a serious obstacle during play. During combat, you can use close and long-range attacks, depending on the enemy. While the long-range attacks protect you from damage, getting in close to an enemy allows you to finish them off much quicker. The short range attacks include standard shots of three bullets or more elaborate dash and saber attacks which inflict more damage but leave you vulnerable for a brief period which you power them up. The Jehuty also has the ability to summon special power attacks such as a long range dash attack which unleashed homing missiles or the devastating burst attack, which unleashes a ball that can cause enemies to suffer a huge amount of damage. The control system is intuitive and maps well to the Dual Shock 2 controller. ZOEís also impressive because moving the Jehuty around and finding destinations is easy due to excellent camera angles and the slick 3D map interface which makes finding your location and that of enemies an easy task . It offers a good sense of flight and speed, giving the game an excellent feel overall, the movement is indicated by using the analog pad and a combination of the X and square buttons to move up and down, players can also use the right analog pad to look around. ZOEís menu interface is also quite good and makes it a cinch to access special functions and weapons inventories. Most players should find the controls and interface fairly transparent and easy to learn in a brief period while rarely interfering with combat during those sequences.

ZOEís structure follows the interface and is itself, surprisingly simple and straightforward. ZOEís mission goals are easy to understand making for some enjoyable, deep and challenging gameplay. There are two levels of play in the game. In the first you are flying high over the colony and have to go down into the areas in the game. Whatís cool about this is that ZOE isnít strictly linear and players can choose which area to go to next. There are several types of missions but the two main types are standard combat missions, which help you to achieve your greater goal of ridding the colony of its invaders. Of course, there are also rescue missions in which Leo and the Jehuty can save some of the colonists from the invaders. These rescue missions donít explicitly help you in the main goal, but they will help you in the final rankings. The game allows you to move from area to area with little effort, which is extremely helpful since many areas will  be visited multiple times during the course of your mission. Once you have landed in one of ZOEís sectors, you can then confront the enemy Orbital Frames directly in combat. Players can see the enemy forces from a distance and can choose to confront them head on,. They are indicated from a distance by a small boxes, which the ADA lists the number of enemies and their level.  Once you have begun a confrontation, you can choose to fight them from a distance or close in as described earlier. The enemies seem to cluster in groups of three, which makes the battles much more complex, though itís usually best to attack the strongest member of the force first. 

Battling the enemies is fast & furious, with the player required to make split-second decisions regarding the confrontations. There are several factors to consider, which include how much damage Jehuty has suffered, its relative strength when it comes to the enemy frames and most importantly, how much damage the battle will do to the surroundings. There are several techniques and methods to accomplish this without causing excessive destruction Ė players can lead the opponents away to a safe area by engaging them then quickly running away, which causes the enemies to chase him or you can also try to destroy the enemies as quickly as possible. The choice is yours but what makes the game so brilliant is that most of the time youíll try to minimize the damage, which isnít entirely necessary. Whatís really cool to see is how the plot begins to work on your subconscious after awhile, which is something you donít realize during the heat of battle, since you try to minimize damage out of habit. Of course, just mindlessly destroying the enemies wonít get you very far in the game because there are other tasks that need to be accomplished, such as collecting the various weapons power-up modules and other programs that are scattered throughout the levels, usually hidden in a sub-level thatís heavily guarded. This gives ZOE an immersive feel, but despite its simple play mechanics and interface donít mistake it for a walk in the park. While its initial levels seem easy there are some extremely difficult boss confrontations that are incredibly intense and are quite challenging. ZOE gradually ratchets the difficulty higher as it progresses, which may stop less motivated players in their tracks, but players who persist will find the rewards well worth the effort.

Another factor to consider is that once you have built up Jehutyís stats and abilities, it may be a better course of action to try and avoid as many fights and battles as you can later on because they take time and may inflict unwanted damage to you and your surroundings. On the other hand, letting the Orbital Frames stay put will also allow them to cause damage to the colony unimpeded, thereby affecting your final standings as well, so the decision is up to you: Rush to finish the game or clean out the enemies and go for a higher score. The themes of moral duty is constant and this makes playing ZOE a more thoughtful experience.   The modules can offer the Jehuty a variety of upgrades ranging from new weapons such as the sniper rifle or even the ability to control unmanned Orbital Frames from remote control. One thing that you need to do is explore each of the levels extensively for hidden passageways and secrets, because there are some areas where the main objective has been completed but an essential module for later in the game should be collected as well to save time. Of course, you wonít get through the game without taking damage, so youíll need to find a way to repair your Jehuty. Metatron Ore is an essential part of the game because it helps to repair the Jehuty. Finding this requires you to defeat the enemies that have it. This task is made easier because those groups of enemies that have this element are clearly labeled. Whatís most impressive about all of this is that the game offers quite a cohesive back-story that makes ZOE feel like one long mission, not a series of smaller missions and allows the player to feel involved in the action to a degree most console games havenít attempted in the past. It largely succeeds in this goal, and this is also due in no small part due to the outstanding visuals and audio that Konami has implemented.

ZOE has some of the best graphics seen to date on the PS2. A remarkable amount of detail has gone into every element of the game, making for a believable, consistent series of environments. Since the game takes place almost entirely within the confines of the space station, more attention has been placed on the individual elements of the environments every object from the buildings to larger structures seems to have been individually designed, creating a cohesive appearance for the colony. Whatís even more impressive is that ZOE utilizes an extremely impressive engine that allows for massive amounts of detail and a smooth frame rate without slowing the action down to sacrifice speed for beauty  As you might expect from looking at the development teamís credentials,.the design of the mechs is astounding, each one has their own personality and believable structure with hundreds of small details making them some of the most impressive models ever seen in a console game. These are easily some of the coolest looking mechs in a PS2 game, showcasing a high amount of creativity and innovation.  The design  makes the overall experience reek of quality and attention to detail and gives Zone of the Enders an undeniable place amongst the best looking games ever developed. It doesnít hurt for special effects either as the extensive use of light sourcing and special effects ranks it among the most technically impressive PS2 games to date.  Some of the massice explosions that occur during boss battles cause the entire screen to blur into waves of color, are simply spectacular. The smooth frame rate allows for a realistic sense of flight while the smooth camera never impedes the playerís progress.  The brilliant design comes into play even in the interface, which is consistent with the main game and is just as polished. One of the more elegant elements of ZOEís design are the subtle rings that surround the Jehuty, which gradually expand and change color to indicate the position and distance of the enemies. The biggest problem with ZOEís visuals is that, except for the cinema sequences, the view in the entire game takes place outside the Jehuty, which is annoying but not enough to ruin the game. As visually astounding as ZOE is, the soundtrack is just as well done. Featuring a driving techno beat throughout, ZOEís music is excellent and fits the futuristic mood perfectly. What also helps immeasurably are the voice actors, who are quite convincing in their roles and show a great deal of talent throughout, though the voicer of Leo can get annoying after awhile. As you may have guessed by now, ZOE has a high-degree of production polish and is an absolute showpiece for the power of the PS2ís hardware, something that hasnít really been in evidence until the latest wave of releases in the past month or so.

Putting all of these elements together as a whole and you come to the realization that this is a brilliant game that succeeds in most of its goals. ZOE is about as good a PS2 game that has come out to date Ė it has an excellent balance between action and strategy making for a deeply satisfying mech game with a surprising amount of role playing elements. Itís simple interface means that players can concentrate on the action and storyline while the game itself is deep and satisfying. Playing more like a single long mission that a series of disconnected episodes makes the gameplay that much more immersive. With a multitude of branching missions, challenging missions and some intense battles, ZOE should have plenty of long term appeal. Add in a bonus head-to-head mech fighting game thatís unlocked after you complete the main quest and you can see why. The icing on the cake is the incredible visuals which push the limits of expectations for the PlayStation 2 to their maximum showcasing an almost unbelievable amount of creativity and richness. Zone of the Enders has been one of Konamiís most-hyped titles to date, and it meets or exceeds itís high expectations in most areas. All of the elements work, and itís few very minor flaws donít diminish the overall accomplishment. ZOE is quite possibly the best PS2 titles to date and is strongly recommended to all fans of  anime and action games.



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