Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Zone of the Enders: Second Runner (PS2)

Konami's first Zone of the Enders was an incredibly stylish, and vastly under-rated mech shooter that offered an interesting premise and unique gameplay elements. Now, the series has returned with a new installment, The Second Runner. The new game benefits from steady hand of MGS creator Kojima who lends his unique touch to improve the series. ZOE: The Second Runner benefits from a smoother graphic appearance, a wider variety of locales, several new play modes and improved controls. We take a look at this eye-popping and intense game and find out why it may be one of the best PS2 mech titles to date.

Taking place a decade after the original title, Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner once again allows players to control a massive Orbital Frame. Orbital Frames are powerful mechs that run on a mysterious elemental force called Metatron. The struggle to obtain and control this resource lies at the heart of the conflict. The people of Mars, known as the Enders have seen their world and Earth fall into the hands of the evil General Nohman after a valiant, but vain struggle. It's up to you to end their subjugation and there's an entirely new cast of characters this time. The main character is a rebellious, tough type named Dingo Egret who finds the Jehuty hidden in a frozen planet. He's the new pilot of the Jehuty from the first game. The other main character in the game is Nohman himself, who pilots the Animus, the most powerful Orbital Frame in existence. He's looking for Jehuty to crush the resistance once and for all. You'll also meet other characters including Leon from the first game who makes a cameo that's accompanied by a huge surprise for hardcore gamers. Each Orbital Frame is designed so that it looks and moves as a reflection of its pilot's personality, which is a cool idea that's nicely implemented. ZOE: 2nd Runner's plot is much more developed this time. This allows the game to builds on the storyline and gives this sequel a good continuity. It's evident that he developers listened to gamers feedback and have implemented numerous enhancements that improve the play tremendously. The approach is more sophisticated this time around, and the MGS imprint is much stronger. The Frame designs are more detailed and the new anime cut-scenes give ZOE an intense cinematic feel.

Once you get beyond the storyline, you'll find that ZOE: 2R seems familiar, yet has a few unique twists that give it a unique feel. The most dramatic change lies in the weapons systems, which now feature primary and sub weapons systems. The primary weapons include both short and long-range attacks, which increase your sub-gauge that increases after successive hits. At close range, players can fire standard shots, or use the blade attack to slice through enemies. You can also perform special moves with the blade including Blade Bursts, and Dash Blades to increase the damage to your foes. These close moves are quite effective, but can leave you vulnerable to attack. If you want to attack from far away, and minimize your risk, you can use distance attacks. In order to use these, you first have to lock on to an opponent before you can fire at them. Players can switch between enemies easily, or can lock onto numerous foes at once. There are several types of long-range attacks including the Homing Laser. This powerful device allows you to lock onto multiple enemies while moving and pressing the square button, and you can also use this while dashing to cause even greater damage. It's a little hard to get used to, but once you do, you can clear out a screen of enemies effortlessly. In order to get rid of tougher foes instantly, you can also use the burst attack. This creates a powerful ball of energy that you can throw at foes and inflict great amounts of damage, though you're vulnerable while it powers up. These are the main normal weapons, but you can also use sub weapons later on. These are powerful special weapons, but they are limited by the amount of energy in your sub gauge. Players will come across two basic types of these secondary weapons: Physical and Energy. There are more than a dozen of these Sub-weapons including Comet, Geyser and Gauntlets, which are devastating if you know when to use them. There are also Phalanx shots that can clear out an entire sector. However, while most of these special moves can't be blocked, others can and this is indicated for you, so you don't waste your energy firing them.

ZOE: 2R's deeper weapons arsenal gives the battles a much more strategic feel because players have more options at their disposal. For example, you may not want to use your special weapons on standard foes because specific weapons can only damage certain bosses. However, your actions aren't limited to just shooting and can use other techniques. You can also grab hold and throw enemies and objects through the levels. There are several techniques when grabbing that also let you spin or smash an enemy. You can also use grabbed objects as weapons at close range and use them as either projectiles or shields. The ability to interact with the environmental objects is definitely one of the game's cooler aspects and really emphasizes the sophistication of the design. ZOE's interface is as beautifully designed and elegant as the mechs themselves. 

The game's elegant command system is well-designed and allows you to integrate complicated moves and attacks seamlessly together thus giving the action an impressive intensity. As in the first game, players can communicate with the AI-based on-board computer called the AFA that gives you navigation advice, outlines mission objectives, and lets you know the Frame's status. Controlling the mechs effectively requires you to think quickly, but the intuitive interface allows you to see your damage and gauges at a glance. Another unique aspect of the game that returns is the Ring Radar system. Instead of a static 2 dimensional radar, enemy positions are visible throughout the game, using a circle that surrounds the Frame. This gets smaller or larger depending on how far away the enemies are, and is an intuitive system that allows you to see where enemies are without having to switch to another screen. It's simple, elegant and quite useful. Another aspect of the game that's been seamlessly integrated is the training system. Once onboard, you can contact your AFA and go into the simulator. Here, you can practice in virtual space without having to risk your frame. This cool mode copies the look and feel of the VR Training missions from MGS, which is a nice touch.

While many other mech titles go overboard, and tax players with dozens of commands and options, ZOE takes a streamlined approach that allows you to focus on the action. Those used to this complexity may be disappointed but casual fans will breathe a sigh of relief. ZOE:2R's controls are thankfully simple and quite intuitive, allowing you to move the Frames through the levels without much effort. Moving sideways is controlled by the left D-pad, while you move up and down with the X and triangle buttons. Simple shots are mapped to the circle button, and more advanced moves such as dashing are handled using the shift buttons. Performing the special moves is also easy to master, mostly requiring you to hold down the square button and press the shift key. Likewise, locking on to enemies and changing them is assigned to the shift keys, allowing you to target and fire quickly with little effort. Overall, controlling the mech and mastering the special moves is quite intuitive and allows you to move around seamlessly without messing around with an overly complex set of commands. Unfortunately, the game suffers from a somewhat awkward camera system that doesn't seem to follow the action as quickly or effectively as it could. The automatic camera gets in the way of the action frequently, and using the manual controls only improves things slightly. This can make for some completely confusing and baffling moments when you have no idea where you are, and where the foes are. While you can get used to it and compensate for these problems to some degree, it's still annoying and a blemish on what is otherwise and exceptional looking title.

Unlike the first ZOE, players have the chance to use several different Orbital Frames, which is a cool feature that should keep motivation levels high. ZOE: Second Runner also offers a much greater variety in its level designs, which helps to flesh out the game's more expansive plot. While other mech-style games give you a limited amount of freedom, the levels in ZOE are quite expansive, allowing you to explore and find hidden objects. The levels and enemies seem a little bit more fleshed out this time, which makes the game feel that much more immersive and realistic. It helps a lot that the storyline is much better as well. This is evident in the more cohesive objectives that seem to tie in more directly to the plot. The actual gameplay is faster and more intense. While you'll face some of the same enemies, they have been enhanced with improved AI which makes them both smarter and more aggressive. This makes ZOE a much more challenging game this time around, though a good player should still be able to get far without too much effort. One noticeable and welcome change is that ZOE: 2R's pace is much faster this time, and the more frenetic battles are a lot more exciting than the ones beforehand.

From a visual standpoint, ZOE:2R looks outstanding and its improved engine smooths out the rough patches and jaggies that plagued the first game. Players who loved the mech designs from the first game will be happy to know that the developers haven't messed up a good thing. The Frames appear to be more detailed with much more sophisticated modeling used. Their appearance is only improved with a smoother animation system that allows for more elegant battle scenes that resemble elaborate dancing. Players who felt hemmed in by the environments in the first game will be happy to see a greater variety in the levels. Not only are there more types, they seem to be much more open and allow you explore different types of areas. ZOE takes you through outer space, different ships and even to the surface of Jupiter and several of its moons, which some impressive special effects to boot. 

While the game is incredibly stylish, the design is also cohesive, creating an excellent suspension of disbelief that allows the semi-realistic appearance of the mechs to match the environments. The weapons look quite impressive as well, and put on quite a dazzling show with bright plasma blast lighting up the worlds effectively. There are also cool weather effects such as snow and rain that makes the environments themselves feel quite solid. During special moves, ZOE: 2R uses some spectacular blurring and shaking techniques that literally make you feel like you're in the cockpit. Using anime cut-scenes instead of pre-rendered scenes further adds to the game's stylish feel, giving ZOE:2R's storyline added heft. The voice acting is excellent and allows you to feel more of the characters' emotions and motivations. This game looks simply amazing by any standard and is an especially impressive achievement on the PS2's hardware. Aesthetically, ZOE: 2R jumps several notches above its predecessor and is one of the best-looking mech titles to date

For all the visual bells and whistles, there are still a few nagging problems that we found with the game itself. Once again, ZOE: 2R's length is an issue that hurts it's replay value. While the game is intense and beautiful, the experience is a bit too short and is the game over before you can really get into it. Attempting to compensate for this, the developers have added several extra modes such as a two-player versus split-screen mode which is a welcome addition to the series, Additionally, the game includes some hidden side-missions and ships that extend the gameplay a bit. There's also a really cool mini-game that is well-worth the effort to unlock. ZOE: 2R also features several hidden Frames and missions that add to the replay value significantly. These secrets are much too cool for us to spoil in this review, but we can say that they are definitely worth the time and effort to unlock. Still, the lack of depth in the game is disappointing. However, this shouldn't dissuade you from purchasing the game. ZOE: 2R's fast-action and intense play eschews the usual sim trappings of most mech titles, which makes it instantly more accessible than most other games on the market. This is a definite plus, as is the amazingly creative designs and brilliant graphics engine, which makes the game seem to explode off the screen at certain points. While it's not perfect, Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner is an intense and near-brilliant game that casual and hardcore gamers alike will definitely enjoy.

Grade: A

> Related Reviews 

Zone of the Enders (PS2)
MechAssault (Xbox)

< Back to home