" “There’s no sign of the Gundam, sir!” "
“There’s no sign of the Gundam, sir!”
High above the Earth’s atmosphere, White Base is under attack. Ambushed by a group of Rick Dom mobile suits and two Musai warships, they’re brutally engaged in mortal combat. Kai is damaged. Slegger and Sayla are outmatched by the Doms' superior strength. And Amuro…
“That’s impossible! The Gundam has to be somewhere. Where is it?”
The sound of heavy breathing takes over as the camera swings away from the fight, the stars stretching in a blur. Someone’s moving around out there. Closing in on the enemy with righteous speed. Working his way to the blind spot. Targeting…
“Something’s approaching from dead ahead!”
The attack comes without warning or pause. Several streaks of light stream out space, utterly obliterating one massive Musai in three second’s time. The music changes, going from a quivering tone of wavering hope to a commanding beat of fury, the pounding bass of the drums. A shimmer of light appears at the edge of the battlefield, a growing figure that needs no introduction but gets one nonetheless.
“It’s…it’s the Gundam! The white one!”
Amuro Ray has joined the melee.
The moment I saw him burst onto the battlefield, destroying indestructible ships with the raw power of the Gundam, avoiding unavoidable attacks with his keen NewType instincts, and doing it all in gorgeous CGI, I knew I’d found the Holy Grail of Gundam.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Encounters in Space is the best Gundam game out. And while there’s nothing here to change your mind if you don’t already like the series, for a fan there’s none better. Period.
It has to do with moments like the one above, scenes ripped straight from the series. You’re thrust into key places of Gundam history; fighting alongside the aces, fighting against the aces, fighting as the aces. You are Char Aznable. You are Kou Uraki. You are Amuro Ray.
And while Encounters in Space isn’t the first game to put you in their places, it’s the first game to excel with it. The battle system takes pages straight from Zone of the Enders' playbook; you move your mobile suit on a fixed axis, complete rotation, allowing you total maneuverability in any situation. While the action’s never quite as intense as ZOE, it’s the perfect pace for the Gundam universe. You pepper the enemy with beam fire from a distance and get a bead on him, all the while avoiding his own rounds. He gets close enough, activates the thrusters, brings out his beam saber and strikes, forcing you to counter and back away. You circle each other, lock on, and strike again, slashing and countering, thrusting and dodging, and then back off to mid-range to blast each other with your rifles.
You’ve got to keep your fingers active and your eyes locked; the enemies always stick and play to win; there’s no pause in their attack. Not only that, but you’ll be going up against some of the baddest boys from the Gundam series; facing Dozle Zabi in his massive Big Zam, dueling against Char Aznable in his Zeong, even squaring off against the Nightmare of Solomon in his impossibly imposing Neue Ziel. You have to employ the same tactics that the characters themselves used; each battle plays out exactly like the episodes. So if you’ve already seen them, you know what to do and when to do it.
But you don’t have to stick with the storyline battles; you can create your own dream matches. Every model you encounter in the main game is playable in VS, and the CPU ensures you’ll always have someone to go head-to-head with. The game gives you over fifty models to choose from and there’s not a carbon copy in the litter; each one controls like you’d expect from the series, has the same capabilities and movements. The Ball has decent maneuverability, but one hit from anything with decent firepower and it’s stardust. The Dendrobium couples incredible offense with lightning mobility, but its massive size make it an easy target, and there’s only so many beams its I-field can block before breakdown. The differences between two models may be subtle or it may be pronounced, but learning the bounds of each one is crucial; you can’t just pick up a model you’ve never used before and expect an easy win.
And while it might not seem like a big factor at first, choosing the right pilot can give you a much-wanted edge. Each pilot’s talents are brought to bear in the midst of battle; everything from Sleggar’s skill with the G-Armor to Amuro’s NewType abilities gets factored into your suit’s stats, a small step of customization. You can take an even bigger step by creating your own character, picking and choosing from a long list of skills, each one capable of deciding close battles. And you’ll never forget who you put in that cockpit, either; the game gives the classic character voice clips from the show and even gives your custom characters new ones, voices that comment on major situations and rarely repeat.
And while the voices and the gameplay give Encounters in Space its TV feel, the music is what truly drives the nail. The game sticks with tracks from the show and it’s all the better for it; the music always synchs with the in-game situation, changing pace along with the story and giving you some welcome nostalgia.
The only real flaw here is the lack of mission variety; while you do get to play through the episode missions, it’s only for the ones in space. You’ll never get to set your suit on solid ground, never get to battle on a purely horizontal plane. But it’s rather hard to fault a game called 'Encounters in Space' for only having encounters in space.
Bottom line, this is required playing for Gundam enthusiasts, both casual and fanatic. It’s the essence of fan-focus, a game that lets you join the story in every aspect, experience it from inside the screen. Really, you can’t ask for much more.
Community review by lasthero (September 15, 2005)
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