Metal Saga (PlayStation 2) review
"Humanity. Like cockroaches, they continue to scrape out what meager existence they can in the post-apocalyptic world wrought by the hands of NOAH, the obligatory evil super-computer. Initially an artificial intelligence created in order to prevent war and the like from ravaging the land, NOAH was given a little too much freedom of choice. In order to cease war and end all hostilities, it would eradicate the source of all conflict: the entirety of the human race! Through hazy and unexplai..."
Humanity. Like cockroaches, they continue to scrape out what meager existence they can in the post-apocalyptic world wrought by the hands of NOAH, the obligatory evil super-computer. Initially an artificial intelligence created in order to prevent war and the like from ravaging the land, NOAH was given a little too much freedom of choice. In order to cease war and end all hostilities, it would eradicate the source of all conflict: the entirety of the human race! Through hazy and unexplained means, the computer obliterated what was once a grand civilization, leaving in its wake small pockets of people struggling to pick up the pieces. In a desperate bid for survival, humans known as "hunters" took on NOAH, destroying it with some of the last remaining pieces of technology from the old world. Tanks!
For the most part, that's it. Metal Saga isn't the kind of game to bog the experience down in trivial things like story -- in fact, things really wouldn't be any different if they dropped what pretense of story there was. Instead, they could've simply started the proceedings with an ill-thought, clichéd and bare-bones concept -- one like this!
On a rather dusty world far away, crime grips the nations. Not the nicest place, but it's home. A home full of quaint wild west decor, outlaws, and tanks. Have at the bad guys!
And have at them you do. Finding and bringing in increasingly large outlaws for financial gains is about all the content there is to look forward to. Don't take that the wrong way; there's enough game here to keep a player going for perhaps 80+ hours, but the problem is the lack of motivation. Oh sure, I could go track down the villainous Eagle 1, an odd flying vulture/biplane hybrid, but why would I want to? Whereas a normal RPG would use such a boss as a stepping stone to a much bigger event, Metal Saga is content to insist that his existence is enough reason to take him out. This kind of motivation stops working after the numbers of faceless outlaws you gun down starts to climb into triple figures.
At the beginning, the idea that you're free to do whatever your heart desires without some omnipresent directing entity nudging you in the direction that you should be going is enchanting. The freedom to do what you want when you want for no better reason than that you want to is liberating and fresh, especially in a market where console RPGs are becoming increasingly linear. You travel, you fight some battles, collect some bounties, then you move on. The reality, though, is that this has been taken too far, and the game doesn't supply enough reason to drive you onwards.
Fighting those battles also reflects the same monotony that travel eventually does. Again, it starts out exciting: as you finish the obligatory tutorial dungeon and excavate your first tank (which is really just a dune-buggy with a weapon grafted on), the excitement mounts, and firing the main cannon for the first time is nearly a religious experience. There's a certain glee in blasting away at your first real target, the aptly named Crotch Cannons, howitzers with legs that take an onslaught of explosive shells right in their iron naughty bits. And while this is amusing to begin with, what combat eventually boils down to is firing the main cannon of every tank you have until the target in question stops moving. Boss encounters break this mold by having you fire the main cannon multiple times!
There is nearly zero strategy. The opportunity for cunning and guile is there, but the lackluster execution leaves something to be desired. There are varied ammo types designed to pierce certain kinds of armor, different weapons especially effective against air or ground units and the like, but the developers seem to have decided that all of that was unnecessary because the road to victory simply asks you to blast things with the big guns! Luckily, battles are short, but then when you face such fearsome foes such as a tomato armed with a knife and have tanks on your side, what would you expect?
It's ironic that in a game that defines itself on freedom and lack of structure that Metal Saga's best moments are when there are glimmers of a plot. One of your many enemies is Father Muscle, the leader of a fanatical cult devoted to rippling muscles and manly abs that gleam, oiled to a lustrous shine. While infiltrating his hideout, you're exposed to the doctrine of Glutius Maximism, whereby salvation is achieved through the development of the body, and asked if you want to join the cult. Obviously you can say no and blast your way through all manner of wrestling magazine rejects on your way to the king himself. However, you can also say yes, leading to a comical ending wherein everyone in your party becomes brainwashed and spends the rest of their lives eating five pounds of steak for each meal.
But these moments are few and far between, and it becomes increasingly sad as the game wears on, oblivious to the fact that it isn't going anywhere, that such moments of wonderful personality are fleeting. Perhaps twenty minutes after the start of any given subplot, the issue in question is promptly resolved one way or the other, and you're back to trundling along in your tank in search of your next opponent. The writers obviously had a talent for somewhat off-the-wall events, and the fact that they manage to make Metal Saga shine when you least expect it actually ends up hurting the game more than helping alleviate the monotony. You wish the potential was spent building this game into something worthwile rather than completely squandered.
And that's a shame, because Metal Saga had a lot of things going for it -- in theory. However, in theory, the Weather Channel should be right some of the time. What Metal Saga offers is the freedom to do what you want, but in doing so, it leaves the motivation to do so at the door and alienates all but the player who likes the grind and plays games for the simple sake of playing them, which is simply not enough for the majority of gamers. It could have been more; it could have been something of note if it offered even a sliver of reason. The writers give sneak-peeks into what could have been, and in doing so they display that the talent was there, and the quirky world in which tanks thrive remains an interesting backdrop. But nothing there happens, and when it does, it's nothing more than a drop in the ocean.
Community review by dragoon_of_infinity (August 10, 2006)
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