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The Moonlight War novel by S.K.S. Perry

Robot Alchemic Drive (PlayStation 2) artwork

Robot Alchemic Drive (PlayStation 2) review

"The movie Godzilla is probably one of the most well known titles of all time. This isn't because of the fact that it was good, or even because the majority of the people who mention it have even seen it. Rather, Godzilla's notoriety stems from the fact that it was so gloriously bad that one couldn't help but be amused. With campy visuals, an oddly realized plot, and a downright off translation, the movie as remained the butt of jokes for over 50 years. "

The movie Godzilla is probably one of the most well known titles of all time. This isn't because of the fact that it was good, or even because the majority of the people who mention it have even seen it. Rather, Godzilla's notoriety stems from the fact that it was so gloriously bad that one couldn't help but be amused. With campy visuals, an oddly realized plot, and a downright off translation, the movie as remained the butt of jokes for over 50 years.

RAD is like that.

In the opening moments, whichever of the three protagonists you select is waiting, as we all have, for a train. It's just another boring day. Some exploration reveals people going about their menial tasks, cars meandering about a low-res metropolis, basically a world that looks like Grand Theft Auto might have on the Nintendo 64. You can't interact with any of it, but it's all there, and after several minutes, the train station beckons you nearer. A brief moment of exposition about how the main character's wealthy father squandered their fortune on some silly pet project later, a siren can be heard wailing in the distance. Curious, you draw nearer, wondering what is causing a ruckus in such a boring town.

That's when the monster shows up. There's no creeping or lumbering in from afar, though, it simply materializes in mid air, falling about 200 feet into the middle of a busy intersection. Chaos. Hundreds of citizens fill the streets, traffic grinds to a halt all over town as the din of the fleeing masses fills the air. Undaunted, the monster lays into the nearest building like a cat at your mother's favorite sofa. Splinters of concrete and steel fly through the air as the structure gives way to the onslaught.

And right as you start to think "This is serious!" The game reminds you what you're playing, with an interlude involving a reporter in a helicopter shrieking about how we're all doomed in the most awful voice acting that has ever been dubbed. With the mood now properly shattered, what better time for an odd purple-haired man in a labcoat to present our hero with a wireless PS2 controller. Why? Because it operates your giant robot, that's why.

You see, you don't get to ride around inside your giant robot like every other hero in stories of this type. That'd be too easy. No, you control the robot by remote, and stay safely out of harm's way (ideally) while your Meganite (it's got 'mega' in it, so it's a good name for robots) lumbers off to lay the mechanical smack down on any hapless monsters.

Just like you, your game world avatar will have to control the robot from outside using a controller. Unlike you, however, they have a city full of inconveniently large buildings in the way. When controlling the robot, the camera becomes stationary, sitting wherever the human character is. Finding the proper vantage point becomes about half the gameplay from here on, but be quick about it, because while you're running around as the human, your robot will be getting pummled by the monster. While this does add a uniquie dynamic to the gameplay, it's also profoundly frustrating. Due to the game's tendency to send combatants flying through buildings and skidding face-first through streets of fleeing citizens, what constitutes a good place to watch changes frequently enough that it's problematic to keep up sometimes.

So, the only thing standing between the towering avatar of destruction rampaging through town is a festive red, white, and blue robot, with a disgruntled teenager with a PS2 controller hiding somwhere behind that. Don't go thinking that massive mecha fisticuffs are as easy to throw down as other titles would make it seem, though. In RAD, your robot is big, clunky, and handles more like a bus than the sports car of other mech titles.

You control each limb separately. The shoulder buttons each control a leg, and each of the sticks control an arm. To walk, you alternate shoulder button presses. To punch, you rock the stick forward, etc. No one-button combos here. If it sounds obtuse, that's because it is. The gameplay manages to perfectly walk the thin line between innovative enough to be really fun and being too strange to actully be enjoyable. Sometimes it dips into one side or the other, but it never really stays in either for long enough to end up as anything more than 'interesting'. Most likely, you'll spend a good deal of your first battle on the ground, one solid hit from your enemy as you grapple with the odd set up sending your robot to the pavement in a screen-shaking display of building-shattering mass.

But this works both ways, and soon enough you'll be throwing hordes of space monsters one at a time through buildings like some giant, metal, WWE icon. The problem, however is that the one-at-a-time formula set in the first mission never changes. There's some exposition that is sometimes interesting, but usually horridly cheesy, then you fight an enemy. One. Next level. While there are some interesting bosses near the end, including a large bipedal lizard that rises from the ocean in one of the game's many grin-to-yourself monents, most of the game's nearly 40 missions are taken up by one of three or four staple enemies. And by the end, you'll probably be tired enough of the repetitive nature of the levels that fighting TWO of the identical monsters instead of one will actually seem like a significant gameplay enhancement.

In the end, there is no other game quite like RAD. It knows better than to take itself seriously, which is good, because if it did the result would have been awful. The whole game just drips with a flavor that is undoubtedly bad, but at the same time makes you smile at the sheer absurdity of the goings on. The gameplay feels right at home in a world that's sort of like ours, but really really dumb at the same time. At the end of the day, though, RAD is the kind of the game destined to be mentioned only in conversations about unusual games, not great ones.

Rating: 6/10

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Community review by dragoon_of_infinity (August 18, 2006)

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