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Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (PlayStation 2) artwork

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner (PlayStation 2) review

"Giant robot games bore me. While a handful are good, especially the tough-as-nails sidescroller Assault Suit Leynos 2 and the well streamlined MechAssault, the vast majority of them bog themselves down in too many mechanics to be of any amusement. The Armored Core series, for instance, allows you to customize everything from your mech's engine style to the color of its vomit, but the feature goes to waste in light of the titles' lumbering, prosaic combat. Most of these..."

Giant robot games bore me. While a handful are good, especially the tough-as-nails sidescroller Assault Suit Leynos 2 and the well streamlined MechAssault, the vast majority of them bog themselves down in too many mechanics to be of any amusement. The Armored Core series, for instance, allows you to customize everything from your mech's engine style to the color of its vomit, but the feature goes to waste in light of the titles' lumbering, prosaic combat. Most of these "mech simulators" somehow manage to make a dull experience out of hopping in a giant robot and blowing shit up. They're cumbersome, they're tedious, and they're not fun. In other words, they're just not enough like Zone of the Enders 2.

You'll be taken aback by just how fast ZoE2 is the moment that you embark on your first mission, that of battling through the icy valleys of Jupiter's moon Callisto. The unparalleled mobility of the airborne Jehuty will come to light as soon as your first foes (a pair of skeleton-like flying robots that aren't exactly sloths themselves) assault you; your metallic-blue war machine is able to soar through the sky with a single analog stick simplicity that's uniquely intuitive, and attacks ranging from a stylish arm-blade to a spread lock-on laser are also just a click away.

Such simplicity begets smashing. Copious amounts of smashing. After wiping out the first two clowns who dare oppose you, the local crevasses become packed with both squads of their cadaverous cohorts and entire fleets of tiny probes fittingly dubbed Mosquitoes--don't worry, you won't have to aim manually. Shots will be fired, tons of things will explode, and entire walls of frozen water will collapse into a bijillion tiny fragments... and this is just the first level!

Fortunately, ZoE2's combat doesn't rest on the laurels of its speed alone. You'll gradually come to possess a dizzying array of subweapons, easily quick-equipped armaments that range from the paralyzing Geyser to the bullet-spraying Phalanx. The stage design ramps up comparably, presenting myriad setups that gradually and subtly top themselves. As much you'll love warding off both enemy spider robots and callous Space Force pilots for the sake of an imperiled civilian colony, for instance, you'll love battling fisticuff fans and armored laser-sweepers amidst the skylights of a futuristic fort city even more. No matter where you're brawling, though, your surroundings sure do blow up pretty--not that you'd ever grab an enemy and swing him into an occupied building just to see some fireworks...

Equally impressive, if not moreso, are the game's bosses. Consider Zakat, a shellfish-esque colossus waiting for you in the oddly blue-tinted atmosphere of Mars. Just getting through the orange electric field that surrounds him will require you to get in close and yank off the four exterior panels generating it, temporarily exposing his innards so that you can whack them around with your sword or, even cooler, the panel itself. He isn't just going to let you repeat the process ad nauseum, of course; he's capable or harnessing the shield energy and using it to form a concentrated blast of energy capable of ruining you or a set of thin laser beams that dance about his circular frame in an erratic fashion well complemented by the energetic techno tune playing in the background. Just wait until the bastard's buffer goes down for good and the skirmish truly commences--his gravity-shifting blasts and enormous smashy claws will make lesser pilots wish it hadn't!

Put aside the thought of Zakat for now, though, as you'll have to slam your way through a five-warship fleet just to reach him. They aren't the lightly armed luxury cruisers you might expect from the fact that you're only about five hours in, either; they're loaded to the teeth with gun turrets, anti-aircraft lasers, and BFCs (big cannons). These warships will rip you to shreds, and when they do, their fearsome flankers will piss on your remains just for kicks. Indeed, while ZoE2 is always intense, it's around this point that it truly begins to shine. It'll take a good combination of reflex, luck, and strategy to scrape through this warzone; homing missiles help, too, as they're capable of transforming more than half a dozen enemies at once into nothing but a trail of smoke and shrapnel.

Then there's the chaotic fight in a sandy plateau that pits you against, no exaggeration, HUNDREDS of foes at once. It's almost like a manly brawler, except with flying robots; Konami even gives you a little radar in the corner so that you can shit yourself when a band of two-hundred enemy reinforcements starts blazing toward you. Forget the pathetic liabilities disguised as allies you're tasked with saving: every single one of those tin cans is gunning for you. Not even your homing missiles can bail you out of this one.

But then, just as it's really beginning to hit this stride around the seven-hour mark, just as these two scenes make it feel as if the game will jump the gap between good and great, ZoE2 concludes. The first 4/5 of it is spent in a series of frenetic skirmishes that, while certainly fun, aren't quite brilliant; then, just when such brilliance seems to be within the game's reach, the whole thing comes to a premature end. A pathetic hard mode that simply swaps around some hit point numbers doesn't exactly help the matter of longevity.

Annoyances such as the pretentious, horribly longwinded story and irritating in-game voices also mar the experience. One boss with a high-pitched female voice feels the need to scream "I'M COMING!" every twenty seconds (which isn't nearly as enticing as it sounds on paper), and I don't need my mech's onboard AI announcing "enemy destroyed!" every other moment as if I'd suddenly decided to clean my glasses or something.

I'll always be left wondering what this game could have been were it allowed to realize its potential; I'll always want to know how manic it could have been in a final three hours that don't exist, or how challenging a properly implemented hard mode along the likes of Devil May Cry's rule-bending Dante Must Die! mode might be. In the end, though, I'll just have to settle for what the game is: excellent. Despite its imperfections, ZoE2's stupendous bosses and wonderfully fast combat more than assure it a place in my permanent collection. You'd be crazy not to make it part of yours as well.

Cornwell's avatar
Community review by Cornwell (October 04, 2008)

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