On September the 26th gamers can look forwards to something pretty cool heading their way. The original Zone of the Enders was a colourful and exciting 3rd Person Mech-blaster that redefined story and gameplay back in the day of its release, on the 26th Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner will take off on the PS2 and bring with it a host of new features and additions compared to its Japanese and US counterparts.
Game Story Information
It's 2174 and the evil BAHRAM military group is using its new Orbital Frame (Mech-Robots) to suppress Mars and the blue green orb of the Earth. Enter Dingo Egret (Who comes up with these names?) the last hope for the stricken planets. Dingo begins the game as just an average worker, mining away...but soon the evil BAHRAM attack and all kinds of trouble breaks loose. Dingo by now has already found Jehuty (Those of you who played Zone of the Enders will know what I mean) - Jehuty is a one-of-a-kind Orbital Frame that has a number of specialist and very powerful weapons.
Previous ZOE outing
But what the heck is new?
Now that's brought you up to speed on what ZOE was like let's look at ZOE 2 and see what the additions are. For a start the game opens with a new opening sequence that heralds the introduction of not one, but three new and two redone levels. There are also several graphical demos and the whole shebang has been pumped up to the eyeballs with two new difficulties for the Euro market. Euro Hard and Euro Extreme.
There are even new polygon models that allow the player to experience the new missions with versions of the Jehuty, this kind of thing might seem superfluous to some of you but for me it marks the game as being a cut-above the rest.
Jehuty's move list has been expanded and the unit can now access some even more destructive powers, while I won't detail them here at all, what I will say is that you do get more bang for your buck this time around. The unit can now grab hold of enemies, swing them around as weapons and even wind-up spin them into groups of enemies for added damage and humiliation. Certain objects can also now be picked up, thrown or used to pile on the damage, but the game is far more than just a beat-em up in disguise.
Boss fights are now nastier with the difficulty level being ramped up, bosses are bigger and better the further you go into the game, with some real hum-dingers later on, but as per usual I refuse to go into any great detail so I don't spoil it for you.
How about the Graphics? Have they changed from ZOE?
The 2nd Runner is a massive leap forwards in terms of graphical effects and execution. The new engine takes things to an even greater level of detail and provides a different feel to the game. The best way I can describe the new feel is that they have provided us with a hybrid of regular textures and cell shading, the whole result is that you feel as though you're immersed in a Japanese Manga. Otaku will know that Manga refers to the comics and not the animated films, which are of course Anime. The special effects have been ramped up as well, explosions are far more satisfying and there is a greater level of eyecandy to go with the refined control system and larger levels.
What about the level design? Are we stuck with boring looking levels or what?
The 2nd Runner levels are massive in places and many of them are split into sections, locked down by various doors. While gameplay might seem limited there's a challenge to this game that can't be overlooked, the cookie at the end of the rainbow is of course the obligatory pick-up, special item, doohicky or more. Blast your way through waves of enemies and a lot of the architecture in the level will come tumbling down, this can reveal poles or broken bits of scenery to use as weapons. While it's not original it adds to the feeling that these weapons of mass destruction can actually flatten a building. The levels have been redesigned and there is a greater emphasis upon group battles rather than one on one fighting, with the vastness of an icy moon or the cramped interior of a space ship providing the backdrop.
Back to the story, are we a kid again?
Thankfully in 2nd Runner we get to be a grown guy this time around and the story is cleverly told with a mix of animated in-game engine cut-scenes and Anime style animated scenes. This outing for Zone is a lot more mature and the story twists and turns as you'd expect it considering it's a game produced by Hideo Kojima (The genius behind the Metal Gear Solid games and written by Shuyo Murata who also worked on the Zone of the Enders and Metal Gear Solid games as well. It's worth it to engage in the frenetic battles to reach the next plot piece and follow the change in the story, it's also full of engaging characters that follow the usual archetype but in places break that mould as well.
The game comes with a complete explanation of the Control System and will either ask you as you play if you wish to learn, or allow you to experience the whole thing from start to finish before you play the game. I recommend going for the usual tutorial so that you're not just pushing buttons right from the start. It's useful to know how to use Burst Fire, Laser Lock-On modes and other things, plus it's also been redone and teaches by example, then allows you to have a go. The controls are fluid and they have been tweaked from the previous game, there's not too much in the way of complex button presses for the player to learn, it's usually a case of square button with R2 depressed. Or hold down R2 to charge up then press the square button to form a huge ball of energy (Dragonball Z anyone?).
So there you have it, the 2nd Runner is a much better game than the first outing and there are still secrets to be discovered as you continue playing it. The new modes and missions provide extra fun and I'll leave those of you who actually buy the game to find some of the tastier secrets, and for those of you who don't know the full story to Zone of the Enders there's a backstory which is basically all of the cool CGI from the first game that you can sit back and watch.