Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Zone of the Enders HD Collection Review
The Zone of the Enders games were Hideo Kojima’s interregnum titles, both of which came out in the periods between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3. Both games center around the Orbital Frame Jehuty, a powerful flying mecha that lies at the centre of a growing conflict between the various factions of the Solar System in the future. The titular ‘zone’ of the Enders is the orbits of Mars, Jupiter, and the asteroid belt that separates them. Jupiter is the farthest extreme of human colonization as of the late 2100’s, and people who live and work that far out (such as our two protagonists, Leo Stenbuck and Dingo Egret) are referred to as ‘Enders,’ no doubt an allusion to the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game by notable crazy person Orson Scott Card. Both Zone of the Enders and its sequel, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner largely flew under the radar back in the heyday of the PlayStation 2. It’s a franchise that many people know about, but relatively few have actually played, so I’m glad to see both games getting a second lease on life, even if it’s only to hock Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and drum up interest for the nebulous Zone of the Enders 3.
What I Liked
Both Games Look Great
Unlike the Dragon Ball Z Budokai HD Collection, both games survived the jump to high definition this time around more-or-less intact. While 2nd Runner looks way better than Zone of the Enders, the original game doesn’t look like crap compared to its successor, which was one of the major flaws of the Budokai 1 part of the Dragon Ball collection. The graphics are crisp and clear with minimal artifacting on the effects. All the in-game models have been updated for HD, so the enemies look like credible threats now instead of spaghetti mechs, and the two central machines of the series, Jehuty and Anubis, look phenomenal compared to their PS2 incarnations.
Both games are lightning fast action fests and it works well in their favor. While the button spamming does get repetitive after a while, both halves of the collection constantly shake things up with new weapons and upgrades that keep ratcheting up the complexity as each plot progresses to the finale.
While the gameplay does get a little monotonous over time, the boss battles sure break that up in a hurry. There’s usually one boss for every hour of gameplay and they really push you to your limits as you go. Kojima Productions has some of the best and most involving boss battles in video games and the ZoE series is no aberration. Strategies that worked on regular enemies will get you killed in boss fights, and even when you figure out a particular boss’s patterns, that still doesn’t guarantee a victory.
It’s Both ZoE’s Together
Both games tell a continuous story (not that well, but that’s another point entirely), so it’s nice to have them both in one place so you can go from the end of part one right into part two. That was one of the things that really burned me back when I played Zone of the Enders the first time around; it had a no-resolution-sequel-hook ending akin to Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Hell, it was even worse than Fall of Cybertron, because instead of just ending immediately after the climax, it made a whole bunch of promises for the next game in its last ten minutes and then left you hanging there. I got the sense that this was the setup for what should have been the second half of the game, like it was Final Fantasy VII and I’d just left Midgar and it was time for the game to really kick into gear. And then the credits started rolling. What the hell? Luckily, with both games included in the HD collection you can jump right from the first game to the second game with zero delay.
The script and voice acting for both games are pretty bad (though I’ll give props to Roger Jackson as Nohman, who’s consistently badass and threatening across both games), so thank God you can easily skip over most of the cutscenes. This also helps if you lose a boss battle—you can skip all the cutscenes that lead up to the battle and be back in the fight in seconds. So hooray for that.
The Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Demo
First of all, what a silly title. As if Raiden wasn’t hard enough to take seriously as a character. Okay, okay, serious time. To begin with, the game looks damn amazing, even on the Xbox 360. The modeling and lighting are top-notch, though I did find it a little perturbing that the game seems to draw your attention to Raiden’s shapely cybernetic ass as he swaggers his androgynous woman hips around the battlefield looking like he stole all the best techno-shit from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. What are you trying to say there, Kojima?
Revengeance continues the by-now patented Metal Gear trend of the escalating story:game ratio. For every one minute of gameplay, there’s about four minutes of cutscenes or people jawing in your ear through your codec. The demo also shows off the dramatically different tone from the Metal Gear Solid games. The tagline ‘Tactical Espinonage Action’ is absent from Revengeance, because, well, Raiden runs around waving a giant sword around and jumping about like a Cirque du Soleil cast member. It’s fun as hell, don’t get me wrong, but any ounce of subtlety has long-since departed the series with Revengence.
As usual, Konami never met a camera mechanic it couldn’t bugger up. However, you can easily tweak the camera in Revengeance to suit your needs through the menu. The special Sword Mode was interesting too, but I found it more awkward than anything, especially when it abruptly became a gateway to Quick Time Events. Urgh.
In all, the demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was pretty well done and it’s actually got me stoked for the game now when I previously had zero interest in. So mission accomplished Konami, I’ll be watching Revengeance a little more closely now as it approaches its launch window. The Revengeance demo adds quite a bit of value to the Zone of the Enders HD Collection, I will admit, but don’t simply buy this for Metal Gear Solid—play the actual games first, please.
What I Didn’t Like
The Script and Characters
Really, would a little verisimilitude kill anyone? The script gets ham-handed and downright schlocky a little too often for its own good. And this happens across both games just about evenly, so it’s not a case of one being better or worse than the other. I can forgive a bad story if the writing is at least competent, but in both games it’s stiff and turgid and eye-rolling to the Nth degree. None of the characters are particularly likable, although 2nd Runner’s protagonist, Dingo Egret (insert joke here) does have his moments of wry jerky charisma. He sure stands head and shoulders over ZoE’s original ‘protagonist,’ the whiny, petulant, and haplessly co-dependent Leo Stenbuck. But then again, I consider Jehuty’s onboard computer ADA to be ZoE’s true protagonist, because she actually has a character arc as opposed to Leo and his equally useless co-pilot Celvice (yes, everyone in the ZoE universe has a stupid name). Ultimately, 2nd Runner tells its story better than Zone of the Enders does, but not by much.
Pre-Rendered Cutscenes Look Terrible
The headline says it all. The developers took on the pre-rendered cutscenes and simply upscaled them to an HD ratio without optimizing them. Cue blurry, stretched out, low quality, artifact-riddled, generally terrible-looking early PS2-era cinematics. The animated cutscenes in 2nd Runner look a little better, but are still clearly just being upscaled too.
The camera controls are terrible in both games; they were terrible back on the PS2 and nothing has been done to fix that. It’s really frustrating to be fighting both the enemies and the camera at the same time. The controls are awkward and slow, and the lock on mechanic does little to help you out in either game. At times, it actually makes things worse.
Short Running Time
Both games are short affairs, roughly five hours long each, maybe seven hours if you play at a leisurely pace. This is a mixed blessing, as the less time spent with the poorly-localized script the better, but it is a real shame as the gameplay, especially in 2nd Runner is very good.
Konami Pimping Metal Gear Solid
You read my thoughts on the Revengeance demo above, but I’d also like to address the raison d’être of this HD re-release. This isn’t about bringing Zone of the Enders into the HD era, it’s about selling the metal for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It’s history repeating itself. The original Zone of the Enders was a glorified tech demo game built to get people pumped for what Hideo Kojima and his team had in store for the PlayStation 2-era Metal Gear Solids, and as the anecdote goes, more people bought Zone of the Enders for the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo than for the game itself. And now here we are again ten years later and Konami’s trying to sell yet another Metal Gear title off the back of Zone of the Enders. It’s just disappointing to see how shameless it is, that’s all.
Play It If You Like: Mecha Games
Again, there’s not much for me to compare the games to this time around. It’s like a hybrid of a Virtual On and an Armored Core (because God knows I love Armored Core), with the fast-paced combat of the former combined with the strategy and (somewhat) comparable gameplay of the latter.
Despite the dated window dressing and shoddy camera controls, both Zone of the Enders have held up rather nicely in the days since the PlayStation 2 era. Unlike the Budokai collection, the Zone of the Enders HD Collection is well worth the money because you’re getting two solid (if rather short) games for the price of one, instead of one good game and one marginal one. Both ZoE’s have their flaws, to be sure, but you should be easily able to look past them and have some fun with them. I would recommend the game to both people who missed out on both ZoE and 2nd Runner and to people who already own copies of them (or used to own them)—it’s not like playing the game all over again for the first time like, say, Black Mesa was, but it’s still a nice update to a pair of under-appreciated PS2 classics.
The Zone of the Enders HD Collection was reviewed with a copy provided by Konami.