Gun Metal Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Rage

Platform: Xbox
Reviewed on Xbox

Take control of your people's last hope for winning the war against invaders – the Havoc Suit. Standing 30 feet tall, the Havoc Suit is a transforming robot and jet fighter, each bristling with weaponry. Play through fourteen levels of hectic arcade action en route to saving the world from evil. And remember, you're not just a jet plane, you're a robot in disguise.

Rob de los Reyes

Gun Metal marks the beginning of what figures to be a busy season for giant robot games, with Robotech due out any day now, and MechAssault, Phantom Crash and Steel Battalion all due out before year's end. All told, robot jocks should have their hands full here in the back half of 2002. But, despite sharing a central conceit, not all 'mech games look or play in the same way. PC gamers have had many years now to enjoy a MechWarrior series that, in its various iterations, has tended to play more like a flight sim than a shoot ‘em up arcade romp. That level of detail is probably neither possible nor even desirable in a console game (yet), and so a game like Gun Metal ends up being an entirely different gaming experience. In fact, Gun Metal has a great deal more in common with free-for-all arcade adventures like Contra or (going way back) Defender than it does with the full-keyboard, technical MechWarrior series.

Then again, Contra and Defender never looked as good as Gun Metal. The graphics are attractive, with interesting design and a fair amount of variety. The Z-axis is given a workout, with a range of enemy sizes from tiny ground soldiers (suitable for squashing under foot) to hulking, airborne behemoths. Hills, valleys, open plains, destructible trees and metallic bases punctuate the combat zones. The color palette is bright, and the land is dotted with small (destructible) farms and (destructible) dinosaur-like animals to fill in blank spaces. While neither your robot nor jet bears the extensive detail of a sim game, you'll probably be too busy notice. Between the frenetic game pacing and your frequent and well-animated transformations from robot to jet and back again, you'll rarely have the time for a long look-see anyway.

All in all, the feel is appropriately anime, pulling up just short of the cel-shading style of art that you'll find in the forthcoming Robotech. The anime atmosphere is rounded out by the enthusiastic, if irritating, vocal quality of the narrator who gives you your mission briefings and various mid-level promptings. His gravelly barking is vintage anime, but those of us old enough to remember Battlestar Galactica might have preferred an idea discussed but scrapped earlier in Gun Metal's development process: a narrator who sounds like a Cylon. Alas, this is probably the wiser marketing move given a generation of gamers who hear the word "Starbuck" and think "latte" instead of "the blond guy."

Commensurate with the arcade style of play, the control scheme is geared toward reflex action rather than careful consideration. The ability to reverse your course in jet mode by pulling down on your control stick and tapping the B button is inspired simplicity. That quick combination of controls produces a result both visually interesting and incredibly useful in gameplay. More cumbersome is the weapon selection mechanism. You switch weapons by tapping a button to scroll through a horizontal list at the bottom of your screen. The problem is that, given the nonstop action, it's risky to look down long enough to make sure you've found the right weapon. The names of the weapons simply aren't prominent enough, so you'll have to remember what the icons stand for. It isn't a showstopper but a noticeable defect in an otherwise easy-to-handle control scheme.

Mech purists may scoff at the simplicity of control, but they'll need it. There may be a plot or story in here somewhere (something about saving the world, last hope for man, all we want is what's beyond the Thunderdome, or something along those lines), but the narrative thread is a footnote to the arcade action. Arcade games were never much impaired by that fact, and neither is Gun Metal. Also much like those old stand-up arcade games, Gun Metal lies in the school of game design that favors a screen awash in activity. You may be able to dodge the occasional missile as your narrator screams at you to execute a barrel roll, but, for the most part, the plan is to deal out as much damage as you can while your shields gradually wear down from the pounding you're taking. Put differently, almost every level in Gun Metal plays like a boss level. There is little progression inside missions – just a race against a timer (your dwindling shield power, a charging weapon, the loss of allied forces, etc.) and a search for the level's Achilles' Heel. Moreover, most levels feel just about as difficult as a typical boss level.

The frenzy certainly offers some thrilling moments, but Gun Metal should have taken one further lesson from old arcade games – heroes go on the offensive. Too many missions saddle you with the task of holding your ground or preserving some object other than yourself. There's nothing inherently wrong with such missions as an element of game design, but they are frustratingly out of place in a game that screams run-and-gun. What's the use of being a super stud robot jockey if you constantly have to play nanny to paper-thin allies? Far more exhilarating are your opportunities to rip through an enemy line, oblivious to the pin pricks of any one of the hundreds or thousands of shots you'll take in the course of a mission. That was the key to a game like Contra – the relentless need to gain ground against screen full of weaponry trained on you. Gameplay like that is simple, even a little silly, but also the sort of fun that kept the quarters flowing from your pocket into the machine.

And so Gun Metal is close. Attractive graphics, easy controls, smooth animation and swift pacing lend the feeling of an old-time, brainless, marvelous arcade game. If only Gun Metal had followed its model further. Too much time is spent on your heels when you'd rather be dashing forward, mowing down everything in your path. Still, it's worth a shot. Stuff your laundry quarters in your pockets, put one on top of your Xbox to call next game, and take the time to relive a bit of your misspent youth.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 22, 2002 3:43 PM.

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