Robotech: Battlecry Review

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Publisher: TDK Mediactive
Developer: TDK Mediactive

Platform: Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

When a giant spacecraft slams into a Pacific Island, the resultant shock wave caused global destruction. The world was at war, but suddenly a threat of invasion by an alien species unites the people of Earth. They band together to rebuild the crashed ship and discover a stunning technology – Robotech. With this technology the people of Earth are able to build the Robotech Defense Force (RDF) as the planet's best defense against the Zentradi threat. You take on the role of Jack, a hot shot jet pilot turned RDF recruit in a desperate attempt to keep Earth's citizens safe from harm.

Rob de los Reyes

Style and substance were at war in Robotech: Battlecry, and substance lost. But what style. In Battlecry, you have anime for non-fetishists: all the cel-shaded fun without the anime angst of, say, the otherwise excellent Robot Alchemic Drive. Battlecry is based on the old animated Robotech series that, perhaps, you're still enjoying today on cable channel 847 weeknights at 3 a.m. It is difficult not to load Battlecry up and feel some pleasant twinge of nostalgia. Even if you never saw a single episode of Robotech – and it's certainly no prerequisite to playing the game – the "It's anime... but 3D... and I control it!" experience delivers genuine pizzazz. But as the hours wear by and you come to feel as though you've "seen it", you'll look for the substance and wish it had at least managed to fight style to a draw.

In the abstract, perhaps it seems silly, this business of a "cel-shaded" game. You might look at the screenshots below and think you've seen it all before as a child. The pictures below are, unfortunately and inescapably, mired in 2D. Here, you really are just seeing the same drawing you saw growing up. In the game, however, you'll find a fully 3D world modeled in that familiar black ink bordered style of 2D animation. The world has a slightly alien feel to it precisely because you think it ought to be familiar but isn't. The strangeness is exciting not only for its novelty, but also because you can't help but admire the solutions to certain artistic problems, such as flying through a smoke trail. Battlecry is hardly the first game to explore the cel-shading effect, but, perhaps enhanced because you know what the 2D version looks like, the transition to 3D here seems particularly well done.

Whatever your appreciation for the visuals, soon enough you'll have taken it all in. New elements and designs are added throughout the single-player campaign, but it's not so much the design of individual items as it is the total effect of the game that is enthralling at the start. Consequently, the new designs, while well conceived and crafted, cannot sustain the early wonderment. Once the bloom is off, you'll start to notice the uninspired and occasionally frustrating mission design. Too often, your mission objectives are both arbitrary and unspoken. Fly around and shoot down enemies... until the mission decides you're done based on some unrevealed criteria. Defend this structure... until the mission decides you're done or the building falls down totally by surprise. Defend the SDF-1... until the mission decides you're done or the SDF-1 blows up from attacks you never even knew were occurring. Rescue a pilot in the hills (subpart 3 of 3 with no save point)... oops, "Mission Failed" 10 seconds after you start looking for him. All that in just the first two chapters. The trouble is that you'll never really know what the trigger was for your failure, and even once you beat the level, you still won't know what you did differently than the time before. True, you are presented with a list of objectives that may be accessed from the pause menu, but, unable to deduce the logic of the game, you'll constantly wonder what your "real" objective is.

All of which is a shame because it seems like most of the tools are in place to do the job right. The radar screen represents a nice compromise between leading you by the nose and leaving you completely lost. Enemies, allies and objectives all appear on radar, but the guidance is directional – you'll still have to find your own way through the maze to head in the appropriate direction. In addition, your transforming robot vehicle has three different shapes (robot, jet fighter and robot/jet hybrid – like a jet fighter with limbs), and each has readily apparent strengths and weakness for various mission tasks. Distinct functionality is a good thing. But some of the potential seems unused. You'll rarely make a spur of the moment tactical decision to change shapes, even though it's wonderfully easy to do so. Most often, one shape seems best for the entire mission (or sub-mission), so the trick is simply to figure out which one before you even start. Sometimes, you need not even figure it out for yourself as you're told which shape is best.

And therein lies another problem. When the missions aren't totally obtuse, they're often too easy. You never run out of ammunition. Rather, your actions are curtailed by built-in firing delays and something like a heat meter that drains with each shot. That's not a bad design choice when you're trying to emphasize free-wheeling action over stealth and tactics. The issue arises in missions in which you use the hybrid ship mode. That particular shape is equipped with short range missiles with a 360 degree firing arc. Such missiles don't always hit a locked target (sometimes they run into intervening terrain), but, without a restriction on ammunition, it's easy enough simply to lean on the fire button for those missiles and forget about them. You don't even need to see an enemy to destroy him with that weapon, so the only thing pushing you to use your gun is your own desire to press a different button for the sake of variety.

The same problem emerges in the multiplayer mode. Unless you just agree beforehand to have a jet fighter-only or robot-only duel, matches tend to devolve into wave after wave of those 360-degree short range missiles. That tactic can probably be beaten by a skilled pilot, but the multiplayer maps are awfully confined for the speedy jet mode. Since all the weapons auto-lock (again, a reasonable enough design choice for the action-oriented single-player campaign), using any weapon besides those short range missiles is merely a race to see who can face whom first.

Battlecry certainly is worth a rental if only for the sake of taking in the splendid art design. You may even find that you're able to pick up on the game logic that eluded me. If so, there's plenty of game to be had. The single-player campaign is plenty long enough such that you'd feel like you got your money's worth if you enjoyed the missions along the way. Certain in-game awards to be had for accuracy and whatnot may give you a reason to replay some missions even after meeting the minimum criteria (whatever they may be) for advancing. On the other hand, maybe Battlecry is simply a solid weekend's worth of fun and a reminder to turn back to channel 847 for some Robotech reruns. It may not be all it could be, but perhaps it's enough.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 11, 2002 4:04 PM.

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