Reviews// Zone of the Enders HD Collection

Posted 6 Dec 2012 15:06 by
Zone Of The Enders isn't talked about much. Just two games two years apart with a big graphical leap between them. I can't think of another mech game that involves quite the same level of speedy airborne action...

Giant flying Orbital Frames piloted by Frame Runners, each armed with lasers, cannons and blades. While it might not be aiming for the more realistic side like Armoured Core, it doesn't stray too far into a fantasy world either. The space-age setting remains a backdrop for the characters to portray themselves through the Orbital Frames, much like puppets.

In 2001, Metal Gear Solid's spiritual sibling was born on Playstation 2. Before this, Hideo Kojima's apparent love of giant battling robots was restricted to a dominating roll as the mighty end-game bosses of the MGS series. ZoE seems to be just the chance he needed to bring out more high speed robot action without making huge changes to the Metal Gear universe.

With both of these franchises being developed in parallel under the tap of Kojima's wild imagination, there are huge visual similarities between the ZoE protagonist's orbital frame Jehuty and MGS2's Metal Gear Ray. ZoE even included the demo for MGS2 which was released a year later. Following this same trend the ZoE HD Collection includes an exclusive demo for Metal gear: Rising, due out just three months later.

I first picked up Zone of The Enders a few years after it was released and I absolutely loved it. By this time the quality of it's graphics were overtaken by newer PS2 games even back then, but I enjoyed it too much for that to be a problem. Back then I was gutted that I never managed to get hold of the second title, ZoE: The 2nd Runner. But now I'm excited that I can finally play it and I wonder how many people are in the same position.

Usually nostalgia just isn't what it used to be and, disappointingly, re-makes never feel the same way they used to. However, this collection has been a pleasure to play and ZoE is even more enjoyable than I remember it being before. Why did I ever put it down? The high speed gameplay was smooth and the weird-and-wonderful soundtrack perfectly matched the action as well as the contrasting quiet and emotional parts of the story.

The eerie soundtrack fits to the game throughout, not sounding like just the kind of thing that was popular at the time like Black Ops II just being full of dubstep. It sounds more like it belongs in the game's time, not ours.

But of course there is the laughable cockpit placement. It can be hard to take the pilot seriously when he's sitting in a giant robot codpiece, giving a literal meaning to the word "cockpit". Maybe it's just clever placement, since the frame just has to kneel so that the pilot can mount/dismount. Either way, it still makes me cringe when Jehuty goes into full-speed flight mode with a giant boner.

The HD action is flawlessly smooth in both of the remastered games so you'll never miss a beat, although ZoE's gameplay does look quite dated but not to the detriment of the playability. The graphics in The 2nd Runner are more simple and cartoon-looking and so have better stood the test of time as a result. In the cutscenes, unfortunately ZoE 1's pre-rendered 3D animations look fuzzy and really show the game's age. Whereas the 2nd Runner's cutscenes are fantastic looking animé that has been fully updated for HD.

The timing for this re-release could be good or bad, depending on which way you look at it. It's well placed in terms of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection earlier in the year and Metal Gear Rising coming up very soon, but it's a bit late in the PS3 and Xbox 360's lifetime. Also, it's roughly 10 years since the release of both of the original ZoE games so hopefully there'll be some word of ZoE 3 being in the works early next year.

Even though ZoE 1 is lagging a bit in the past it's still a great bit of nostalgia and holds up well enough to play in HD. The 2nd Runner is visually stunning and doesn't even feel close to retro. Just this game alone would be worth the price of the bundle! The 1v1 split-screen multiplayer is still as brilliant as always but I feel that they should have made this playable online. Maybe I'm asking for too much?

Pros
+ Two unique and brilliant old classics
+ The 2nd Runner looks brand new, barely shows its age
+ Lots of 1-vs-1 multiplayer with a range of orbital frames

Cons
- No online
- ZoE 1's cutscenes could've done with more work

SPOnG Score: 7/10

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