Genre: Arena Mech Combat
Publisher: Phantagram Interactive, Inc.
Release Date: October 2002
In the days of the Romans, there were the Coliseums and the grandeur of fighting gladiators. In today’s world, there’s the glory of football and basketball. In the world of Phantom Crash there’s taking a fifteen-ton, ten story tall mech and blowing each other up. Welcome to Phantom Crash, the game where you engage in combat for glory, money, and women.
Phantom Crash is set in a distant and yet almost normal future. The great city of Tokyo has been reduced to rubble over the years and while Tokyo was rebuilt as New Tokyo nearby Tokyo itself still serves one last purpose, to act as an arena for fierce, fast, and fancy mech to mech combat. In Phantom Crash you play as a newcomer to the sport, called Rumbling. With only 200,000 New Yen to your name, you set out to be the top rumbler in all of Tokyo. Starting off you must first purchase a Scoobie, the nickname for mechs in the game. There are three corporations to buy Scoobies from, all with varying strengths and weaknesses. Some companies only sell strong and slow Scoobies, while others sell quick and nimble ones. Once purchased, the mech goes into your hangar and you are ready to rumble.
However, before you do, you should take a look around the games fairly large “world”. When not rumbling you can choose shops and places to visit via a map with icons. The places you can visit vary from music shops to Scoobie customization workshops, weapon retailers to the Rumbling signup area. Before going into combat you can buy different modules for your Scoobie ranging from legs, to torsos, to guns, to upgrades. The way you can customize your mech is similar to the Armored Core series, you can swap out whatever you want on your mech as long as you don’t go over your mechs weight limit, which allows for a lot of customization. You can also buy pre made paint schemes and stickers to give your mech a custom look.
In addition to tweaking your mech’s equipment and armament, you can tweak the parts themselves. Every part can be set to about 200 different levels, from –100 which is really heavy to 100 which is really light, with 0 being normal. Heavy weapons can carry less ammo and weight a LOT but can deal insane amounts of damage. Light weapons are just the opposite; they can carry lots of ammo and weigh a tiny bit but don’t do a whole lot of damage. While doing this costs quite a bit of money it enables the player to tweak their mech exactly the way they want it, players who have good accuracy should use heavy weapons due to their punch, but players who tend to spray and pray should pick light weapons due to their huge ammo loads. Every part of a mech can be customized like this, with body parts of a mech gaining and losing weight, durability, and performance depending on how heavy or light you set them to.
Yet another way you can customize your mech is by buying a chip. A chip serves a dual purpose. Made up by an extremely intelligent AI represented by an animal avatar, chips both help control your mech and act as a sidekick while you aren’t in combat. Every rumbler in the game has their own chip, with varying personalities. In combat, the stats of chips vary from chip to chip. One chip may help you lock on to enemies in a small square while others may utilize a wide but short rectangle. The shape chips use is unchangeable and varies from model to model, but you can upgrade your chip via the customization shop. Upgrading chips cost an arm and a leg but really help out in combat. However, once a chip gets to about level 20 it really isn’t cost effective to upgrade it any more.
Another thing about chips is they will become affectionate towards you over time, depending on how much you use them. Depending on how much a chip likes you, in combat it may engage a energy barrier around your mech when your mech is badly damaged, sometimes saving you from certain death. This presents a unique gameplay element, as while you can always just buy a chip and use it to lock your missiles once in a while a player who actually uses his chip’s capabilities a lot will have a much better mech overall.
Aside from the other shops there are a music shop, your garage, and the rumbling signup area. Inside the music shop you can browse songs made by real-life artists and buy them to play in combat. Phantom Crash doesn’t support custom soundtracks, which is a shame, but that doesn’t really detract from the gameplay at all as there are very many songs to choose from and there’s guaranteed to be at least one that fits your tastes.
The garage is where you can change your mech configuration, take it for a test drive, view it’s specifications, and pick what mech you will ride. At first you can only hold three mechs in your garage, buy you can purchase extra bays if you need more space. You can also save/load games while in the garage, as well as view the schedule of upcoming rumbling events and view your combat record.
The rumbling signup area is where you will end up going nearly every day. Inside you can take part in rumbling events, view the information on rumblers already inside the arenas, view the schedule of upcoming rumbling events, and pick what mech you want to ride. There are only three arenas in Phantom Crash which is a real downer at first, but the arenas are all fairly big and diverse. There’s always some thing new to try or do in every arena. When you want to rumble, first you view what events are going on that day in the three arenas. Each event will have its own specifications and sometimes limitations. Every event has a class limit ranging from Class A where the combat usually leaves you dead in a matter of seconds, to Class D where you can pretty much pick everyone off at your leisure. Occasionally there will be a Free Class, in which you will fight a variety of opponents from the extremely easy to the extremely deadly. Events limitations include mech manufacturer, admission fees, and reputation. Events limited by mech manufacturers will only allow mechs from a certain company in. Admission fees will charge you a fee to enter combat or simply not let you in if you don’t have the cash. Events limited by reputation will only let you in if you have downs some of the local top dogs and are fairly far into the game.
There are no start and end points in any arena where conflict starts and stops. Rather, battles rage all day, with contestants entering at any time and leaving when they’ve either had enough or have been blown to pieces. Before entering an arena you can view the information on the rumblers inside containing their names, mechs, chips, and how much money you make when you down them. Once you have picked your mech and arena you can enter, and the fun begins.
Every arena has a multitude of gates where players can enter and exit. Coming out of the gate you are protected by a shield that defends you against people who like to babysit the gates looking for easy prey. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from blowing the enemy to smithereens while you are safe behind the barrier. Controlling your mech is fairly difficult at first but quickly becomes intuitive. The left stick moves forward, back, and laterally while the right stick turns your mech and aims up and down. The left trigger fires the weapon on your left arm, and the right trigger fires the weapon on the right arm. The A button engages your jump jets, and pressing it again while in the air will fire the jets in reverse, slamming you back to the ground in case you really didn’t want to peek above a building. The Y and B buttons fire the weapons on your left and right shoulders respectively while the X button engages your mech’s optical camouflage. Optical camouflage serves as a cloaking device where guided weapons are totally ineffective, you are much harder to spot, and just look real cool. While the OC is active light bends around your mech, which is just an awesome effect in play. Of course, nothing is stopping the other rumblers from OCing as every mech has it which leads to very interesting gameplay. While sometimes the enemy is easy to spot, othertimes you may just see a building slightly squiggle out of the corner of your eye. If a mech with OC on is hit by any weapon on purpose or on accident it uncloaks and cannot recloak for a while, letting anyone with a guided weapon lock onto it. Also, mechs can only cloak for a certain amount of time and cannot cloak unless the cloaking generator is full, which leads to careful conservation of the OC. Some players may just use it sparingly at times where enemy weapons lock onto them, while others may use it all up then find someplace to hide while it recharges. It all depends on how you want to use it.
In every arena there are helipads where flying cargo ships will drop three random crates. Crates can either be ammo, health, or money, all in varying amounts. Health adds to your health, ammo maxes out the ammo of a random gun, and money adds a random amount to your current cash. You aren’t the only one who wants them though, as enemies will try to hang around helipads looking for goodies as well as you.
Every time you down an enemy mech you gain some cash. To collect, you need to exit the arena which can be done in one of two ways. You can either run to a gate, wait for it to open, and run inside, or you automatically leave when your mech is blown up. Getting blown up costs a lot of money, and you had better hope you made enough money in the arena or have enough on hand to compensate. For those that leave without getting destroyed, you get to reap the rewards. Determining how long you want to stay in an arena and when you want to leave is all up to you. Depending on your current health, ammo, and if there are any powerups around, sometimes its wiser to just call it a day and make a little bit of cash than risk getting blown up by being too greedy.
Graphically Phantom Crash is above average. The cloaking effect and the cockpit view just flat out rock. However, the textures and some of the models seem a bit uninspired. The levels are very well done, ranging from hallways inside an abandoned underground complex to a few decaying blocks of Tokyo. The intro cinematic to the game is simply awesome with a level of quality that is nearly unparalleled. It’s that good. The menus and characters in the game are reminiscent of Jet Set Radio Future, with a very cel shaded look to them. Overall, the graphics aren’t quite up to Xbox standards but aren’t that bad either.
Sound in the game is great. The hiss and clanks of mechs dodging each other’s fire, the gunfire and explosions ripping through the abandoned city streets, and the stomping footsteps of mechanical behemoths locked in mortal combat all come together to form an impressive combination. Pop it in and turn it up, there’s nothing here that is going to annoy you. Even the songs that you can play while in combat aren’t that bad, just pick one you like that there ya go.
Overall Phantom Crash is a pretty damn good game. It’s fairly addictive, it’s fun, and it’s likely to keep you entertained for quite a long time. While it doesn’t represent the pinnacle of what the Xbox has to offer it does break the mold from which many similar games are cast from and establishes itself as an original, carefree, and genuinely fun title that will entertain you for a good long while.