Developer: Game Arts
Release Date: December 14, 2004
Buy 'GUNGRIFFON: Allied Strike': Xbox
While GunGriffon: Allied Strike may seem like a brand spankin' new franchise to many of you Xbox gamers, it is actually the third installment in the giant robot action series. Starting with the inaugural Saturn GunGriffon, the series has always been floating about on the line between good and bad. Swimming about in a pool of mediocrity, GunGriffon games sometimes receive much needed props from journalists and fans alike; also, they are notorious for being called on for their overstated flaws.
Exactly the type of game one would expect a group like Working Designs or Mastiff to bring over (you know, one of those games that is too risky to spend the cash on localizing for one of the "big" publishers), Allied Strike has, surprisingly, been produced and published as a co-operative effort between developer GameArts (Grandia, Lunar) and Japanese Xbox supporters Tecmo (Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive 3). Fans of the series have been salivating over the prospect of a GunGriffon game with a little money behind it – after all, one of the more prominent excuses as to why the series has never achieved the levels of fame that fans think it deserves points to the size of its production values thus far – but sadly, Allied Strike once again leaves players feeling under-whelmed. However, the game does capture that odd, magical feeling that every GunGriffon release has somehow presented, despite the technical flaws that bring it down.
GunGriffon: Allied Strike takes place in a desolate world where all resources have been depleted. Splinters of soldiers and mercenaries must now band together in order to survive the fight over what is left. Accordingly, the meat of the game, it's single player experience, is made up of a frantic blend of offensive and defensive missions, with hordes of enemies of all types scattered about the battlefield.
From the first of the 13 single-player missions that make up Allied Strike's campaign, all 12 of the available machines are available. The lineup is much more diverse than what is in most mech battlers, with the usual slow and bulky or fast and underpowered machines set next to crazy jet mechs with strange balancing of abilities. The game actually pushes players to try out every available option, as each mission can be finished in many different ways with each different machine.
The missions themselves are where the game falters. While the controls are spot-on for every single one of the 12 mechs, the level design and especially the mission parameters seem to be thrown together thoughtlessly. The difficulty is not balanced in any sensible manner. Instead, the game throws players into a mix of extreme difficulty and short, five minute breezes that have no place in the game. I have a feeling that GameArts was trying hard to accurately interpret what real battles would be like – i.e., with no meticulously balanced difficulty – but without any real learning curve given to new players, and the awkwardness of the shorter missions, the missions seem like they were an afterthought. The problem is, missions make the game for a single player campaign, and without interesting and fun ideas within, it makes for a sour experience.
One might think the bland single player experience might be ignored for the better quality of the more open qualities of a good multiplayer mode, but for silly technical reasons, that is not the case here.
The deathmatch mode is completely straightforward, and it should be good for what it is: an eight player brawl for the most kills. The old standby. It is so close to being good, in fact, that it really makes me sad that I cannot fully enjoy my GunGriffon online experience – and it is because of technical issues, not design at all. If this game would have stewed in development for just a little longer, I'm sure all of the problems could have been fixed: Unnaturally jerky animation at random times, extreme doses of slowdown, and bad draw distance. The team deathmatch mode was the better of the two battle modes in the game, as there is nothing more fun than yelling at your teammates (especially when you're in a giant robot!) ... but the same technical problems arise here.
The single player mode is also available for online play with two players over Live. Team deathmatch would definitely be a better choice; the same flaws that plague the design of the single player mode also come up here. Couple that with the technical snafus that have this game in an online stranglehold, and you've got a mode that isn't worth booting up unless you really need to play a game of GunGriffon with some old friend of yours who moved a few thousand miles away from you.
Allied Strike is not a pretty game. But it isn't just an issue of art direction – which is, to this game's credit, at least above average. Odd, easily fixable technical issues bring down the visual quality of the game to a simply dismal level of "quality." The blocky models and muddy textures that make up the environments and giant robots are not just ugly, however. They are in such bad shape that it affects the gameplay. It becomes hard to tell where anything is, and even what you're looking at, regardless of how close you are in some situations. The draw distance is poor enough that it may end up getting you killed because you could not properly assess your surroundings. Though most of the flaws in GunGriffon games come coupled with a remarkable positive, there is simply isn't much good to say about this game's appearance.
GunGriffon's sound has, and always will be, just as inexcusable as the graphics are in in the game. This series has simply never sounded very good at all. One, irritating, inexplicably bad song is basically repeated over and over, although the sound option screen will claim there are many, many songs in the game. At best, they are remixes of the same horrible song. And of course, the sound effects are a muffled jumble of nothing that will make any self-professed audiophile regress to a childhood tantrum.
GunGriffon: Allied Strike has so many aspects of itself being so completely wrong that it is simply incredible that I found myself having a lot of fun with this game despite it all. Something about the controls, the atmosphere, the universe it takes place in, the designs of the mechs ... something about all of these things makes me forgive a lot of the problems the game has. I had fun with it, and I can do nothing to change that. I think most people will have fun with it, too, but not for the price tag it currently sports. Perhaps in a few months, a patch will release to fix this game's horrendous netcode? If so, pick it up immediately. Team deathmatch is calling you.