There's a small but hardcore group of people that love Omega Force's formula, iterated time and time again in the Warriors games (both Dynasty and Samurai flavors), and while it hasn't evolved too terribly much over the years, they can still count on this cadre of dedicated action-game players to put up the sales numbers with every release. Frankly, I got bored a few hours into DW4 after having done the same thing with the same characters in DW2 and DW3/XL, and I've been avoiding the series till they did something demonstrably different. That time is nigh, uniting fans of hack-'n'-slash battles with scores of Gundam fans, in a merger of Voltron-esque proportions. It's not perfect, but it's a nice change of pace for the two audiences.
For Gundam fans, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam is arguably the best game set in their universe, but it's the best one out right now, especially when compared to the critical flop that was Gundam: Crossfire. Warriors purists might find more to like about the recently released Orochi, but this new hybrid brought me back, and 55 hours later, I'm still going strong with it. Complaints about it being repetitive are practically moot at this point. The same people who complain about the gameplay here hold stuff like Final Fight and Streets of Rage in ridiculously high regard in contrast, for being painfully more simple than what's on offer in DW: Gundam.
Not realizing just how long the various Gundam series have actually been around, I had to do a little digging to figure out the characters here are from the Zeta Gundam series, for those of you to whom that actually means something. Amuro Ray, Haman Karn, Judau Ashta, Kamille Bidan, Master Asia, Milliardo Peacecraft and Paptimus Scirocco are just a few of the many faces in attendance here, and as usual, everyone has hiw own strengths and weaknesses. It seems that they're sometimes wildly unbalanced until you realize that the enemy AI always fights better than your teammates do, and gameplay skews depending on a multitude of criteria that can strengthen or weaken your opposition. It's also funny how I started the game thinking, "I'll never keep all of these names straight," much the way I did with DW's extensive cast of slayers, but after a few hours, I was able to name-drop the entire cast as if I'd been a fan for years.
There are two campaign options on offer: Official mode and original Mode. Official is a stretch of actual Gundam canon retold interactively — to an extent. The major shortcomings of this mode are that some characters have scant few missions, depending on their involvement in the story, and that despite how well you fight, you can't really change the outcome of the story. It's established mythos, so if Haman is supposed to beat Char, no matter who you're playing or whether you win the final bout, Haman still beats Char, and the same cut scene runs at the end of the fight. It feels kind of cheap, but the designers had to color between the lines, lest they upset the fan base.
Original mode is a new story surrounding a mysterious planet on a collision course with Earth that the heroes must work to prevent. This campaign corrects both of the problems with Official mode by balancing how many missions each character has (around five or six) and by having a slightly different version of the story with each perspective, sometimes having quite different objectives and endings. As Domon, you end up fighting a duel with your master at the story's conclusion, and you have to win on your own. As Amuro, you'll witness the same fight, but have to keep Domon (and another character elsewhere in the level) alive. In other situations, you're tasked solely with defeating the all-new Musha Gundam, which is the game's equivalent of Lu Bu from the DW games. He's big, mean, has no loyalties and can be one tough mother to beat.
Alliances sometimes shift mid-mission, friends become enemies and characters will retreat without being beaten (Puru has such a bothersome crush on Judau that she can't face him in combat); if nothing else, it makes keeping tabs on the mission updates that much more important, as the tide of battle can shift in an instant, as can the priority of objectives. Sometimes, it can be exhausting to get from where you are to where you suddenly need to be and juggle morale all at the same time. One of the big annoyances still present in this series is that you can't order any of the other warriors to back down when they're low on health or armor. It's a real pain to get to the end of a long mission, fight the last guy, and have his special attack demolish another pilot whom keeping alive was a mission priority, for no other reason than he wouldn't stay out of the way.
Fortunately, if things are looking shaky, you're always allowed to replay previous missions and buff up your characters and Mobile Suits before proceeding. This, combined with the multitude of parts you can acquire for each Mobile Suit per character, is where the game's replayability goes through the roof, if you can stick with it. Each character develops a unique set of experience in each of the dozen or so individual Mobile Suits. This means that Amuro can master his own suit, then all the others, then you can do it all again with Puru Two, then Emma Sheen, and so on. Maxing out each of the 16 pilots in every suit will easily take even the most dedicated player weeks or months to accomplish, and there are still probably better equippable items you can dredge up on higher difficulty levels. For those who dig the gameplay, there's certainly plenty of it to go around.
What's known as the Double Musou attack from DW has returned, where you and another pilot (AI or player-controlled), when in close proximity and both with full SP gauges, can unleash a powered-up team special attack. They're fun to use and look nice, if you can steer it into a useful damage path. How long the attack runs depends on your SP gauge and how much you've juiced it up. It can max out at three segments, each of which adds another string of different attacks to your SP move.
Basic melee combos also get powered up the longer you fight and gain experience. However, instead of adding the depth of the 4-5-6 hit basic combos of the older DW games, you get the same basic four-hit move, but in succession two or three times, depending on your level. Still, mixing and matching combos mid-string and using the Mobile Suit's boosters to scoot around the battlefield make it a lot more exciting than chasing the elusive enemy on foot, à la the older games. Jumping and boosting can get you out of harm's way in a pinch, and the Zeta and ZZ Gundams actually transform into jet form and can shoot at targets while buzzing overhead, which is pretty cool. It also cuts down the time required to traverse the large battlefields.
Enemy AI still leaves a lot to be desired on the easier difficulty levels. Most of the masses on both sides just stand around staring at each other, waiting for you to rush in and do the job for them. It looks kind of stupid at times, so I kicked it up to Hard to see if they were more active, and suddenly had to boost and dodge constantly to keep from getting knocked down, even by peons. There's challenge in DW: Gundam; just bear with the easier levels for the experience points, and then step it up.
One thing that gets irritating is that enemy pilots will often retreat before you can finish them off, making it so they can reappear in a bad place at a worse time. It keeps things tense, but there were instances where I longed for the days when a defeated character stayed dead and gone. The boss AI often succumbed to just letting me pick away at them safely with my rifle from a distance, apparently not bright enough to find a way to evade me. On harder difficulties or in close quarters, it's less of an issue, but still dumbs down gameplay for those with the patience to fight this way.
The visuals aren't nearly as next-gen as they ought to be. It's definitely high-res and has more on-screen combatants than any game in this series I've seen to date. There's still the occasional bit of draw-in, and the texturing and geometry on everything in the environments feels second-rate compared to that of the Mobile Suits, and fifth-rate compared to the best-looking PS3 games out there. In the outer space levels, draw-in looks especially goofy, and I even ran into some horrendous slowdown, usually at least once per battle. The camera stays behind and above you, perhaps to help mask some of these graphical foibles and to keep the draw distance from hampering frame rates. It succeeds more often than not, but there are still occasional problems. However, managing the camera is not as big a deal as some would have you believe. You can finally pivot it with the right analog stick, and, as always, put it right behind you with the L1 button. The speedy and frantic nature of the combat makes it virtually impossible for the camera to keep up, but it's not unwieldy by any means.
The sound department basically gets the job done. Voice acting is likely on par with the anime (pretty good, with a little cheesiness here and there) and isn't quite as dorky as it was in the olden days of DW. A few battle phrases get blurted too often, but it's tolerable and you don't notice as much if you focus on the fighting. However, someone who's nearby and not playing will probably tell you to hit the mute button, or just stop doing that attack after a few minutes. The music is decent, if not spectacular, with changes depending on battle conditions and where you are in the level. At no point is it grating; at worst, you'll hardly notice it, and at best, it'll get you pumped up for that last boss fight.
The multiplayer comes in three varieties, including somewhat vanilla one-on-one matches with no power-ups; a similar match where you start off against some enemies, grab power-ups they drop, and then face each other; and the Shotdown Contest, where you try to keep the number of enemies in your field below 50. The latter is the most fun of the three, but it would be great to have a single-player variant of this mode, since it doesn't really capitalize on the multiplayer setting, like having a tug-of-war setup or anything like that. Of course, you can play through all of the campaign missions in both modes with two players, which is where I imagine most team games will take place. Unfortunately, there are no online modes yet again. Someone needs to buy Omega Force a network programmer, as their games have been sorely lacking online features for several years now. Personally, I'm still waiting for the MP mode where an actual player controls each pilot/general on the field. Seriously, it's about damn time.
The game's title tells you pretty much everything you need to know about it. I guess I'm one of those mutants who just digs the simplicity and ferocity of this series, and I can't get enough of slashing through 30 enemies at once, seeing the bodies go flying and tumbling into each other. The pace of the fighting is up, and it feels pretty nice to rocket around vertically and laterally in a flash, energy sword blazing in one hand and infinite ammo blaster in the other. Doing so in a newly powered-down enemy field full of weakened enemies is even better. The gameplay and setting have been tweaked just enough to be fun again, and the new SP attacks are some of the most raucous ever. The same flaws these games have always had still haven't been addressed, but it's an overall good time.
If you enjoyed any Dynasty/Samurai Warriors or Gundam titles in the past and are ready for something familiar but different, this game's for you. Even after beating all of the core missions and campaigns, the game leaves plenty to do. Too bad they still haven't gone online with this franchise, but, yet again, maybe next time. It's arguably the most fun anime-inspired game I've played since Robotech: Battlecry. Now if you'll excuse me, I still have some Mobile Suits to level up.
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