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Guilty Gear 2: Overture

Platform(s): Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Aksys
Developer: Arc System Works
Release Date: Oct. 7, 2008 (US), Sept. 4, 2009 (EU)

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Guilty Gear 2: Overture'

by Brad Hilderbrand on Dec. 9, 2008 @ 3:59 a.m. PST

Guilty Gear 2: Overture is the newest installment in the Guilty Gear franchise, deviating from the series beat'm up norm by not calling it GG X, as well as by adding some RTS where you need resources to gather your army and destroy the enemy's base.

A lot of games claim to be genre-bending, but normally that's little more than PR speak and a smoke and mirrors attempt to get gamers to buy the same old thing dressed up in a pretty new package. Alas, that isn't the case with Guilty Gear 2: Overture, which truly does defy classification, often to a fault. The title is part action game and part strategy, and you never quite know what it's going to throw at you next. You are then left with a shallow but fun title that, with a little more focus, could have been something truly amazing.

First off, the story line in Overture is pretty incomprehensible to any but the most thoroughly knowledgeable series fanatics. Characters prattle on and on about "the Backyard," That Man/the Gear Maker, chords, the 12 steps and various other babble that is never going to make sense for the vast majority of players. The short version of what's going on is that series protagonist Sol Badguy has been summoned to save the kingdom of Illyria from a mysterious girl who has been killing off Gears, living weapons used for war centuries ago. Sol is determined to figure out her motive, and once he does, he must put a stop to her nefarious plans. Honestly, that's all the story elements a layman will understand, so don't worry too much about what else is going on.

When the game kicks off, it gives an impression that it's basically going to play like a Dynasty Warriors clone, complete with hordes of weak-willed bad guys and more combo attacks than you can shake a stick at. After a few levels, though, the game throws you a curveball and introduces a fairly enjoyable strategy aspect. Gamers and their opponents are given a "masterghost," which serves as home base for the ensuing battle, and spread around the battlefield are a number of smaller "ghost" nodes that both sides must try to control. Gaining control of a ghost grants mana, which players can then spend on summoning servant units onto the battlefield to aid in combat. The game includes a simple rock-paper-scissors system for the units, allowing you to easily counter your opponent's troops with proper soldiers of your own. The strategy aspects are presented slowly over a series of missions, allowing you to easily come to grips with each new tool at your disposal.

The main problem with strategic combat in Overture is that it can largely be ignored, severely dampening its impact on the game. Not only do players have to option to pause combat while accessing the Organ (the in-game method of summoning troops and planning attacks), but you can also automate the whole process, never even worrying about what kind or how many troops to summon. Some might say this is an issue only for the lazy and question why this is an issue, considering "real" strategy gamers are going to be calling up their own units in real time, like the game wants you to. That's all well and good, but even when you take over the reins and handle it yourself, there's little reason to bother calling up reinforcements. Most enemies you face can be easily dispatched with a few swipes of Sol's sword, and the best plan of attack is to quickly capture all of the ghosts, leaving your opponent defenseless, and then attacking the masterghost with full fury. Ultimately, even though the strategic gameplay of Overture is peppered with good ideas, there just isn't enough incentive there to get you to play the game the way the developers intended.

Strangely enough, just as the game starts to get humming with the strategy elements, it abandons them to return to the role of Dynasty Warriors clone. It's one thing for a game to change up the play style a bit in order to keep itself from becoming stale, but Overture never even gives you a chance to settle in and truly learn the combat, let alone get bored with it. Sadly, the final few stages turn into button-mashing fests as you whale on enemies and bosses, completely abandoning any subtlety or nuance of combat that had been built up along the way. By the time it's said and done, you just won't care anymore, which is tragic for a game with so much early potential.

For those too confused or disappointed with the game's campaign, there is also a free play option, which puts you in a series of missions with specific objectives to complete in order to advance. These challenges are actually quite enjoyable, as they allow you to play with a number of characters, rather than just Sol. The title also features online multiplayer, but most gamers would be wise to steer clear for fear of running into the uberfans who seem to populate the Overture servers. These are the super hardcore: folks who know every combo for every character and can easily beat you with one arm tied behind their backs. You may think you have a winning strategy when it comes to playing online, but once you meet these folks, you'll be begging for mercy in no time. It's not exactly a friendly place for those looking to ease into online combat.

Overture's presentation is extremely hit-and-miss, with some aspects of graphics and sound shining while others are left sorely wanting. Some of the character models, particularly those of the servant units, are gorgeous, especially those with a distinct ancient Japanese flair. Many of the environments, however, are quite boring, and the game's linear nature means that a lot of the scenery is off limits pretty much at all times. The voice acting also features its own ups and downs, with most characters falling into the camp of either being too whiny and needy or overly condescending and cynical. There are a couple of blokes who hit the sweet spot, managing both the correct balance of seriousness and whimsy, but by and large, the game plays out in a similar fashion to many of the anime series it seems to mimic, with a heaping helping of dark, gothic landscapes and severe melodrama.

Guilty Gear 2: Overture has a lot of good ideas and offers some entertaining gameplay moments, just not enough to warrant a purchase for most consumers. The story is incredibly dense so most will lose interest quickly, and the game's mechanics jump around from one style to another so much that it can be difficult to really get a handle on what's going on. If the developers had focused less on the story and more on making the gameplay coherent, consistent and fun, then this easily could have been a surprise hit, one of those games you expect little of and then end up pleasantly surprised. The finished product we do have is one that will easily appeal to fans of the franchise but few others. The good news is that the foundation is there, so if there is ever a Guilty Gear 3, it has a template to grow from; the bad news is that this time around, Guilty Gear comes up short and will likely get lost in the shuffle of bigger, better, more deserving holiday titles.

Score: 7.3/10

 


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