Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3
So many suits and pilots, so little variety. This title from publisher Namco Bandai and developer Koei is the third installment that combines the hack and slash Dynasty Warriors franchise with the long running saga of Gundam anime meta-series. And with the plethora of unlockables and customization options, the product is held down by repetitive "tap friendly" gameplay.
Welcome (once again) to the world of Gundam, the Sunrise Studio staple that started with the Moblie Suit Gundam series in spring of 1979 which spawned three movies, a passionately devoted fan base, and many other "branching" series. Also welcome (once again, again) to the Dynasty Warriors universe, a traditional third person action "hack and slash" establishment than once got its inspiration from the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, a 14th century historical piece which examines the last years of the ancient Han dynasty. So for the third time running, Koei has supplanted the "history" of Gundam with the core gameplay of DW. Hack and slash in mech suits? This should be very cool...
The single player stock is the main feature of this game (which is kind of refreshing to see in the online heavy world of action gaming). You can play as many pilots in the anime's annals, including: Amuro Ray, Banagher Links, Heero Yuy, and so on. There are also 100+ MS to choose from (Gundam, Nu Gundam, Turn X, Double X, ect.). Characters falls within different Chapter veins, or groups that have their own outlook on the ongoing conflict. So, Amuro, Setsuna F. Seiei, Kuo Uraki and others fall under the chapter entitled "Those who Understand" while Garrod Ray, Audrey Burne, and Loran Cehack belong to "Those who Pass By." While this sounds a little unnecessary, its a cool way to offer a boatload of missions while presenting many different characters without the need to make nonsensical "tie-ins" that would be more trouble than they're worth.
There are a few new features in DW Gundam 3 that attempt to validate the worth of another release. Arguably the biggest one is the Battle Gauge. This fresh addition to the HUD gives you a visual representation of how the battle is going with two bars: one for the Allies and one for the Enemies. The more and more of a hurtin' that's put on the opposing side will drain it to nothing, which results in Victory! To accomplish this, you will need to hack your way to capturing all of the enemy fields and slash the health of the stage boss to submission. The Allies bar, of course, shows the wherewithal of the "good guys" but will also allow you to respawn in the event of defeat on you part (assuming there is enough in the tank to support a "come back"). This is a change from the previous titles, in which death meant replaying the mission. If you build up enough in the SP gauge, the newly minted Partner Strike becomes available, in which a pull of the Right Trigger tags in your selected teammate for a quick robo leg-up in a tight spot.
Other campaign constructs include an array of other mission types. Friendship missions give you access to knew pilots upon completion while Challenge missions are a true exercise of your Gundam skills. If the latter seem impossible, burn through the good number of Tutorial ventures to get yourself acclimated to how things work. And Memorial missions are a series that "commemorate your accomplishments" by unlocking rare rewards for getting through seriously tough odds. These will undoubtedly make you upgrade your favorite MS (if you haven't already). The Mobile Suit Lab is the customization garage for boosting attributes of the mecha. "Develop" offers templates called Plans that "slide" the Specs from positive to negative (Thruster level increases, but Shot goes down, ect.). "Customize" gives you the wrench and enables individual Spec boosts with the "Upgrade Mobile Suit" option and "Add Special Equipment" gives extra abilities like Dash causing damage to enemy forces.
One pleasant aspect of the gameplay itself is that each suit actually "feels" different than the next and has its own mark of effectiveness. Although the Double X looks awesome, it doesn't hold a candle to the Turn A in terms of control and damage. Considering the "cookie cutter" nature of hack and slash, it's cool to see this varied aspect. But with all the expansive pilot, suit, and customization options, at the end of the day it's still a repetitive tap X rinse/repeat game. Sure, each mech attacks a bit differently in the animation department, but it makes enemies do the same anemic "step back" motion until they eventually blow up. When the DW series still had its roots in ancient Chinese history, this formula actually seemed to work. Here you are, as one normal human being taking on legions and legions of other regular people. The "fact" that you could trounce through hundreds and thousands of others made of pure flesh and blood made the whole experience sort of exhilarating (I mean, that's what makes the Battle of Thermopylae so awesome). But within the Gundam world, the core gameplay engine isn't as impressive. Isn't the whole fictional idea of a mech suit to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and kick extra ass when you're all out of bubblegum? Without "jazzing up" the heart of DW with a simple Gundam overlay makes the action much less exciting.
On the positive side, presentation is actually pretty good. The decision to go with Cel-shaded graphics may have been a way to alleviate the need to generate "excellent" visuals that "belong" in the current generation knowing (with the team and budget) it just isn't attainable. But so what? The characters look really awesome and their movements aren't affected by the "shading" style. The backdrops and environments don't look quite as good, but it's not so bad as to take away from the stuff that does work. Sound is strong, especially the effects of clanking metal in the fields of battle. But the voice acting does leave something to be desired.
In terms of multuplayer: it's all co-op in two different forms. Two players can team up locally and fight on. But most will probably take advantage of the four player option over LIVE. One cool thing is that the experienced gained with different pilots in the Story carries over into online, and vice versa. You can also slash through some enemies in a mini-game while waiting for other compadres (makes the wait in the lobby a much better one). The actual experience is so-so. It's always cool to play co-op, more so when missions are especially designed for it like they are in DW Gundam 3. But while I was playing, I felt like the combined powers of four humans just ravaged the challenges put in front of us. Perhaps the lobby creators kept it easy just to rank up quicker, because the whole thing lost it's appeal rather quickly.
The third time should have had more charm
I wouldn't call this game bad. In terms of what it does at its core, it executes without really any mistakes. But the core gets really boring. Hack and Slash works best when the deck is stacked against you. But in a "power suit," this imaginative effect is gone. As you can probably tell, I know very little about the Gundam universe (outside of watching an episode, maybe two of Gundam Wing "back in the day" on Toonami) but I can respect the effort shown in textual background of the title. The number of missions, mechs, and characters is staggering and is really what a fan would look for and be very happy with. It's just a shame the gameplay isn't as awesome.