Namco has always been about refining rather than defining. Their biggest arcade titles have consistently upped the ante on existing genres--everything from driving, riding, fighting to shooting, skiing, dancing, you name it. And to their credit, Namco was first with the notion that arcade and consumer development should reach a perfect compromise so both parties benefit. With their System 11 board, Namco singlehandedly dominated both arcades and consoles; they gave coin operators an affordable (and profitable) alternative to Sega's high-end Model 2 games, while ensuring that home conversions on the PlayStation were flawless and identical. Namco's latest wonder, Crisis Zone, is not only a marvel of software engineering, but quite possibly a final hurrah for System 23 (which also housed Time Crisis 2). For Crisis Zone, Namco aimed to simulate the power of a machine gun; and in typical Namco fashion, they've taken a sub-genre and refined Crisis Zone to be one of the most exhilarating shooting games ever.
The "crisis zone" in question is Garland Square, a megamall complex just outside of London. It's been recently discovered that the terrorist group URDA is developing an underground nuclear reactor beneath the mall. Further investigation has revealed that URDA plans to destroy London with a meltdown if the authorities refuse to cave into their demands.
As one of the five elite members in the STF assault group, your job is to infiltrate and avert a potential global disaster. While none of the characters from previous Crisis games ever carry over to their sequels, the goal of the series remains the same. Shoot your onscreen enemies before they get the chance to squeeze off a shot on you.
Crisis Zone has three major points of departure from previous Time Crisis titles. The first immediate difference is that this time around, your standard weapon is a fully automatic assault rifle. Gone are the days of wimpy pistols in the heat of battle. Your weapon has a magazine capacity of 40 rounds, but be careful though--40 rounds can go mighty quick. Spraying an area with gunfire might give you a rush, but it isn't always effective; better to focus your fire on single targets. To compensate for your boost in firepower, all enemies in Crisis Zone are now equipped with full body armor. Whenever they take damage, a lifebar that appears above their heads will show you how much health they have left.
Unlike Sega's Gunblade series, the machine gun in Crisis Zone is attached to the cabinet with a cable. This means that you'll have to cradle this baby in your arms while you fire and forget. Combine the actual weight of the weapon with the tactile kickback when you pull the trigger, and you have one of the most realistic shooting games ever. We've come a long way since Operation Wolf.
The second major shift in the Time Crisis paradigm is the pacing and flow of the action in Crisis Zone. In previous games, you went from scene to scene and remained stationary throughout most of the action (this was most evident in the first Time Crisis). In Crisis Zone, you're constantly in motion. To retain the same "poke and shoot" gameplay of its predecessor, you now hide behind an armored shield when you reload. This design decision makes Crisis Zone faster-paced, more realistic and a much more dynamic affair. Finally, Crisis Zone differs from Time Crisis 1 and 2 in that its environments are now more interactive than ever. Nearly everything is destructible. Everything. Namco spared no details when they created Garland Square. To illustrate what we mean, check out the chaos in some of these screenshots. We learned after talking with Namco that most of the team's development time was spent in researching and perfecting the way objects and bodies behaved when they were struck by a volley of gunfire. Statues will dynamically crumple; rugs will ripple and fold; tennis balls, hats, stacks of paper, glass and much more will scatter and shatter to the whimsies of your gun. Crisis Zone is made up of three non-linear levels (you decide your point of entry and the game will unfold accordingly) and a major end-boss level. The game will also rate your performance on a stage-by-stage basis and adjust the difficulty to best suit your experience level. It's time to bust a cap.