Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front
It's been fifty years since colonizing space had become the solution to Earth's overpopulation problems, allowing much needed relief to crowded cities. Since that time, hundreds of space colonies resembling large cities have orbited the Earth with their residents becoming quite comfortable calling these places home. In addition to calling these colonies home, an identity started developing within the residents causing dissension and distrust of the bureaucrats of Earth who force their rules and regulations on the colonies. Tired of not being able to govern themselves, the people of Side 3 took the ultimate step by declaring their independence and going by the new name, Principality of Zeon. To show they mean business in addition to displaying their might and power, the newly formed Principality of Zeon dropped one of their space colonies down to Earth, causing significant damage. Taking advantage of their surprise attack, secondary assaults quickly followed giving the Principality of Zero a tactical superiority over the Earth Federation forces. With the Earth Federation forces reeling, the Principality of Zeon continues to press forward in an effort to break the back of the Federation.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front offers for the first time the ability to take on the Earth Federation as a soldier for the Principality of Zeon. Taking a page from Rainbow Six, both strategy and action styles of play are combined to create an experience from a field commander's point of view. Missions are set up beforehand with routes and lay points created, teams generated, and intelligence reviewed. Once completed, the mission is then executed from the field with success depending on the planning done earlier. Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front definitely qualifies as the best game released under the Gundam license to date, but reaching audiences not familiar with Gundam will still be a stretch. Although solid for the most part, most areas of the game qualify as functional, but not overly exciting.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front, as stated earlier, emulates a [Rainbow Six] game structure. If you're not familiar with Rainbow Six, each mission starts with a briefing of the situation and goals are given that must be achieved. These are often objectives like breaking through an enemy defense line, covert attacks to occupy enemy facilities, and adding muscle to weakening front lines. After the briefing is over, the strategy aspect of the game becomes relevant.
After starting the mission, there are a number of different ways the mission plan can be created and modified. First, the team that will be taken to the field must be set up. Here the team leaders are selected and their mobile suits are armed with equipment most appropriate to the current mission. For instance, during a night mission, the more advanced sensors should be added in addition to enhanced night vision hardware allowing enemies to be sighted before they see you. There is a limit to how much extra hardware can be added however, so knowing your mission objectives becomes critical. Each team leader also can have up to three other mobile suits in their squad. The rest of the squad has the same mobile suit as their leader including support hardware.
Once the teams are selected, they must be given routes to follow as a battle plan is created. To do this a simple 3D map is used to show the battle area, including buildings and other large obstacles. There are usually preliminary routes already set up for each squad but often changes to them can allow missions to be completed more quickly and efficiently. Battle codes can also be set up to allow a timing element into the battle plan. For instance, a battle code could be set up so three mobile suit units could surround an enemy but not attack until the battle code is given. This keeps one unit from taking the full force of the enemy's attack and splits the battlefront in three directions. The progression of the squads in correlation with the battle codes however creates a more effective plan. Being able to control the pace and if the squads are to avoid or engage the enemy, can allow squads to infiltrate areas without raising an alarm or open fire on any enemy sighted, helping clear safe areas.
All that's left before the mission starts is to view information that might be useful and get any advice offered. These steps can be skipped but are useful and for more difficult missions they become almost necessary. There is also an option to save the mission at this point. Without this, every time you restarted, the mission would have to be set up again, becoming cumbersome.
The process as a whole adds enough strategy elements to be entertaining without being overly detail driven. It does mimic Rainbow Six significantly however, but is actually slightly less intuitive to use. Specifically when routes are being created using the 3D map, getting paths set can be awkward, as way points can be a nuisance to set. It does perform an adequate job of setting up of the missions and shouldn't cause too much grief when using.
With the mission parameters all defined execution of the plan can begin. When in the field, there are numerous ways to control both your squad and the other accompanying squads. Most of the options besides the actual route can be changed and you can even jump from one squad to another, replacing the team leader. The team leaders are the weak points however as their destruction causes the entire squad to be lost. To protect the leaders, the other members of the squad can be sent ahead to attack, taking the direct fire.
The interface can take some getting used to, as there is quite a bit of information presented. To start, there is a radar screen on the bottom left that changes depending on the radar mode selected, a map of the entire battle area on the right bottom, and a number of different settings between them. Displayed there are the different teams that can be selected, the ammo level, the damage indicator, what support devices are left, and the advance code for attacking or avoiding enemies. In addition, the sight will light up differently if the enemy has spotted the squad or not, showing if you have the drop on the enemy. Although it's not the smoothest interface, it is usable and most people will get used to it without causing too much heartburn.
As far as how well the mobile suits are controlled, there is significant improvement from the last Mobile Suit Gundam game. Now the mobile suits can be controlled without near the frustration and have a more straightforward structure. For instance, the left analog stick moves the mobile suit while the right analog stick turns it. In addition, the R1 button is used for attacking, the L1 button allows running, the square button uses the support equipment, and a reload is accomplished using the L2 and R1 buttons. There are also a number of other available commands that are represented using menus and are executed without trouble.
Visually, there's not much spectacular but nothing looks horrible either. The explosions are detailed enough to look credible, the mobile suits move in a realistic manner, and the cut scenes hold their own. The main issue is the lack of overall detail and marginal graphics design. With the games that have come out recently showing the power of the Playstation 2 graphically, expectations have been raised in general with this game falling well short of those.
The sound quality is a similar story to the graphics, basically meeting functional requirements but not being overly impressive. The voiceovers do add some personality to the characters and the sounds of the battlefield, like explosions and the mobile suits moving, increase the excitement of the battle to some degree.
Basically, Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front does a lot of things well, but not many great. Because of this, it's safe to say fans of the series will probably love it as the last game released had more serious gameplay issues. Others that don't follow the series will probably be less impressed and more critical of it on a whole. Overall, Mobile Suit Gundam: Zeonic Front offers a drastically improved game from their last effort, but still falls short of appealing to a wide audience range.