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|Futuristic Racing Games
Phantagram Fall 2002--What the world needs is another 3D mech-action game and who better to bring the noise than speed addicts Genki, the developers who brought you the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series. The action in Phantom takes place in the heart of the Shinjuku district Neo-Tokyo, where players lay waste to hundreds of cutesy Hello Kitty stationary stores and endless karaoke bars. Sayonara, suckers!
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Of all the mech shooters currently in vogue on consoles, Phantom Crash is one of the best-looking and most original of the bunch. Unsurprisingly, the game is set in the near future, where Japan has abandoned Tokyo to use its labyrinthine streets for rumbling, a competitive bloodsport involving jacked-up, car-sized robots. With such a dystopian premise, you'd think the world of Phantom would be full of drooling Mad Max-style psychotics--but it's not. The characters in Phantom have more in common with the pop-punk, anti-establishment attitude of Jet Set Radio. This infectious style is pervasive throughout the game, even on the battlefield, where you spend the majority of your time. If you've played Halo before, you'll basically have no trouble moving, strafing and blowing stuff up in Phantom. What makes the game so immediately gratifying is that it essentially plays like an first-person shooter, except the camera sits behind your mech. I love the way every robot is equipped with a rechargeable optic camouflage cloaking device; it's a lot like managing the protective shield in Halo--stay cloaked during firefights, then pull behind cover when you need to recharge. Outside of battle, the game occupies you with a TON of funny, poorly localized dialogue. I mean, how do you not love a game that puts you in the ring against a rival named "Makunt"? If you like quirky Japanese-style games, pick this up.
Phantom Crash wilt tickle Japanese-mech fans in all the right places with high-speed robots, heavy armaments (including my fave, the aptly named Big Shot), plenty of customization and more presentation style than five Jet Set Radios put together. But with the good Japanese flavor, you also get the bad. The bizarre storyline is filled with so much nonsensical dialogue, you end up using more button taps skipping the junk than you use in actual combat. That's fine, though, 'cause the action's where it's at. Exciting arena clashes, realistic graphics, stealthmode mechs...the only things missing are a streamlined interface and more variety.
If Phantom Crash were an online game, I'd be tempted to marry it. As is, though, it's easily worthy of a spot alongside the best giant-robot games ever. Imagine a Gran Turismo-Wke setup, but with insanely customizable mechs in place of autos. Phantom's delicious depth allows you to get your paws dirty with the most miniscule of tweaks--performance-related, destructive and even cosmetic. And once you're ready to boogie down in the arenas, expect an experience that's tense, explosive and painfully fast. The multiplayer mode, with its limited customization, ain't all it could have been, but the single-player game is plenty cool.