There are certain games and franchises that simply do better in certain regions. For example, Japan has never been much of a FPS country, and therefore, games like Halo and Half-Life simply don't have as much impact in the country of the Rising Sun. On the other hand, a series like Mobile Suit Gundam consistently makes a huge splash in Japan but can barely register on the sales charts here in the U.S. However, considering all the Gundam titles in recent memory have been awful, we're not really missing out on much. Unfortunately, the latest, Crossfire , is no exception.
You might notice a problem the instant you begin play- the game looks nothing like a next-generation title, and in fact, probably could've been accomplished on the Xbox, if not the PS2. The graphics are loaded down with bland grays and browns, and there isn't much to the scenery besides broken and blown-out buildings, which completely fails to provide an immersive atmosphere. There is some nice detail on the Mobile Suits and the draw-distance is decent, but beyond that, this particular title is nothing more than disappointing. Of course, being familiar with previous Mobile Suit Gundam installments, this didn't really surprise us.
The sound ricochets back and forth between ultra-lame voiceovers and run-of-the-mill combat effects, all tied together with some truly uninspired and repetitive tracks. Many times, you're just tromping around to no music at all, wondering where everything is and what you're supposed to do (we'll get to that later), and when they do offer up some cool-sounding tracks, you tend to forget them the instant they arise. There is a good deal of effects consistency in the battles, but then again, who wants mediocrity to be consistent? Still, the overall sound presentation is actually better than the visuals, which is an achievement…an achievement of meager proportions, obviously, but we have to mention something positive, here.
The whole point of Mobile Suit Gundam is that we fragile humans can take control of giant, wildly competent robots. These things are massive metal behemoths; examples of unbelievable technology and capability, so it's a concept that should work beautifully in the video game world. But for some tragic reason, this is the very aspect of the production Namco-Bandai ignores most. The more we play with these Mobile Suits, the more we begin to wonder how such poorly constructed combat machines could even function long enough to initiate action. And then when they finally manage that, we wonder if the pilot is drunk or high.
You suit up right from the start after signing on with either the Earth Federation or the Principality of Zeon, and without any ado whatsoever, you're tossed into a tutorial session that ends up presenting you with a real fight. Normally, this is the kind of beginning that greatly benefits an action title, because you're off and running in a matter of minutes. Okay, not off and "running," more like off and clomping, but let's not argue semantics. We get a tidbit of storyline, a quick crash course in piloting and control, and then get a legitimate shot at three hostile enemies. Sounds like good news, doesn't it?
Well, perhaps we should've clarified: starting quickly is only a benefit for good action games. The instant you take control of your Mobile Suit, the excitement dissipates and the disappointment begins to set in, and that sinking feeling never reverses itself. The camera is the first atrocious aspect of the gameplay, as it sits much too close to your giant mech, and for some bizarre reason, tends to float about when moving vertically. But you figure it's something you can adjust to, you figure it won't cripple the game and won't destroy all your interest. And you'd be right; the camera really isn't bad enough to cripple the gameplay…but the gameplay is bad enough to cripple everything, and even annoy you for good measure.
But before we rip into the battle mechanic too severely, let's take a gander at some of the good stuff (don't worry, it won't take long). The game features a daily mission-based format, where missions become available as time goes on, and you can either accept or decline. Whenever you decide to end the turn, time moves forward one day, and gives the mechanics a chance to repair your busted mech. When particularly heavy hits damage or destroy certain parts of your Suit, they must be fixed, and that takes some time. The Pilot gains skill and ability as you progress, and you can even request new Suits throughout, which adds a great deal to the game's depth and longevity.
Therefore, there are definitely a few things to do in between battles. It also forces you to be more efficient and cautious during combat, and combined with the number of weapons available, gives us a reason to smile. However, the smile gets replaced with an intense frown as soon as we start another mission. Regardless of whether you're defending a base or doing reconnaissance, every single objective boils down to, "kill everything before getting destroyed." And while that is a goal many of us are familiar with, the action is fatally flawed, so it's tough to care about battle outcomes. Zeon wants to wipe out the Earth Federation? Meh, okay. Go ahead.
You can switch between two main weapons; one ranged and one melee, and you've got some other firepower to toy around with as well. It's too bad that none of it makes you feel even remotely powerful; in fact, you constantly feel like you're a sitting duck primarily due to the outrageously clunky control. Perhaps Mobile Suits aren't graceful – and they don't have to be – but they had damn well better be effective. With the ability to lock on, go first-person to light ‘em up from afar, and hammer away with a plasma blade up close, they should be plenty effective, right?
Wrong. You can take down enemies easily enough, if you can locate them before they lay waste to your uber-fragile mech, and if your ammo holds out. Much of the time, you'll try resorting to your melee weapon because your ammo doesn't always take care of business, but while that attack is certainly powerful, it puts you directly in harms way. On top of it all, because you have one boost jump (X) and one dash (hold down X), you aren't exactly the most "mobile" of Suits, which ultimately means you're controlling a borderline useless machine. Toss in that shoddy camera, and you've got the makings of one terrible action game. But it doesn't end there.
The frame rate somehow slows down to the point of absurdity when confronting multiple foes. Simply walking around can cause the game to chug, but when the action gets heated, this game literally crunches down to about 5 frames per second…if that. On the plus side, this does offer a great deal of comic relief: after getting our head blown off, we proceeded to engage three enemies with our headless and ammo-less mech, desperately hoping we could finish them off with our trusty sword. It was so funny, we really didn't care that the camera became a massive crutch, and the frame rate became so mind-numbingly slow, we could do our taxes in the time it took to swing that "trusty" sword.
Sure, there's plenty of options, upgrades, and even a few RPG-esque aspects to Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire , but none of that ultimately matters. Once you dive in and experience the crucially flawed gameplay, all those extra goodies lose their luster almost immediately. So what if there are 30 different kinds of Suits? Who cares? Neither the camera, clunked-to-the-max control, nor horrid frame rate would allow you to have fun with any of them, regardless of how sweet they might appear. Yes, the detail on those mechs is quite good, but that's about it. Oh, and for the capper, the game institutes these invisible boundaries in each mission, thus greatly restricting the battleground. It's insanely frustrating to chase a foe, only to find you're running horizontally along a wall you'd never know was there. Yay.
All in all, this could be the worst game of the PS3 launch lineup. We haven't played them all just yet, but it's hard to believe any would be worse than Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire . There are so many problems, we couldn't even begin to sum them all up quickly, but you get the idea: bad camera, bad control, worse framerate, limited battlefields, slow and ineffective Suits, less than mediocre visuals, poor voiceovers, no online play, and a storyline that's terribly lacking. The good? Well, like we said, you can start quickly, those mechs have some great detail, and there are plenty of options, along with depth offered by the mission-based structure.
But it's nowhere near enough to offset the atrocious gameplay. Avoid this one at all costs, unless you're a huge Gundam fan. A huge, huge fan who hasn't played a video game since Tetris. But even then, no promises…