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Zone of the Enders 2: The 2nd Runner

Developer: Kojima Productions | Publisher: Konami
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 03/10/03 | Genre: Action

The first Zone of the Enders title debuted with a demo of MGS 2 and as such, did fairly well in the sales charts. Another title from the brilliant mind of Hideo Kojima, the game delivered a solid experience that could stand on its own merit. Most mech games that came before ZOE were slow, cumbersome, and just plain awkward; for the first time, a mech game was done with style and a visual flair that put it head and shoulders above the crowd. Now, hot on the heels of ZOE’s success comes the sequel, Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner.

The story picks up several years after the events of the first game. Leo Stenbuck, the main character from the original, makes an appearance, but this time around, players control one Dingo Egret. The Earth’s Special Forces are feverishly trying to keep the orbital frame (giant robot of destruction), Jehuty, out of BAHRAM’s hands. BAHRAM is a rogue military group that has taken control of Mars and has a super fortress that is nearing completion. The key elements of this fortress lie with two orbital frames; the aforementioned Jehuty, and the powerful Anubis. With Anubis already under BAHRAM control, Jehuty is the only hope left for the Special Forces. However, BAHRAM is intent on either getting the frame back, or destroying it completely.

The first ZOE was littered with cut scenes that progressed the story, and The Second Runner is much the same. But this time around, there are many more characters involved, and the plot goes much deeper. The game begins as Dingo stumbles upon Jehuty while on a routine mining escapade, and the adventure immediately kicks into high gear. At first, the story seems like a convoluted mess of government conspiracies, personal vendettas, and moral dilemmas; however, as you progress through the game, things fall into place quickly.

The core gameplay remains basically the same as that of the original title. You’ll be pitted against multiple foes which must be destroyed, and every so often you’ll come up against a boss that requires much more skill to defeat than standard enemies. However, the speed of the combat has been upped considerably. The fighting moves at a feverish pace, and makes for some genuinely exciting gameplay. In the first ZOE, you’d often be outnumbered, facing perhaps five enemies at the same time. Well, ZOE 2 makes that seem like child’s play. In fact, it’s not all that uncommon to have more than one hundred enemies attacking you at once. Luckily, the bulk of those enemies can be taken out with the new homing laser which locks on to multiple enemies at once. However, when you throw in additional foes that are more powerful, you’ll quickly realize that you’re going to need all the reflexes you can muster to survive. This lightning paced combat thrill is one of the best assets the game has. Hardcore action junkies will be in heaven with this title.

While piloting Jehuty, you’ll be able to perform a ton of different actions. The standard attack, which is done by pressing the square button, is just one of a multitude of maneuvers Jehuty is capable of. You can boost to make quick, dodging movements, you can take a defensive stance to thwart enemy attacks, and you can obtain several sub weapons which serve various functions from stunning enemies to creating a holographic clone of Jehuty to distract them. Considering all of the actions you can take, the development team did a good job of mapping the controller; however, it can be difficult to remember how to do everything and in the heat of battle you really don’t have time to sit there and think about your next move. You need to move on instinct, so get those controller functions down fast.

The gameplay is always based on action, first and foremost, but as you play, you’ll discover that each mission has a unique objective. At times, you’ll need to escort a colleague to safety, while in one particular mission, your objective is destroy an enemy train before it reaches the bunker where your comrades are hiding out. The game also features portions where you must destroy the enemies that are attacking a city, while at the same time minimizing civilian casualties and environmental destruction; just like in the original title. The environments you’ll play through are vast and quite varied. Some missions will have you fighting in the previously mentioned cityscape, another may have you fighting your way through a large canyon, and still others will throw into the hull of an enemy ship for close quarters fighting.

Graphically, ZOE 2 is a step ahead of the competition. The gratuitous use of cel-shading compliments the anime art style perfectly. Effects such as explosions and smoke look like nothing you’ve seen in past games. Also, the lighting in the game is phenomenal. The cool, glowing lights put you into electronic bliss and the particle effects are second to none. Each laser-based attack is complimented by a dazzling display of light that ignites your television screen with an array of radiant colors. The game’s cinematic portions are very well done, and the art is superb. It actually feels like you’re watching an exciting mecha anime during these portions!

The developers have also done a nice job of implementing the sound in the game. The musical score is fantastic, and changes depending on your situation. The sound effects of battle are spot-on with massive explosions, and the clash of high impact energy weapons sounds just like you’d always imagined it would. The character voiceovers are great, and help bring the story to life.

The game is also packed with extra features that add to an already amazing package. For those of you who never played the first ZOE, there’s a “previous storyâ€? option on the main menu that summarizes the events of the first game through elaborate cinema scenes and brief reading portions. Also, there is an “extra missionsâ€? mode where you can attempt to complete various missions with different objectives. As you play through the regular game, you’ll find “extra missionâ€? programs in out-of-the-way places. These unlock new missions for you to play through in the extra mode.

When it’s all said n’ done, Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner surpasses its predecessor in virtually every aspect. The game is a nonstop thrill ride with a healthy portion of cut scenes thrown in to move the story along. If you’re looking for action; look no further. This game is one of the finest pieces of software the PS2 has seen in quite some time.

Also, this journey is made much easier with BradyGames' excellent strategy guide. For the extra edge in getting through this title, be sure to pick up the guide.

By Ryan Schaefer - 05/11/03
ESRB Details: Blood and Gore, Violence

Screenshots for Zone of the Enders 2: The 2nd Runner

E3 2003 Journal 5/12/2003

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