So, Ive never been a fan of mech games. Sounds like a great way to start out a review of a mech game, doesnt it? Out of desperation to play something different towards the end of the year, I picked up a copy of MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf because the intro video looked so amazing. Much to my surprise, it was a very enjoyable game and it made me wonder if I had missed out on some great games thinking all of them were the same. After many hours of playing MechAssault 2, I decided that I needed to review the next mech game to hit shelves. Then in late January, the opportunity presented itself in the latest installment in the GunGriffon series, GunGriffon: Allied Strike. The series had some previous success and based on the opinions of those who had played the games before, everything sounded great. About the only question that remains is was my new found love for mech games premature, or does GunGriffon: Allied Strike have what it takes to keep me believing that Ive found another favorite game genre?
Usually the intro video before the menu of a game is designed to make gamers pumped for action. It should never make the gamer reconsider his or her decision about purchasing or renting the game. The opening footage of GunGriffon: Allied Strike paints the picture of an intense war game involving both mechs and tanks in rural parts of the planet. The action looks hardcore, but a cloud loomed over head that seemed to hide the coolness. Mechs appeared out of focus and blurrysomething one would expect on a Playstation one game, not on a current console. Plus, everything looked so simple and lacked any real detail. About the only thing that kept me going was the battle music that was heavy on brass, making the tension heightened even more. You cant judge a book by its cover I repeated in my mind, and ventured on hoping that the opening video was just overlooked in the finalization, or they just wanted to take more time and focus on the game itself. So I crossed my fingers and started the game.
The unfolding story concerns a war-torn planet that has been robbed of most of its natural resources. Humanity and civil order has collapsed and everyone has broken off into bands in order to gain some of the remaining resources. It is a time of violence and unrest. Your character joins one of these renegade groups in order to take on the other factions in order to protect your bands piece of the pie. Basically, it is gang-warfare with hardcore machinery. Dont go looking for any deeper meaning then just survive and protect what you have claimed, because you wont find it. While games like MechAssault 2 depend heavily storylines carrying players through the game, GunGriffon relies on the action to motivate players to see it to the end.
Its not too often that Ill admit Ive made a mistake, but I cant continue until this review while living a lie. The truth is we are not dealing with mechs in the GunGriffon: Allied Strike. Okay, they are mechs, but Tecmo and the people of GunGriffon call the mechs AWGS, which stands for Armored Walking Gun Systems. In most mech games, you simply pick out the mechs based on their abilities and strengths without much added decision making. One of the bright points in GunGriffon is that you customize your AWGS before the start of each mission. Once youve selected which model (based on armor strength, speed, radar and firepower) will lead you to a successful outing, it is time to arm the AWGS. All come with the standard machine gun, equipped with unlimited ammunition, and your choice of three weapon additions. Your Sub arm is a secondary gun that uses larger caliber bullets then the main gun, Rocket Pods (RP) and missile (ATM) selections will be based on amount of damage done with direct hits and explosive damage plus the number of rounds that can be held based on the type of explosive selected. Once youve armed yourself, you select an AWGS to accompany you and help you in your missions. While you dont get the same level of options when selecting your friend (yeah, they actually list it as friend in the options menu instead of partner or teammate), you do get a say in the strengths that persons AWGS has in battle. It is often a good strategy to select a friend with opposite strengths as your AWGS has. If you go for a speedy number with limited armor, then select a heavy friend with strong armor and use him as a shield in hardcore battle moments. Major ups to GunGriffon for getting closer to a create-a-mech setting with all the addition options then any other mech game has.
Gameplay wise, GunGriffon: Allied Strike is a perfect example of what I call a double-edge sword game. On the one side, GunGriffon presents an intense war game in mech-like vehicles (I still have problems calling them AWGS). Typical mission types include destroying several enemy targets that are usually surrounded by tanks and other AWGS machines all gunning to make sure you fail, and guarding transports and other vehicles as they proceed throughout the planet surface in order to find more supplies. While the guards are difficult to deal with, the swarms that the enemy sends after your transports are insane, especially when working with limited ammunition for your big weapons plus time limits for most missions (just when I thought the days of time limits were limited to racing games only, and even then it doesnt happen too often anymore). Finally, your secondary weapons have very limited ammunition available, so conserving your hardcore selections is key in battle. Thankfully though there are ammunition choppers that come around during missions to replenish your supplies. Being outnumbered and having to beat the clock will challenge players of all skill levels no matter what the game is.
On the flip side of that sword, no matter how many challenging elements you add to the mix, if the computer AI is questionable, then the extra effort usually fails to impress. Like most games, your friends (teammates) are pretty much useless. While it may appear that sides are evening up, they mostly act as targets to take some enemy fire off of you for a bit. You can issue commands, but this will usually offer poor results and make the whole option a waste of time and energy. Good news for you is that the enemies are about as bright as your friends. You can often move right through a pack of bad guys by using your long range weapons on enemy targets. Plus, unless they manage to lock on to your AWGS, enemies tend to be terrible shots. This can take the intensity level right out of the game, which leaves it in the dust with other sub-par mech games. One other fault is that the ammunition chopper target point can get annoying. When the chopper arrives, a red target appears underneath it representing where you need to stand and if you dont stand in the exact center point, the chopper will just sit there and wait until you are on the exact spot. This can really be an issue when dealing with time l the controls, the layout is easy for even beginners to pick up. The unique element of the game is that the smoothness of the controls will be based on what AWGS you select. Heavier ones will move rough and arent very maneuverable on the move, while the speedier, light weight ones move with precision and grace (except in flight when players have little control over them). Most of the controls used in First Person Shooters remain the same here, with the weapon select being controlled by the left trigger, which can get confusing when trying to fire your alternate weapons. Speaking of that, there is no alternate weapon fire button option, which means you have to constantly change weapons during battle and that can be a real pain considering you can select and attempt to fire weapons that have no ammunition available. It would have been nice to just bypass weapons that are empty for faster switches. You can also switch between first person and third person perspective. This is mainly in place for people who feel there is too much going on looking through the cockpit of the AWGS, which can be a bit overwhelming at times.
Graphically speaking, Tecmo really dropped the ball with GunGriffon: Allied Strike. The good news is that the intro video doesnt represent the entirety of the game, but it never becomes jaw-dropping. The settings lack any real detail, even for a planet drained of most of its resources. AWGS look decent up close (by decent I mean on par with Playstation 2 like graphics, maybe a bit lower), but far away look indistinctive and out of focus, so much so that I kept check my glasses to see if there was a something on them blurring my vision. On the plus side there was almost no lag-time or frame rate issues during the single player campaign. However, during Live death matches, the ugly face of freeze-ups appeared on several occasions when the fighting got intense. Overall, it looks like Tecmo decided to focus on gameplay more then graphics.
Sounds like an orchestra was commissioned and told to do something that sounded like the battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies. Heavy brass and drums act to heighten the action, especially in the opening video montage. Like I said earlier, it was the one thing that kept me going in the start. Sound effects wise, everything sounds a bit too plain. Its like the sound department pulled a bunch of effects from either a game archive, or just went to the local music store and picked up some sound effects CDs. The explosions barely made the speakers of my surround sound system shake (not acceptable). I refuse to believe improvements to the sound could not have been made. With the weak graphics, youd think they could have at least put some effort into the sound department.
As much as one tries not to compare one game to another, GunGriffon: Allied Strike will more then likely be overshadowed by MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. While the selection and options of the AWGS is certainly unique in the genre and youll be hard pressed to find a more battle intense mech title on the Xbox, the negatives heavily outweigh the positives in Tecmos mech installment. Dummied down graphics that are reminiscent of late Playstation 1 and early Playstation 2 almost kill the mood right from the get go. Stupidity within computer AI takes a major toll on the intensity level of GunGriffon as well. Sure, human versus human battles over Xbox Live present a bigger challenge, but the frame rate problems can suck the fun right out the death match experience. As a budget title, GunGriffon: Allied Strike would make an excellent addition to any Xbox game library, but at $49.99, gamers would be better off picking up the already proven MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf. Consider picking up GunGriffon once it drops in price or if you are a fan of the series.