As the year begins to draw to a close, were starting to wonder if 2012 should be remembered as the year of the HD remake. After all, theres certainly been plenty of them. Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, Okami on the Playstation Network, Devil May Cry, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank have all seen re-releases this year, bringing together a collection of old games with an added layer of graphical sheen for a single price and now, the latest to join their ranks is Zone of the Enders HD.
Following a similar format to the other HD collections, Zone of the Enders HD is a compilation of both Zone of the Enders games on one disc, with spruced up graphics, achievements/trophy support, and a few other tweaks here and there. Originally released on the Playstation 2 between 2001-2003, and produced by Hideo Kojima, the man behind Metal Gear Solid Zone of the Enders (or Z.O.E.), Zone of the Enders is a sci-fi themed game that revolves around giant robots, and the things they destroy.
The first game, simply called Zone of the Enders, follows the story of a young child named Leo, as the colony he calls his home on Jupiter comes under attack by a group of militants. After watching his friends be killed, Leo flees, and somehow manages to accidentally fall into the cockpit of a giant robot, or in the series parlance, an Orbital Frame known as Jehuty. Kind of like a more anime-themed transformer, its up to Leo to make use of the giant, and heavily armed mech he just so happened to fall into in order to save his remaining friends, and defend the colony from the invasion.
Luckily for you, Jehuty is a lot more manoeuvrable than youd imagine a giant robot would be. With the ability to move up and down by pressing Y or A (X or Triangle on the PS3), as well as moving forwards, backwards, left and right by moving the left stick, controlling the mech is initially a rather confusing experience, which isn't made any easier by the awkward camera controls. Rather than letting you control the camera freely with the right analogue stick (you can move it, but only very slowly, and only when you're not targeting anything), the game instead prefers to snap the camera to face nearby enemies, meaning you're never really looking where you want to...
Spending most of its time flying rather than walking, the games levels are mostly little more than an excuse to beat some more robots up, while trying to collect a password thatll let you hack a device, find a new weapon, or destroy some sort of core. Fairly small in size, youll see random groups of enemies patrolling around the various levels, and can choose to either avoid them, or get up close and personal. Luckily, the combat here is fairly straightforward, as the attack you use will automatically vary depending on your distance from the enemy. Press attack when youre close, and youll whack it with a giant energy sword; press it while youre further away, and youll fire at it with a laser. You can modify your attacks by trying to attack by holding a button to dash, too, which lets you either swoop around your opponent and hit them while they dont expect it, or fire a collection of homing lasers thatll chase them down.
For the most part, the levels consist of little more than simply whacking a few enemy robots around, and collecting an item, before moving onto the next level, but every now and then, a slightly more unusual objective gets thrown in to try and keep things fresh. Whether youre having to follow a tunnel into a hill in order to take out the power source for a shield, or trying to snipe various bolts off a rotating drum in order to disable a relay, one of the more common mission types asks you to rescue a number of civilians whove found themselves caught in a combat zone. Rather than having to swoop down and help them up into the cockpit yourself, in these missions, all you have to do is defeat all the enemies in the area, without dishing out any damage to the surrounding buildings. Which, when youre in a giant robot, and are chucking other giant robots around, is easier said than done...
Sadly, though, its the difficulty level thats ZOEs greatest problem. While the missions are rather repetitive, and the main character's annoying, its the intermittent boss battles that are likely to put most off. With a boss fight coming as early as the second mission, the bosses have seemingly been designed using every trick from the annoying game cupboard - with a boss that dishes out tonnes of damage should you even so much as clip it; that you can fire at, and hit, yet it mysteriously takes no damage; and that can fire homing rockets at you, which always seem to track you a lot better than yours do, its an incredibly frustrating experience especially as he has a move thats basically a two hit kill.
Happily, though, Zone of the Enders 2 is by far the better game, although much of the same problems still apply. With a more robust storyline, and larger, more complex, and more varied levels, Zone of the Enders 2 has aged a heck of a lot better than the ropey ZOE 1 - although the boss fights are still frustrating. On the surface, the differences are few and far between - although, brilliantly, you can now grab your opponents and chuck them into other enemies - but its the little things that count - the addition of health bars on your enemies, the ability to target dozens of enemies at once with your homing lasers, and the more substantial levels all come together to help the game feel that much more complete than ZOE 1.
In all, much like many of the other HD collections, how much fun you get out of this will depend entirely on how much you enjoyed the original games. If youve never played either before, its probably worth skipping straight to ZOE 2 rather than gritting your teeth in frustration on the original, although how much fun you have will depend entirely on how many times youre willing to attempt a boss fight before giving up. If you owned, and loved both Zone of the Enders, however, youll likely be well catered for here although as you already own both games, all you'll really be paying for is the privilege of seeing them both in high definition.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360