wtorek, 15 lutego 2011

Short Review #15: Shogo

Where I currently live (though not for much longer), Charity Shops and Second-Hand bookshops are quite common, so there's a lot of second-hand games to find here. I went down to a big used books place's cellar in search for something interesting, and there it was – an original, boxed copy of Shogo: Mobile Armor Division. I've completed it in a few days, and here's what I thought.

Shogo is a FPP from Monolith, released in 1998. Its main inspiration is anime, or more specifically, the type of SF anime which includes mechs duking it out. The plot is... there, but to be honest, it's too sketchy and not very well explained or presented. There's something about a corporation, a government, a terrorist group, then some aliens are thrown into the mix... But yeah, it's an older game, so stories weren't exactly that strong back then. There's more intrigue and plot than in most games of that time, however.

You have two types of gameplay in Shogo. You fight on-foot, and from inside a big mech. The two modes do not really differ, which is quite a change from some other, more simulation-heavy mech games. While a mech, you can transform into a vehicle (not very useful) and double-jump, and that's about it. Everything else, from powerups through weapons and movement works exactly the same, so it's very arcade-like. You get four mechs to choose from, but to be honest I see little sense in picking any other than the most heavily armoured but slowest one – it's still pretty fast, and the added armour proves very useful. The other choices suggest that Shogo can be played in different ways depending on your play style, but the truth is that the game is way too simple to leave any place for anything more than run-and-gun tactics.

The same argument can be made about the weapons. There's really no reason to use any weapon other than the assault rifle. Well, the grenade launchers can be useful some time, but the shotgun is pretty useless (because enemies tend to shoot at you the second you don't fire on them, the reload on the weapon gives them a chance to do that), the machine gun is only good until you get the rifle, and the pistols are only good until you find the machine gun (which is quite early). The same can be said about the mech weapons, although you use a bigger variety of them here, if only because you sometimes want to trade damage output for accuracy or damage for shooting speed.

The missions themselves feel pretty disjointed. There's a screen stating your objectives, and you get dropped right into the action, sometimes with an intro, sometimes not. The levels end abruptly, as you reach a door or a certain point on the map. Also, some of the levels are very short, lasting only around a minute or so. So those are some of the reasons why the story feels vague, as it's delivered in chunks, instead of a flowing narrative. Also, there are some bizarre things which feel like they don't really fit. You defeat a single character three times, but it is never explained who she is and why she wants you dead. One mission has you retrieving a cat from an old building full of homeless people, but before you are able to do it you have to find its squeaky toy. It was probably supposed to be a joke, but the hilarity was kind of lost on me. There are people you can talk to, and they deliver a single or two lines of dialogue, but they are not used to further the plot or anything, it's just a kind of a bonus feature. The good thing is that you can choose from two alternative ending sequences which differ completely, leading to pretty much the same ending, but through different events.

The combat is the strangest thing about this game. On one hand it's criminally unfair. Despite the Health and Armor meters going up to 300, it only takes a few shots from enemies to die. Sometimes the enemy will score a Critical Hit on you, as you can on them. This will, most of the time, kill you outright. Some weapons will do that no matter what. Enemies will often shoot you the second you enter a corridor or room, and its rather hard to tell where they shot you from, so it's all down to quick saving often and trial and error. On the other hand, the enemy AI is shameful. 9 times out of 10 they just stand there without noticing you until you start shooting or move closer. You can shoot at enemies from a distance and they will not react. While you are shooting at them, they cannot retaliate. There's no such thing as tactics, and the enemies almost universally do not pursue you after you shoot them. Add a very low number of enemy types to the mix, and you get combat which is both repetitive and bloody hard at the same time.

The graphics in the game are quite nice to look at. The interiors, mech design and weapon design are all good and quite true to the theme. The models, however, are horrific. The faces are something between a badly drawn anime character and a very creepy doll, while their bodies are unnaturally twisted or posed. The character portraits are very clearly drawn by different artists, which makes them look unprofessional and shoddy. The music is cool, but nothing too special, and the sounds are fine as well. The voice acting is ok, but the dialogues are pretty bad, taken straight from a B-class action movie.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Shogo is quite fun to play through. It's pretty short, at only around 4-5 hours (or so I guess), but if you're interested in the theme or you simply have no other FPS to play, this is a nice way to spend your time. It's not a good game, being too disjointed and following some pretty weird design choices (the laughable AI non-withstanding), but for some reason it is still good enough to be enjoyable. Maybe it's the weapons, the quick and brutal action and the original theme? At any rate, Shogo gets a 6/10 from me. Don't go out of your way to find this, but if you do and you think this may be your thing, go for it if it's cheap.

You can get this as a downloadable copy from GoG.com. I'm not sure if it's worth its price, you have to be the judge of that yourselves.

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