There’s more to life than Metal Gear Solid. Thank goodness that Kojima Productions has enough sense to reissue their cult-classic Zone of the Enders series in HD, a duality of high speed robot action titles that didn’t nearly get the kind of acclaim and unanimous praise that they deserved in a PlayStation 2 era where Metal Gear Solid stole all the headlines. The decision to re-release ZOE in HD is a wise one, not least because the both the original ZOE and its sequel the 2nd Runner deliver some of the most original and refreshing gameplay experiences of the last console generation, intuitive and energizing gameplay and game design that would give most if not all current generation releases a run for their money. Zone of The Enders HD deserves your attention, now more than ever before.
The original Zone of The Enders was defined by the first glimpse Metal Gear Solid 2 that came bundled with it. Living in MGS 2’s shadow was seemingly too much for Zone of The Enders and as such, the property was lost amid the MGS 2 hype train. It was a flawed experience, a kind of proof of concept mech game that provided six odd hours of sleek, contemporary, quick fire combat akin to nothing else on PlayStation 2 at the time. It had so much going for it, but it didn’t know what it was and suffered as a result. You play Leo Stenbuck, a young boy caught up in a colonial war on Antilia on the moon of Europa orbiting Jupiter. He accidentally boards the Orbital Frame Jehuty and is thus forced into the Antilia conflict against the antagonistic BAHRAM army, an illegitimate anti-terrestrial military organization fronted by veteran runner Viola and her Orbital Frame Neith.
The story is layered and delivered in typical Hideo Kojima style. There’s plenty of heart and reflection in there. Even if it is slightly overcooked, you can’t help but sympathise with Leo, his friend Celvice, the colony of Antilia and Jehuty’s omnipresent A.I Ada. It’s all about the action with ZOE, fast paced close quarters and long range structured combat that still feels as slick and as stylish as it did back in 2001. It’s eternally satisfying to deliver destruction as Jehuty and the game, when running on full steam, is beautifully belligerent and intoxicating in its aggression. The gameplay is awesome. It’s remarkable that no one has tried to emulate its styling’s in the last decade or so. In 2012, this HD moniker only reiterates the mechanical grace and robust contemporary tact of ZOE’s gameplay. In saying that, even if what played well in 2001 still plays well in 2012, the same cannot be said for ZOE HD’s visuals. Yes, it’s certainly cleaner and sharper, but it’s quite mute and shows its age at every level, be it in-game visuals or scene connecting cut-scenes. ZOE HD also rekindles memories of the original’s innate flaws. ZOE suffers from very little variation. You’ll slice and dice the forces of BAHRAM, move to a new zone, kill some more BAHRAM, go looking for an access key or driver, kill more BAHRAM and fly to a new zone. The repetition runs deep, particularly in the middle sequences and it wares quite thin quite quickly. The boss battles are probably not as thrilling as they once were, and it isn’t until the final two confrontations with Viola and Anubis that you feel the momentum of the game starting to change for the better. It’s still worthy of a playthrough, but you can’t help but feel that the original ZOE is only a warm up act for Zone of The Enders: The 2nd Runner, one of the finest PlayStation 2 titles ever to be released and the real triumph of this HD Collection.
The difference between original and sequel is all the more tangible in the HD Collection. The 2nd Runner’s complimentary cel-shading polish in HD looks like something that could have been developed for a modern console in the last couple of years. It looks wondrous. With the 2nd Runner, you pilot Jehuty once again, this time by miner Dingo Egret. The 2nd Runner has much more of an impetus than the original. The pacing is considerably better, removing the world map concept that defined the original and anchoring the game to a structured linearity that actually suits the concept. Gone are the CG cut-scenes, replaced by anime shorts that are really complimentary to the narrative and the greater storyline
The 2nd Runner really ups the ante considerable. Boss battles are more diverse, environments and locales more varied and the weaponry that Jehuty has at his disposal this time out makes for some incredibly impressive action sequences. There’s also a enhanced level of interactivity with locations. Jehuty can grab beams and wall fittings and use them as weapons to hurtle and swing at enemies. Everything about the 2nd Runner bests the original and then some.
A special word of mention should go to both game’s audio design. Both ZOE’s boast some truly memorable and magnificently complimentary music and sound effects. Between them, Norihiko Hibino, Maki Kirioka and Akihiro Honda and the extended audio teams have created some truly memorable and epic music.
The only issue that beholds this HD “remastering”, is the frame rate. Both games, particularly the second game, suffer from bizarre frame rate dips. Things get very busy on screen and there’s no way that these titles are running at the 60 FPS that they should be. The dips are disheartening, not least because they ran and played so seamlessly upon release ten odd years ago. Hopefully, Konami can fix this with a post release patch. It’s not exactly a game breaking bug, but these games, particularly the 2nd Runner, deserve 60 FPS and nothing less.
The Zone of The Enders HD Collection is another competent HD re-issue from Konami, Silent Hill HD Collection aside. Both of these games deserve your time, especially if you missed out on them last generation. With Kojima Productions already working on a next generation return to the series, now more than ever, you should ensure that you experience Zone of The Enders HD for what it is, that being, an unbeatable and unavoidable experience.
TGL SCORE: 8/10
Format: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Vita (In 2013)
Developer: Kojima Productions, High Voltage Software
Release Date: November 30th 2012