Version tested: PlayStation 2
Game Arts' Gungriffon Blaze is the sequel to a couple of Saturn games I never played, but it has no trouble selling on its own merits. It's a game about big stompy robots, but unlike Mech Warrior's clunky 20 paces per minute behemoths, GB's "AWGs" can cover ground at cheetah speeds and have no difficult swerving out of the way of incoming rockets. Players of PS2 Unreal Tournament and TimeSplitters will have no trouble getting used to the controls of GB's mechs. In familiar style, the two analog sticks handle movement and aiming, while the rest of the Dual Shock buttons are mapped to control strafing, firing, weapon-switching and the like. Using the options menus within the game, you can remap these as you like, so if your Unreal Tournament configuration is slightly unusual, you can come up with a suitably close approximation on the Dual Shock within a couple of minutes. With controls settled upon, it's down to the action itself. Set at the outset of the Third World War in 2015, you take the reigns of the dreaded peace-making AWG mechs, sent into the warzone to save civilians from the vicious forces that endanger their lives. There's something about the USA and an alliance of south-eastern states occupying Europe and Asia too, and a mass migration of the populace to the East, but for heaven's sake this is a game about great big stompy robots and explosions, not politics.
The game offers six basic missions with multiple tasks, ranging from seek and destroy to capture and hold. There's a lot of strategy to Gungriffon Blaze, and this will doubtlessly endear it to a number of mech fans who feel that Mech Warrior 4 didn't do their genre much justice. Level design is quite clever and varied, and the missions will often take you a lot of time to overcome, but there is an over-dependence on wide-open spaces and not enough Shogo-like inner city battles, which I feel are more entertaining. You can't knock GB's arsenal though. Your loadout isn't that impressive to begin with - the homing missiles, normally a source of immense enjoyment in games like Mech Warrior, take an absolute age to lock onto anything. When you start picking up weapons though, your outlook improves immeasurably. Lets take the shotgun for example. A mech with a shotgun - sounds a bit useless right? Not at all. If you pump cartridges of car-sized shrapnel into anything it quickly gives up the ghost. Complementing your weaponry are a number of alternate mech suits too, which turn up further into the game. It all runs at an unimpeded 60 frames per second, but suffers slightly in terms of visual quality as a result. The level of texture detail is a bit below par, and the models look a bit like badly painted miniatures at times, rather than battle-hardened mechanoids. One of the mainstays of any mech game though is explosions, and these are loud and acceptably flashy. The way the mechs move is very human too, which is quite an achievement, and the other vehicles in the game act sensibly as well. In fact, the animation is generally of a high quality throughout, although the designers clearly didn't blow up enough buildings before they planned some of it.
Other peculiars that deserve a mention in the presentation department are the understated, yet memorable soundtrack, and the inter-mech chatter of the various pilots in the field (which is apparently a faithful port from the Japanese version, despite being in English). Both add to the general atmosphere of the game, and give the impression of an overall highly polished product. That said, there's always a 'but' with these things, and with Gungriffon Blaze it's the fact that it's all over so soon. Don't get me wrong, the game is of a perfectly acceptable length, but it's just that you'll find yourself scrabbling through the thing without a break and ultimately you'll wish there was more of the same. The lack of any sort of multiplayer to keep things going puts a slight dampener on things too. That's not to say that Gungriffon Blaze isn't an excellent game though - it certainly is. It boasts a competent control system that will be familiar to many, a well-rounded single player game and a decent amount of game time. Our only complaint is that it's a bit one-dimensional at times, and the lack of any sort of diversity outside of the single player story mode is quite archaic for a "next generation" PlayStation 2 title. Irrespective of that, anyone with a few bob to spare and a penchant for exciting action titles should give this a go - we look forward to the inevitable sequel.
8 / 10