Do you even care what the plot was in a game like Doom, or Quake? I never did, I just played them, but Infogrames evidently don't subscribe to the school of forgettable storylines - instead they've practically written a book about Slave Zero! Megacity lives atop a ruined Beijing, 500 years into the future, and is made up of "decks", the lower ones being the residential areas, the middle ones being military in focus and there are plenty of other areas, including laboratories and sewers, all of which you'll see during the game. The game is based around a mission structure, of which there are 15, set all over the city. You're guided by a "controller", who explains to you what's to be done and such. Controlling your mech in the PC version would be very simple indeed, using the time-honoured (and now well-established) combination of mouse and keyboard. On the Dreamcast that sort of combo is of course feasible with the right peripherals, but the mouse doesn't yet exist and Slave Zero doesn't support the keyboard anyway. The controller must therefore be used to handle the game, and it must be said that it's a smidgeon less than intuitive, especially for perpetual first person gamers. Thankfully a little perseverance soon gets you going and the game is easy enough after a while.
Despite Slave Zero's abundant flaws (of which more later) the presentation is very special - Infogrames have clearly spent a lot of time putting the game together and sorting out the presentation. It all looks very nice indeed, with the occasional quality cutscenes keeping you entertained. General mission instructions are provided by the "controller", over an authentically crackly radio, which splutters to life from time to time, barking orders for the mission. The cutscenes actually fit in very well with the in-game action. One such example of this is when you encounter a boss character. At first the intercom squawks at you about a "massive hostile" heading your way. A bit further on you leap into another street and a cutscene smoothly kicks in and shows the boss landing in front of you. Then you fight him - the atmosphere is very tense and genuinely exciting, because you're never sure quite what visual device will be employed next, nor what challenge is just around the corner.
It's very impressive how Infogrames have managed to pull off the sense of scale within Slave Zero, too. You do feel as though you're a towering mechanoid, far more so than in other games. In Shogo-MAD on the PC, for example, the scale was a bit, well, dodgy. But in Slave Zero, there are cars that race around about your feet (and can be picked up and launched at enemies as a cunning offensive manoeuvre!), and buildings that really do resemble buildings, which sprawl in a murky suburban fashion as you wonder through the streets. The city feels real enough, but the in-game visuals are distinctly average from time to time. For example, the textures look rather more like N64 Quake than a high-end Dreamcast title. I was disappointed that Infogrames didn't push the system to its maximum capabilities, considering the amount of time they had to develop the game. A big disappointment. Nonetheless, Slave Zero's graphics do suit the mood of the game. The Western Judge Dredd and Blade Runner have quite clearly inspired it, rather than the Cyberpunk Manga tales of Japan that Shogo thrived upon. There are traces of Japanese anime to be found, but it's no Ghost in the Shell.
Slave Zero's biggest major downside is that it is bug-ridden, a totally unforgivable malady on a console. On the PC they can probably patch some of the issues, but with a console title, the same is not true. For instance, you see a lot of slowdown as you play, even more so that on low-end PCs running the game. As with Tomb Raider and the like, playing from the third person perspective (which is an option available to you), can get irksome if you're stuck in a tight corner. The key is then of course to move to the first person view, but not everyone will be willing to do this. Sometimes the game does this for no apparent reason though, which is kind of frustrating. It should at least let you make your mind up for yourself!
Difficulty is the thing that most bugs Slave Zero - the game is terribly hard to play, even on the lowest skill settings. It's the wrong side of challenging, to be frank, and I got very bored of its difficulty, very quickly. The game is made up of a lot of interesting factors, and for the most part it impresses, with some neat presentation and an enjoyable plot. It makes for an interesting and not altogether unplayable game. I would certainly pay good money for it if I didn't own a PC. But the thing is, if you own a PC, you can buy the PC version, download a patch, and be rid of all the irks and bugs that console owners have to put up with. And it's unacceptable for us to have to put up with any bugs at all, so the game is always going to be a problem child in that respect. Should you buy Slave Zero? If you're a console owner whose PC simply can't handle modern day shooters, then yes, definitely give it a go, but if you're a PC owner, you're spoilt for choice with the likes of Quake3: Arena, Unreal Tournament and indeed Slave Zero, which is a fiver cheaper on the PC than on the Dreamcast.
If you're a PC owner, then you probably shouldn't bother with Slave Zero on the Dremacast. If you're a Dreamcast owner who has been waiting and waiting for first person shooters to come to the system, give it a try, but don't be too upset if it doesn't get all your dogs barking. To be honest, you might be best to wait for another first person shooter to get converted to the Dreamcast. That said, the game is enjoyable to a point, and I wouldn't say that it's a bad game on the whole, just a good game with negative points. Still, on a system like the Dreamcast, you shouldn't have to put up with mediocrity.
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