With the glut of incomprehensible storylines, system-crashing bugs, and—most offensive of all—misspellings and bad grammar found in games these days, it seems as if in the mad rush to fill store shelves, a growing percentage of publishers and developers are getting increasingly lackadaisical. At a time when critics are using the phrase "feels rushed out the door" with alarming regularity, the well-crafted Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner is a welcome aberration. I knew that I was in good hands after only the first couple seconds of the opening cinema. Everything about this game, from the anime cut scenes to the head-spinning mech battles, is blue-ribbon quality.
Brad's quite right to use the word "synergy" to describe the game. Like a well-built house, each element of the production fits together seamlessly. Narrative, direction, gameplay—all of it does indeed come together in brilliant fashion, making this one of the most fully realized videogames I've probably ever played. There's not even a load screen—not one—to clutter the experience.
Every aspect of the game—every sound, every image—feels carefully considered, cared for, and polished to a high-shine. The graphics have an aching clarity to them. The soundtrack and voice acting is appropriately bombastic. Even the game's pause screen—typically an after—thought in most games-is strikingly beautiful, highly functional, and intuitive to use. Nothing on the disc feels irreverent or thrown together. There's a sense of great confidence behind the game, a feeling that the developers accomplished exactly what they set out to accomplish. It's rare to see such a high degree of confidence and sheer craftsmanship in a videogame.
Simply maneuvering my Orbital Frame was an aesthetic experience unto itself. When performing a long-range Burst Attack, during the few moments it takes for the ball of energy to form, my Orbital Frame assumed a pose akin to a Greek statue. Once the ball was fully formed, I'd suddenly belt it—like Hank Aaron—with pin-point accuracy in the direction of a nearby enemy, causing it to explode in glorious flames. The Orbital Frame proves to be a compelling contradiction, somehow managing to be as elegant as a figure skater and terrible as a battleship at once. Indeed, during spare moments, I often found myself diving and swooping around vacant levels, relishing my ballet-like movements while firing stray Burst Attacks into the air. I honestly haven't had this much fun controlling a character since the cartwheeling Dante in the Devil May Cry series.
Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner also made me realize how bereft of imagination most videogames are. The game is constantly tossing new worlds, new images, new challenges, and new abilities at me. Whether I'm seizing enemies and using them to shield myself (an especially gratifying turning of the tables), firing the awesome Vector Cannon, or dismantling a runaway train, there's never a shortage of something fresh to do, something wholly unlike anything I'd done previously. Such inventive, surprising gameplay is the product of nothing more than old-fashioned, roll-up-the-sleeves-and-sharpen-the-pencils imagination, and we frankly don't see enough of it in today's crop of games.
Yes, it's a short game but, like Brad, I really didn't mind at all. There are a number of incentives for replay—bonus missions, mini-games, etc.—but, curiously, I didn't feel compelled to keep playing. For some reason, I lost my taste for the game as soon as the credits rolled, which seemed especially odd to me, considering how much I'd admired the production. Eventually I came to understand why: Though I found the kinetic mech battles to be exciting, the game is far too linear to merit much replay. Brad aptly compares the game to a roller-coaster ride, and riding a roller-coaster the second time is never as thrilling as the first.
Ultimately, I admired (and respected and appreciated) Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner more than I enjoyed it. I'm recommending the game, if only to marvel at the programming prowess, the art direction, the singular vision, and, of course, the perfect spelling and grammar.