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A review by Cynical_1
Well, it's here! Yes, Iron Soldier II, a game that many of us have been anxiously awaiting (for me, second only to Battlesphere), has finally arrived. Screw the fact that Atari is dead; thankfully, Telegames has been loyal enough to continue releasing Jag games that were finished but not deemed appropriate to release by the "wonderful" Tramiels [moment of silence]. Anyway, I had to sweat through several days of anticipation for it to arrive on my little doorstep (plus an extra day because of UPS's stupidity...), but it has finally reached my greedy little hands! Okay, enough. Let's get on to it, shall we?
Well, we all felt pretty good about ourselves, didn't we? Single-handedly ridding the world of the Iron Fist Corporation and all. Thanks to the fruits of our labors, the world is now ruled by a democratic government. But wait! Iron Fist's rival corporation, known as PENTA, is seizing this opportunity to take over IFC's territory, thus attacking and attempting to destroy the United Republic. Your job, should you choose to accept it (and who wouldn't?), is to pilot your 42-foot mech, the Iron Soldier, against the PENTA forces in an effort to protect the UR and eliminate the PENTA hordes. Yes, I know, it's basically the same mission you were given in the original, only this time with a different opponent. However, when blowing up stuff is this fun, who cares?
Yes, Iron Soldier 2 is just as much fun to play as the original! Everything... ummm... "blows up reeeeeeeeal good!" Nevertheless, there are some disappointments in the game that must be pointed out. These disappointments largely fall into the category of, "good game, but where's the updated stuff?" Let's just delve right into it, okay? Here goes...
Graphics: 7.5 (I wanted an update, not more of the same!)
Well, as we all anxiously awaited the release of this game, most of us were jazzed up about IS2's promise of more texture-mapping. I was ready for this, because one of my complaints about the original was the very austere and minimalist graphics - mostly flat shaded polygons. Well, I slid in the CD, started it, jumped right into the game, and said to myself, "Hmm. Yeah, there's more texture-mapping, but not NEAR as much as I had hoped for or expected." Most of the buildings are texture-mapped, unlike the original, but it is very simplistic and minimal - simple squares for windows, outlines of the edges of the buildings, straight vertical lines, and so on. I mean, I wasn't expecting photorealistic textures or anything, but come on! After all this time, especially with the CD format, I was expecting a little more complexity - a billboard here or there, cars in the street, etc. It basically boils down to this: There is more texture-mapping than was found in the original; however, the texture-mapping in Iron Soldier II is simply just a lot more of the minimalist textures found in the original. I was quite disappointed.
Enemies, on the other hand, are texture-mapped rather well. Most notably, the helicopters are quite detailed. As they are whipping by you (and trust me, they will be doing so a lot, but more on that later...), you can see the little emblems and logos emblazoned on their side panels. Pretty neat. The tanks have little touches as well, like the "M2" plastered on the sides. No, this isn't an advertisement for 3DO's M2 system <g>, but rather a reference to the M2 Abrams Battle Tank...
Now someone in the newsgroups mentioned that "even the oceans are T-mapped!" Upon hearing this, I got visions of Hover Strike's undulating, texture-mapped seas (which I always liked). WRONG. Well, uh, yeah the oceans are texture-mapped, but in this case, what's the point? If it wasn't for the fact that I couldn't go forward once I hit the shoreline, I would never have known it was the ocean. In some missions it isn't even blue, but rather a sickly bluish-green color. If you're not going to animate the waves or something to that effect, why not just leave it as plain blue as in the original. Why put textures on them at all if you're not going to do more with it? At least in the original you you could tell it was the ocean...
As in the original, the best part of the graphics are the explosions. To this day, these are some of the best looking explosions I have ever seen in a game. It appears there is some shape differential in the debris, unlike the original, but it is only slight differential. I was expecting a little variety in the explosions. It is cool to walk over the tanks and see the little gears and pistons and such fly up in your face, though...
Overall, the graphics are still great, just as in the original. That's the crux of the problem. After all this time, and the use of the CD format, this isn't good enough. These graphics shouldn't be just as good as the original. They should be better. And, although there is some graphical updating here in Iron Soldier II (more texture-mapping of buildings and enemies), it just isn't complex or varied enough to make me say WOW!
Music/FX: 8 (Good, but I wanted more. What? Static?)
The biggest change in the music in Iron Soldier II is simply the CD format. You get more music than in the original, and obviously it is cleaner and crisper sounding than Iron Soldier's cart music. There is static in the music of the FMV sequences (but we all know how the Jag's FMV usually is - I wasn't surprised.). I do have a multi-system set up, but it is with a switching system and gold-plated connectors, so it ain't me. Plus, I don't get this kind of static from the Playstation. Hmmm... curious....
Otherwise, the music is pretty good. If you liked the music in the original, you'll love the music here. Most of it is in the same vein as the original's music. However, there is a lot more variety in scores than in the first Iron Soldier - techno, a kind-of-laid-back techno, rock, etc.. It is quite enjoyable. I just wish they had provided some way to listen to all the musical selections via the Options menu.
Sound FX are strong as well. There are virtually the same as the original's. This is a good thing, as I loved the bass overtones on the sound FX, especially the explosions! Crank it up with the headphones on, and you can actually feel the explosions in your head. Cool! (I guess that's the Jag's version of the Rumble Pack, huh? <g>) There are a few new FX along with the new weapons, such as the shotgun where, if you listen closely, you can hear all the fragments hitting. Pretty neat. Still, this is Iron Solder II, so I was expecting more new sound FX than we got, especially with the new enemies. But alas, new FX are scarce. This seems to be a pattern with Iron Soldier II... Also, I caught some static in the FX during gameplay, which should NOT be happening on a CD....
Overall, the music and sound FX are extremely well. I was very pleased with the addition of varied musical styles, and the retention of the original's heavily-bass-influenced sound FX. However, we should have more new FX than are present. Plus, static should not have been present if you ask me. Still, these are minor nitpicks, so they don't affect the score too much.
Control: 8.5 (Better dust off the cobwebs in your brain...)
Well, I'm giving the control a score of 8.5, although I am having a hard time controlling it. The control is good; however, I am rusty at this kind of control since I haven't played a targeting game like this in a while. For some reason I intuitively want to look up and down in the reverse format (like flight steering), but when I want to shoot, I intuitively go for the regular up-means-up, down-means-down format. Unfortunately, you can only choose one of these, because they run off the same system - one joypad. The only way you could have both is if you had a dual-joypad system, like the N64's controller or Sony's upcoming dual analog pad (see review in Playstation section). But this isn't a slam against the control of Iron Soldier II, just a slam against my inflexibility. I'll get the cobwebs dusted off my brain eventually....
Like I said, the control is quite good apart from my above idiosyncratic complaint. Targeting is very accurate, and you don't have to tap-tap-tap the joypad to get your targeting just right. Movement is also pretty good, although at times you get hung up on the corners of buildings and have to go in reverse briefly to get out of the situation. This isn't usually a big problem, but when you're in the heat of battle, or trying to keep up with a convoy, it gets frustrating...
Also, the numeric keypad is wonderful. It was made for games like this! I just don't understand why the Jag's controller gets bashed so much, but that's another story. And if you're lucky enough to have a ProController (as I am), you are in for a treat! Almost all the weapons keypads map onto the extra buttons. The hip-mounted weapons (keypad #'s 4 and 6) map onto the L and R buttons on the top of the ProController, the two hands (and whatever weapon you may be carrying) map onto the X and Z buttons. The two shoulder-mounted keypad keys (#'s 1 and 3) don't map onto other buttons, but they are easily accessible by your two thumbs. If you haven't got a ProController and are having a little difficulty with weapon selection, then by all means pick one up! [Shameless plug: visit the Video Game Liquidators for prices. The banner link is on the Review Archive main page...]
Gameplay/Fun Factor: 9.5 (Get blowed up! Woo-hoo!)
Man, I just love blowing stuff up! This game is a blast to play. You have so many different weapons to choose from to aid you in your quest to level the horizon - the original weapons from the first game, plus some new ones. Just to refresh your memory, the original weapons are:
|2.||Cassy Assault Rifle|
|3.||Parker Chain Cutter|
|4.||Badger Hand Grenades|
|5.||Rachels Gatling Gun|
|6.||Wolfpack Rocket Launcher|
|7.||Charlotte Rail Cannon|
|8.||Slate Heavy Shield|
|9.||Sable Cruise Missile|
However, Iron Soldier II adds a few new weapons to the fray, adding to the path of destruction:
|10.||Sherry 00 Gauge Shotgun|
|11.||Corinne Automatic Grenade Launcher|
|12.||Ferret Homing Missiles|
|13.||Carlisle 75MM Heavy Machine Gun|
Also, you have new enemies to deal with, along with the old familiar ones. I'm not going to list them all here, but the manual lists 14 different types of enemies - different air and ground forces, each with different attack patterns - a nice array indeed! And the last one listed is, and I quote: "Cold Iron Gunner (CIG) - PENTA's new secret weapon". I can't wait to get to the end to see this one!
Speaking of getting to the end of the game, this is no easy task! The game difficulty isn't turned up a notch from the original - it's turned up 3 or 4 notches! I remember having to replay missions a few times in the original to figure out the strategy involved, but in Iron Soldier II, even after you figure out the strategy involved in that mission, good luck in successfully completing it! For example, you remember the mission in the original where you had to protect the Resistance's headquarters from attack (so you could earn the shield)? If you do, then you remember that you could just stand in one place, in front of the building, and just rotate around to get all the enemies as they approached. Well, there is a similar mission here, in the first group of five missions. However, you don't just protect one building, but rather a group of buildings, which means you have to constantly be moving around! You get rid of one PENTA dude attacking a building, and you hear the tell-tale deep rumbling telling you that somewhere one of your buildings has been destroyed! The producers definitely assume you are an old expert at Iron Soldier! This game is tough! And guess what? I have been playing on the Easy setting so I could get through a lot of the game for the purposes of this review! Yes, I'm playing on Easy level, and am having to replay missions an average of 3-4 times each before I successfully complete them! Whew!
Strategy is definitely important in Iron Soldier II! Not just strategy in the missions, but also your weapon setup before the mission begins. Let's see, do I load up on Gatling Guns for the convoy missions, or just use the rifle and throw in a couple of grenades to clear out the obstructing buildings? Just a minor example of what I mean, but by all means, choose your weapons carefully for each mission, but it can (and probably will) determine your success in that mission.
Otherwise, just blow up everything in sight! This is the best part of the game, in my opinion. Knock out the warehouses for repairs and weapon refills, or knock out the skyscrapers just for the fun of it, but by all means, just knock 'em out! It's fun when you're basically done with the mission, and most of the tougher enemies have been dispatched (with the exception of those pesky re-appearing tanks and helicopters), and you can just leisurely stroll around the playing field, leveling everything in sight! Ahhh, the pleasure of total destruction!
Finally, a few minor nitpicks about the gameplay:
|1.||You only have one camera angle. Although not very realistic, it would have been nice to have a few different camera angles in the game - behind, in front of, and above your mech, for example.|
|2.||The cut scene FMV when you die (you'll see it a lot): You can't escape out of it. You have to watch it. Bummer. After seeing it 10 times or so, it gets old... (If someone knows how to escape out of it, let me know.)|
|3.||Although this doesn't bother me at all, the fact that it is NOT multiplayer capable is going to upset some people. If you are one of these people, then you can knock my Gameplay score down a notch if you'd like.|
Iron Soldier II is a fantastic game! It has good graphics, great tunes, and good sound FX. The control is excellent as soon as you get the hang of it (although that can take a while, especially if you're rusty). But most of all, Iron Soldier II is a blast to play! Never has simply blowing up stuff been so much fun - or so hard for that matter. There are more missions, more weapons, and more enemies than the original, which is always a good thing. And due to the higher difficulty than the original, you'll need to rely on strategy a lot more than in the first Iron Soldier...
Still, I was a little disappointed. Given the long time before it came out, and its CD format, there should have been vastly improved graphics (not just updates on the original stuff), more sound FX, and other little touches (i.e., new camera angles, etc.). These things were not quite met in my opinion, however. In the end, Iron Soldier II is an extension of Iron Soldier, not an update. This is the source of my disappointment, and the reason for my scores (especially the graphics). Iron Soldier II is easily one of the best games for the Jaguar, and definitely one of the most fun to play. If it weren't for my expectation of so much more (given the CD format), Iron Soldier II would have easily earned a 9 or higher in this review.
--J. Sean McKay (a.k.a Cynical_1)
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