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A review by
Well, one of the last games to be released for the Jaguar is here. This game has been anticipated to a greater or lesser extent by the Jaguar Fandom for several months. While its not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, it is a good shooter nonetheless, and something completely unique on our beloved Jaguar...
The game is made up almost entirely of flat-shaded polygons. Now while there is no use of gouraud shading, there is minimal texture-mapping. I don't know if this graphical technique was used in order to keep the load on the processors low to maintain a high frame rate or not, but a little more texture-mapping would have spruced up the graphics a bit. Speaking of frame-rate - it is great! I wouldn't venture a guess at the exact FPS (I don't know how people think they can realistically guess that anyway just by looking at it); nevertheless, it is high enough that the game runs along smoothly. I have yet to notice any slowdown in the game either, which is very nice...
Other minor graphical niceties:
The starfield is very cool. It's smooth and gives a good feel of flying through space. Overall, this enhances gameplay, IMHO...
Explosions are pretty cool as well. Now while they're nothing like IS or IS2's explosions, nor anything I've seen in Battlesphere, the explosions in Zero 5 have a nice pixel shatter effect, similar to T2K. Unfortunately, the pixel shatter can get in the way at times (I'll explain later...).
Now to the negative points:
Better use of color is needed in Zero 5. As best I can tell, 256-color mode is used. This leaves stark contrasts between polygon shading at some points, and just looks a little boring overall.
Although having nothing to do whatsoever with the game itself, I thought the Zero 5 opening logo was pretty poor. It looked like something from the 16-bit era. With the use of low-color, flat-shaded polygons throughout the game, you'd think there'd be storage space for a nice, rendered logo... Hell, the one I made looks better...
Music/Sound FX: 9
First, the music. It is excellent! Nice industrial techno stuff. It's not as in-your-face as is T2K's music, but perfect for a shooter. Sometimes I turn the sound FX down while playing so I can listen to the music. And for a cartridge, the music is very clear - nothing like the static-laden stuff of D2K! (Sorry, Yak...)
Now the sound effects. Sound FX are nothing to stand up and scream about, but they're not bad. Explosion sound FX are cool though with a nice bass foundation. There is use of voices in the game too - primarily at the beginning of missions, but occasionally during missions as well. While the person doing the voice-over has little personality leading to somewhat boring voice sound FX they are, like the music, very crisp and clear. Overall, very well done.
One last nice thing: in the Options menu, there is a slide-bar for treble/bass balance - not something usually found in video games. Cool. My advice - crank up that bass!
D'Oh! Um, Houston, we have a problem....
Zero 5 purports to be a full 360-degree game - don't believe the hype. Yes, you can rotate 360-degrees on any plane, but you're still on rails - you stay on a predefined path going forward in space. The enemy attacks come in waves, and they attack in patterns. Once you figure out their attack patterns you'll do okay. The game could best be conceptualized as a 3D Galaxian or 3D Galaga or something similar. Still, it's more difficult than those games because your ship moves on 3 axes, not just 1 or 2...
Some good points:
There are several different play modes during the game. Although objectives may (minimally) vary, there are three basic modes across levels:
Bam-Bam mode - a 3rd person perspective where you're flying around shooting stuff - the 3D Galaga stuff I mentioned earlier...
Hit-Pak mode - 1st person perspective where you play the gunner in the mother ship targeting ships, asteroids, etc. with your crosshairs.
Trench mode - again a 3rd person perspective in the Bam-Bam, but this time you're flying through a trench a'la Star Wars, avoiding/shooting through obstacles. you simply rotate around the trench and cannot escape it - the most "on-rails" aspects of Zero 5.
All of them are fun in their own way (and by the same token frustrating in their own way...)
You get power-ups for destroying an enemy wave, but how its used depends on you. You can select via the keypad on your controller whether the power-up will increase your firepower, shields, or score. It can lend to the use of a little strategy in the game, which is nice.
It's a shooter! We haven't had a really good shooter on the Jag in a long time (you can debate amongst yourselves whether D2K should be considered the last good one - I hear differing opinions...), and the different perspective of Zero 5, along with the different levels (e.g. Bam-Bam, Hit-Pak, trench) make Zero 5 an interesting game...
Now the bad points:
- This game is friggin' hard! It moves so fast, especially in the Trench levels, that its hard to accomplish much. In the Trench levels, the pixel shatter from exploding walls obscures your vision, preventing you from seeing the next obstacle until you slam into it. You basically can just close your eyes and "...use the Force, Luke..."
- Sometimes it's difficult to tell if enemies are behind or in front of you given the game's camera perspective. Even though you can shoot the enemy shots to avoid taking damage, it's hard to tell what direction the shots are coming from, and you get hit anyway. And since you only have one ship, the game usually ends rather quickly.
- Button firing SUCKS! I simply cannot fathom the inner workings of the programmers' minds for making us all continually press the fire button as fast as possible for the entire length of the game! The omission of an auto-fire option or power-up (or even cheat... we can only dream...) is nothing more than criminal and sadistic! Whoever chose to omit this feature in Zero 5 should literally be shot! Unbelievable... The fact that you have to shift controller positions so you can rest a finger and shoot with another absolutely destroys the gameplay value of Zero 5, IMHO!
Control is a mixed bag. Although it actually controls okay, it takes quite a while to get used to it, especially in the Bam-Bam levels. As long as you rotate on the X and Y axes you're okay, but once you start rotating on that nasty Z axis, you're screwed! It messes with your idea of intuitive control and you take cheap hits as you try to right yourself. Luckily you can take care of almost everything by sticking to the X and Y axes only, so try to avoid the Z axis and you should be okay. Otherwise control is tight and responsive (which as you know is a plus for a shooter...)
The Hit-Pak levels control fine. I have little complaints there regarding control. I do have a nitpick about the Trench levels though. This game runs very fast, and you fly through the trench levels so fast that you fly by instinct - there's no time to think. the problem is, the speed with which you can rotate around the trench doesn't correlate well with the speed with which you fly down the trench. What this means is you'll run into obstacles before you can rotate out of the way, even though you know it's coming... more cheap hits...
One final thing that bothered me about the control was the control customization option. You can customize your controls, but only the A/B/C buttons - fire and roll left/right. You can select 1,2, or 3 on your keypad during gameplay to select your power-up but you can't customize this! For us ProController owners, it would have been nice if you could change this so you could map the three power-ups to the x/y/z buttons. Just another small, but important, detail that Zero 5 is lacking...
Fun Factor: 8
Yes, Zero 5 has its problems: difficulty, lack of important options, and numerous cheap hits. Nevertheless, it is a shooter with lots of character given it's different play modes (levels). Even with the problems inherent in Zero 5, I find myself diving back into it again and again with vigor, which has always been the sign of a good game for me. Once you beat a mission, the next mission is unlocked and you can start at it each time to figure out how to beat it (rather than having to start from the beginning every time you play) - that is nice. When you're downtrodden because you can't figure out a mission though, you can always start back at the beginning and enjoy conquering all the old missions again. It's nice to do this to rejuvenate your interest in the game (as well as play longer than 2 minutes at a time...).
In the end, despite Zero 5's problems and crucial omissions, it is fun to play. It would have been more fun, and I would have given it a Fun factor score of 9 or higher, had my finger not been so damned cramped from the lack of auto-fire feature!!!!
Zero 5 is a fun shooter with decent eye candy, great tunes, and nice gameplay variety. However, what keeps Zero 5 from reaching the "GREAT" game status can best be summed up in three points:
Extreme difficulty, regardless of setting chosen.
Omission of crucial elements (i.e., auto-fire, customization of power-up buttons).
Cheap hits due to restricted camera perspective and poor correlation between game and control speeds.
Had those three issues been resolved, Zero 5 could have been considered one of the best titles on the Jaguar. Since these issues remain, however, Zero 5 should be considered a good game. Nothing more. It is worth owning, IMHO, especially if you like shooters or are a collector. If you don't fit one of these categories, though, you'd better have a friend who has it so you can try it first...
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