By Jeff Luther
Based on the incrediably popular 1980's anime, Robotech has a rather large-dare I say fanatical-following. The anime found success with a simple formula: big mechs, big guns, big aliens (they're 40 feet tall), big action, and an interesting, if not entirely original, apocalyptic, humans on the verge of obliteration story. Now, almost twenty years after the first series, Robotech finds new life on the PS2 in the form of Robotech: Battlecry. Fans of the series, starved for Robotech content, are likely to bless this game, praise this day, and declare the final product a holy relic-and for what they're looking for, I think they'd be right. For the rest of us, however, Robotech: Battlecry doesn't do enough to distinguish itself in an ever competitive action market and never achieves anything more than a stylishly-unique mediocrity.
The short version of the story is, after years of war here on planet earth, a mysterious technological gadget lands from space. This leads to some rather stupendous technological discoveries. Then later, forty foot tall aliens invade looking for their techno-gadget. Naturally, humans create giant robots to pilot while they fight the giant aliens, with the help of their mysterious space debris. Of course, the giant aliens have space ships, and planes, and in short attack on a variety of terrain. Thus the large mech defenders must be able to adapt quickly. The giant mechs of Robotech can shapechange between giant robot form, space/jet fighter, and a sort of hybrid between the two. So begins our war, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The graphics have some definite high points, as the cell-shaded technique works well here in conveying the aesthetic feel of the anime. Action packed dog-fights abound with bad-guys and allies alike in a pleasantly jumbled battle collage. Missiles and machine guns streak in copious amounts across the sky, littering the larger battles with action and detail. Smoke and explosion graphics excel in their cell-shaded glory. Your mech transforms between shapes quickly and smoothly with the touch of a button. The downside of the graphical presentation is robust. Missions that take place on earth are hindered by a boring, desolate landscape devoid of any real feature beyond hills and valleys. There's not enough detail in the landscape to keep things looking lively; as a result, things grow repetitive quickly. The city's fare much better at first glance and much worse with a second or third. It's nice being surrounded by huge, brightly colored buildings to shoot, but the second and subsequent ventures into urban landscapes reveal the same buildings pasted into new cities and pretty soon everything starts to look the same. There's also a lack of detail in the cities. The size of the mechs and aliens is a major theme, but in the rural missions there is little to give any kind of scale, so it's pretty much just your imagination telling you how big everything is. In the cities there in nothing besides the buildings to give scale-which do go a long way by themselves, granted. Hordes of screaming people running around while giants and giant robots slugged it out would have gone a long way too. Parked and moving vehicles, more vegetation, helicopters, dogs, park benches and street lights would have added something as well.
Space and aerial combat has its ups and downs as well. These missions are generally well done. There's often a hectic feeling from multiple combatants and the aforementioned quality of smoke, explosions, and other cell-shaded goodies still applies. What's missing here is a sense of speed. There are few things to gauge one's speed by and most of the time I felt like I was crawling-and I very well might have been-when I should have been racing, dashing, streaking, cutting across the sky.
The sound is spotty as well. The developers obviously went to some lengths to provide an immersive story, and much of the narrative and mission objectives are delivered through a video and audio feed on the bottom of the screen. They even went to the trouble to secure some of the same voice actors as the original anime. There are two faults here, however. First, the audio is buggy and disappears and reappears on a whim so a good chunk of the time you'll be reading subtitles anyway. Second, some of the voice actors sound like they're bored with their jobs, bored with their lives, and that's hardly inspiring. The gun and missile sounds are about average but there's not much variety in them. I have it on good authority that the missile and gun sounds do not match the anime, which may or may not be significant to you-it wasn't to me.
The control is done moderately well. Movement is slow in some respects: turning around and strafing are too slow for an effective giant killing machine, but the targeting and tracking system is simple and effective, making battles in Robotech abundantly playable.
You can even target multiple enemies at once and unleash a missile swarm to take down all of them. Fortunately, you have unlimited ammo, though it does take time to recharge so you can't just tape down the fire button-which is a good thing.
Fans of Robotech will no doubt be overjoyed with the title, and it's a strong recommendation for them. They will find little difficulty overlooking the bugs and other drawbacks and will find that the liscense more than compensates for any weaknesses in gameplay. For the rest of us, Robotech: Battlecry just doesn't do anything to really stand out in a market glutted with games; in a season that's producing many of the best games ever made, there's not a lot to recommend the average ones.
Jeff Luther (12/10/2002)