Shogo isn’t a game that you might find on shelves nowadays. It came out in ’98 (unfortunately, nearly around the same time Half Life was released), but remains an example of the kind of gameplay and design philosophy that Monolith would continue to bring to the table with other titles such as No One Lives Forever and their most recent tour de force, F.E.A.R.. While it might not hold its own against what are considered the top titles today, or even against Monolith’s own, it’s still a fun game and a reminder of the kind of risks that fewer companies are willing to take with unproven properties.
Shogo: Mobile Armor Division is a giant robot hiding in your PC.
Shogo is clearly a game inspired by the anime otaku at Monolith so if you like japanese animation, you’re in for a treat. If you’re not particularly enamored of its style and hate it with a passion, the game itself still has a few things that may fulfill the bloodlust that you are yearning for.
Part Dominion Tank Police, part Appleseed, part Gundam, and all attitude, as soon as the J-pop inspired opening finishes you are plunked into the somewhat carefree shoes of UCA soldier, Sanjuro Makabe, now being extracted from a reconnaissance mission gone bad on a world known as Cronus. This is two years after the girl that he had loved along with his brother and his best friend were killed while pursuing a mission to take out the leader of a terrorist group known only as ‘the Fallen’. They are going to be responsible for most of the trouble that you are going to be dealing with as you try and discover the truth behind their deaths. What makes Cronus important is a precious ore that has become the backbone for the UCA and they will do anything in their power to maintain control of it.
Now aboard a UCA warship where he’s now dating his former girlfriend’s sister (It’s complicated), he answers to Admiral Akkaraju who has been charged with finishing off the Fallen to ensure the flow of the ore from Cronus is not interrupted. He’s soon given his orders to accomplish what his fallen friends and brother were unable to do: to finish off the Fallen by killing their leader, Gabriel.
Revenge at last.
Big Robots, Big Guns
The game throws you into one of four giant robots to quickly introduce you to the bloody and brutal action of Shogo as you start off as Sanjuro. Just as in anime, everyone dies a horrible death. As you stomp towards pitiful soldiers on foot accompanied by toy tanks, just hitting one of them with a round from your default weapon will send blood flying everywhere as they literally go to pieces. Why wouldn’t they? You’re several stories of hardened steel wielding a weapon larger than a flagpole firing rounds as big as phone booths.
When you are sent on your mission to take out Gabriel, you get to choose from three others…all of which have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of armor and speed. They also have the ability to transform into a sort of ‘vehicle’ mode. While you can’t fire when transformed like this, it’s helpful if you need to get somewhere in a hurry or just get out of the line of fire. Each one controls pretty well using typical FPS controls and most of the action using these mechs take place among the abandoned city blocks and wastes surrounding the abandoned city of Avernus where Gabriel is said to be. They basically move more like faster and larger versions of yourself, so Mechwarrior vets may be in for a surprise.
You can also pick up various weapons from other mechs that have the unfortunate honor of crossing your path, ranging from laser cannons to heavy rocket launchers. The mechs you pilot also have melee weapons that you can use if you get in close enough to pound someone flat. Not all of them have the same weapon, though. For example, the Akuma class wields a katana while the Predator carries an energy baton. As you range through this part of the action, you’ll witness mechs exploding in pieces along with the foolish soldiers near them in an anime inspired exaggeration of carnal chaos everywhere your rounds go.
There are also times when you’ll have to go out on foot to pursue your objectives, and the game does a good job in making these up close and personal moments just as fun as they are when you’re a titan of steel. Sanjuro’s armed with a knife and whatever else he can pick up and find along the way. The game also throws in a sort of ‘critical hit’ scheme where your shots may do extra damage. There are some environmental effects in play as you take Sanjuro from one battle to the next as glass shatters and small items go flying from explosions. The weapons themselves are pretty brutal and you’ll be slinging everything from slugs to missiles at whatever is in your way. And yes, it’s just as satisfying down on the street as it is while standing over everything in your favorite mech.
Shogo’s action is powered by Monolith’s Lithtech engine and is one of the first titles released to showcase what it was capable of doing. The game that was built around it, at the time, doesn’t look half bad and a lot of the levels and scenes in the title were fun and creative to shoot through or just explore. The UCA warship where Sanjuro calls home is even complete with a bar and several other areas that seem to ‘fit’ just where they are, feeling as functional as it looks. There are also certain scenes and levels that show off the kind of humor and technical brilliance that Monolith would use as their signature in later titles. Going toe to toe with a mech on foot is just one such scene along with the ending credits.
The overall graphics and textures for the characters and the levels were hit and miss. I wasn’t expecting to be blown out of my socks as I was years ago when I had a chance to first try this out, but they do the job and the game was still as much fun as I remembered it. Still, don’t expect fluid animation on the level that we’re treated to today with most of what you’ll see being rather stiff and odd to watch. Some of the facial textures also look a bit strange and stretched out (such as Sanjuro’s) while others look just fine (Admiral Akkaraju). Many of the character and mech designs continue to follow the kind of anime inspiration that Monolith was stoked on while making this title.
The voice acting and the dialogue in the game, though, complimented the technical premier of Monolith’s Lithtech engine extremely well. The characters are fleshed out with the strong dialogue, light enough to not be oppressively serious but not so corny as to make your eyes roll to the ceiling every time you hear someone open their mouths. Much of it has the kind of subtle humor and dry wit that would find itself represented well once again in No One Lives Forever and its sequel and it retains quite a bit of the anime inspired background that the game is drawn from. It was as much fun hearing these characters go back and forth with each other as it was to blow away the bad guys that were in between you and the next level. The story itself benefits from this in spades, and even offers the player a choice later in the game that will decide how the rest of it plays out. Not only in terms of dialogue, but in where they’ll be heading off to next when the storyline branches.
The music and the sound effects add much to the atmosphere of the game making it seem even more like a digital episode of an anime series that no one had ever heard of before. Stuff explodes nicely, body parts bounce all over the place from a well placed ‘nade, and you basically feel as if you were dropped into a hyper-violent anime OVA. Anime fans should find a lot to chuckle at here while action freaks will probably love the way the game advertises the consequences of their skill.
The game also has multiplayer capability for those that want to try and blow each other away online. Monolith continues to keep Shogo’s main site alive as well, for fans that continue to play the game or are just looking for anything new that might hint a sequel.
For the most part, the game ran rather well on XP without the patches with only one or two crashes to desktop. I didn’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to get it to work on my system and cranked everything to the maximum level. The game was a lot of fun to get back into and just blow up stuff in what really feels like Monolith’s homage to anime’s ultra violent side.
Unfortunately, there were some issues that were still hard to swallow one of which was the spotty enemy AI. I’d literally run into enemy soldiers simply standing, staring at a door, waiting for…me? In one or two other instances, I’ve seen the enemy literally run into walls and get stuck or simply wait for me to do something else. It’s an older game, sure, and we’ve come a long way since then, but even these issues were something that fans years ago had also noticed.
Mobile Armor Madness
Shogo is a fun title for what it is today, a peek back at the early history of Monolith and an example of the kind of titles that they would release following this one. For anime fans, the game is a virtual homage to the uber violent side of their hobby while action gamers will find the title to be an interesting piece of FPS history. It’s an original title that took a big risk with an IP that fewer big name development and publishing houses today would be comfortable in doing. The anime market at the time of its release was still relatively small compared to today, but it brought a unique gameplay experience to the table that went beyond that narrow demographic. We’ll probably never see a sequel, however.
An expansion was in the planning stages, offering more insight into the Kura side of the story, but was eventually cancelled. At the time of this review, Monolith has expressed little interest in pursuing a traditional sequel to the title that helped to put Lithtech on the map, but one can always hope. In the meantime, if you’re simply looking to play something that’s a little out of the ordinary, have a penchant for japanese animation and a fetish for giant robots, you might want to visit your favorite digital bargain bin to hunt down a copy of Shogo.
– World 1-1