Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series has helped to bring a unique, cinematic take on the stealth gaming genre as the aspiring, would-be moviemaker has turned his talents to bringing covert op exploits to the console world. But while the series is what many may know him for, he and his team have also demonstrated their diverse talents with the light sensitive, vampire hunting action of Boktai and have taken players on a whirlwind ride into the future with the flash filled exchanges of laser and flying armor in Zone of the Enders. With its sequel, The 2nd Runner, Kojima and his team revisit many of the themes that have become staples of the Metal Gear series with vicious villains, conspiratorial plots, and a production design that remains fresh even in today’s fast paced world of cutting edge consoles.
Two Years After Antilia
Players aren’t required to play the previous ZOE in order to understand what is going on with its sequel, although those that have will be more at home with many of the references that it makes to the past. Fortunately, these references explain themselves within the context of the story without making the player feel as if they may have missed something. As an added bonus, the title summarizes the events of the first ZOE in a stylized, movie-like presentation that takes them through its events to bring them up to speed.
2nd Runner takes place two years after the first Zone of the Enders. On the icy moon of Callisto, orbiting Jupiter, Dingo Egret is a miner working on the surface in one of the many LEV mechs that are already there. Detecting an unusual energy signature, he goes to investigate the source, discovering a cargo container with an Orbital Frame inside of it. Orbital Frames are powerful, mechanized machines superior to the relatively clunky suits and vehicles used even by the military of the far reaching UNSF. But while he is examining the frame, the mining area is attacked by BAHRAM, a rebel force whose goal is to free Mars from Earth, and he has no choice but to use the frame in order to defend himself with the help of ADA, the onboard AI. ADA welcomes him aboard Jehuty, the Orbital Frame that will now save his life, as they plunge headlong into battle.
Dingo pursues the enemy and is eventually forced to surrender to BAHRAM’s commander, Nohman, who he recognizes from the past and who is now in control of Jehuty’s counterpart, Anubis. Built alongside Jehuty, Anubis is now Nohman’s key to fulfilling BAHRAM’s ambitions and urges Dingo to follow him. Dingo refuses and in reply, Nohman shoots him several times, leaving him for dead. Ken Marinaris, one of Nohman’s subordinates and an Orbital Frame pilot that Dingo had defeated while fighting on Callisto, is told to get rid of him only to hide him away instead within a secure section of the ship they are in and nurses him back to health as she herself is a spy for the UNSF, the military force opposing BAHRAM. But it comes at a cost as Jehuty has now become his only means of life support. Tied together, Dingo and Jehuty must find a way to save Mars while putting an end to Nohman’s ambitious plans. Whether they succeed will be up to the player.
Much the story is filled with plenty of Kojima flavored technospeak complete with military factions and their designations, weapon terminology, a variety of dramatic characters that Dingo will need to work with, defeat, or simply listen to over his comlink. Plenty of anime-style cut scenes courtesy of Studio Gonzo (G.I. Joe Sigma Six, Gun X Sword) help to tell the story which doesn’t do a half bad job in presenting Dingo as an unwilling soldier forced into a war he didn’t want to be in, but will do his best as the reluctant hero that he becomes.
Nohman is painted as a sadistic monster, far from being a benevolent leader that some believed he would be, Leo Stenbuck from the first ZOE makes an incredible return as only Konami can do, and Ken Marinaris becomes one of the more disappointing characters in any game. She’s no Sniper Wolf, although she starts out talking tough. But when the story insists on showing her soft side in the kind of split personality stereotype that feels as if it has just ruined her character, thanks in no small part to the melodramatic death scream from the Hell of Ripped Eardrums that she is capable of belting out, I was confused as to whether I was dealing with a panicky rookie or the seasoned professional that she was supposed to be.
Powering Up for Battle Engagement
The controls will take some getting used to as there are plenty of things that the player will need to do to survive the kind of firepower that will be thrown at them. Jehuty is powerful, but it isn’t indestructable. A set of tutorials are offered outside of starting a new game that will cover most of the skills that will be needed. It’s too bad that the tutorials are pretty dry as they are long on explanation, especially if the player is itching to try out the moves right away. There’s also a dueling system where the player can pit themselves against an AI opponent to practice what they’ve learned. The overall learning curve isn’t too steep and there will be a lot of opportunities to get used to Jehuty’s abilities.
Jehuty can block certain attacks, is armed with an energy blade for close encounters, can grab enemies and throw them, doesn’t walk because it flies, uses homing lasers to disperse clouds of flying guns, and can occasionally tear metal poles or panels from the environment to use as a weapon or shield, or use a charged attack to shatter the defenses of its foes. As Dingo continues with his quest for vengeance against Nohman, Jehuty will eventually adapt a variety of different weapons to compliment its already powerful arsenal such as homing missiles, a powerful Gauntlet punch, and the awe inspiring Vector Cannon which fires compressed space. By the end of the game, Jehuty’s arsenal will literally lay to waste most anything that dares to approach it with the exception of Anubis.
The player will also be able to use Jehuty’s lock on system which can be switched on and off. When it’s active, Jehuty will automatically track whatever the player is focused on for their weapons or to charge in close for a grab or sword slash. Going through potential targets is relatively easy, although in some missions when there are many enemies flying around, it can be difficult in trying to find the one target you want from the clutter. For the most part, though, it will be an invaluable tool especially in boss battles.
Experience is also earned as Jehuty dispatches its enemies, leveling up and improving how much health it has as well as how much metatron energy it can store for its secondary weapons. The downside is that the player really can’t revisit earlier areas to milk them for precious points. Players that try and avoid as much fighting as possible in order to get to the boss or the next chapter can end up in a difficult position much later in the game.
Saves are handled automatically at checkpoints, but manual saves do not take into account experience earned since hitting the last checkpoint nor do they save the player’s most current position. If Jehuty manages to level without getting to the next checkpoint and the player decides to save and pick it up again later, they’ll start without that level and right back at where the game had saved their progress making the manual save feature useless. Checkpoints can also tend to space themselves far apart and are not immediately obvious as to where they are to let the player know when they can safely quit without losing hard earned experience.
The cell shaded visuals of 2nd Runner extend to everything the player will experience while fighting BAHRAM’s best, from the smoke pouring out from damaged battleships to that spilling away from an exploding carcass of twisted metal. Sparks glitter as metal strikes metal while radiant beams of light explode from devastating weaponry wielded by Jehuty or against it. Yoji Shinkawa, responsible for the mech designs famously made infamous in Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series, was responsible for all of the mech designs here including the Orbital Frames’ play on the word cockpit. Rounding the effects out is the voice acting which does a good job in bringing each of the characters into the war exploding all around them, although some of the lines can sound a little too melodramatic for their own good owing to the story’s penchant for anime-style moments of expression.
Despite some of these issues, however, the final result is still a fast paced, action adventure where the player feels as if they are in control of a finely crafted avatar of destruction, a piece of hardened technology that can reduce its opponents to burning slag in seconds. Many of the opponents that will face the player will challenge them by being vulnerable only to certain attacks, especially the bosses that perform much like the puzzle based encounters found in the Metal Gear Solid series where the player will need to observe and plan how best to defeat their opponent by using all of Jehuty’s abilities. There are also missions in certain areas of the game where Dingo will be asked to save as many civilians as possible, or beat a certain time limit to reach his objective. The challenges are as varied as the areas that Dingo will find himself in to keep the player wondering what will be coming up next. However, owing to the same fast paced action that it does well, 2nd Runner is also a short ride to the end, although the player will unlock a few extras such as special missions that may tempt them to go back through it again.
Graceful and Deadly
Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is an exhilarating chase through the future created by Hideo Kojima and his team, one filled with plenty of action and hand cramping confrontations against brutal bosses that not only look good, but are every bit as satisfying as they should be. Although it’s a short romp, every minute will be spent in harrowing combat filled with explosive battles across Mars and through space itself. Extras such as bonus missions found within the game that can be played outside of the main campaign and duels against the computer for practice add to the package. After saving Mars, the player can even opt to go back through the game with the weapons that they have found to really flex Jehuty’s power. Hideo Kojima had given players a reason to fear giant machines wielding weapons of mass destruction with Metal Gear. In 2nd Runner, players get to be one.
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