Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Game Review: Crisis Zone

So... that last article left me a little down-hearted. I certainly didn't expect to praise something else above a Studio Ghibli movie, that's for sure. But knowing that When Marnie Was There was, potentially, the last movie they'll ever produce makes it even more bittersweet. Come to think of it, what's so "sweet" about "bittersweet" anyway? Because I'm feeling pretty dang bitter right now! Anyway in these trying times, I manage to find solace in the following words: "And now for something completely different". Let's see, where did I leave off before I got sidetracked with Indie-Cember 2 and the SDP Music Awards? That's right, I was going through the Time Crisis games! Yeah, let's get back to that.
Crisis Zone
  • Publisher: Namco 
  • Developer: Namco 
  • Release: 
    • Arcade, March 1999 
    • PlayStation 2, 19 October 2004 (as Time Crisis: Crisis Zone) 
  • Genre: 3D Action (Rail Shooter) 
  • Players: 1 
  • Save: Memory Card (80KB) 
You know your media franchise has hit the big time when you can afford to make a few spin-off entries. For Time Crisis, this would be Crisis Zone. In many ways, it follows the example of Time Crisis 2, the last arcade entry to have been released before. It's got the same cover-pedal mechanics, and the same health and time rules. That's not what sets Crisis Zone apart, of course. What does so, however, is the equipment that your player-character brings with him on his job: a sub-machine gun and a riot shield. And wouldn't you know, they figure into the gameplay itself.

To differentiate itself from the other Time Crisis games, Crisis Zone's arcade cabinet supports one player only, and uses a light-gun controller shaped like a sub-machine gun. Not having to pull the trigger for every shot you wish to fire is no doubt a good thing, especially given how relatively heavy the new controller is. In addition, each scene in each level is packed with destructible objects which build up score bonuses as you knock them down in quick succession. However, the game's difficulty is also balanced to account for the inclusion of rapid fire. Whereas most enemies in other Time Crisis games will happily go down with just one bullet, that is generally not the case in Crisis Zone. In fact, just about every enemy, right down to common foot soldiers, have their own lifebars to display how much of their vitals you have to whittle down. I don't mind this per-bullet weakness so much, except there doesn't seem to be any location-specific damage (i.e. more damage for a head shot) as in most shooters.
Destructible scenery is more prevalent here than in other Time Crisis games. (PS2 version.)
You and your team members are also equipped with riot shields. In most Time Crisis games, player-characters generally stick behind one point of cover until they're allowed to move on to the next one. But having a portable shield on hand allows your avatar (and thus, the camera) to move about more freely. It's not player-controlled movement, don't get me wrong; you're still stuck on a fixed path. Honestly it doesn't affect much as far as gameplay goes, but it's a cool development choice when you think about it, as it leads to an experience that couldn't exactly be emulated by other Time Crisis games.

As for the story, it's pretty much just another excuse plot. Crisis Zone takes place in a shopping/office park in suburban London, as it gets overrun by a generic pre-9/11 terrorist unit. They get answered by an international defence force, which surprisingly is not VSSE from the other Time Crisis games. You, the player, play as one of their number, a mister Claude McGarren (or "Croid McGalain" in the -- likely mistranslated -- arcade version). The three levels you have to liberate are a shopping mall, a park, and an office building, followed by one final boss level. Each of them lasts about six to eight minutes, so as with the rest of its arcade-based peers, it's not much for first-play length. Unlike the other Time Crisis games, you can play them in any order. I suppose this is great for those who aren't as good at the game and can't clear any particular level with just one credit, but once you're comfortable with your skills, there's not much reason to do so.
Special weapons return in the PlayStation 2 edition.
The home version of Crisis Zone came about in 2004, as Time Crisis: Crisis Zone for the PlayStation 2. In addition to the arcade mode and the prerequisite graphics upgrades, this port offers a second story, a "Crisis Mode" with stand-alone challenges, and the option to use two GunCons for dual-wielding action. Come to think of it, this came out at about the same time as Halo 2, which made dual-wielding cool again, so I wouldn't be surprised if Namco had taken cues from whatever preview material was available at the time. Another unlockable feature is the option to use alternate weapons, as in Time Crisis 3. Unlike in TC3, where alternate ammo is limited and must be replenished by shooting special enemies, the handgun and shotgun just need to be reloaded as with usual machine-gun. And remember what I said about the machine-gun being weaker to balance for its rate of fire? Handgun and shotgun rounds are strong enough to drop most enemies in one or two shots, to compensate for their lesser rate of fire. Furthermore, when you have them enabled, there are certain points where you can try out special weapons like rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and even a laser rifle. These segments are brief, but deadly fun. As home rail-shooters go, Time Crisis: Crisis Zone is another great package, and a suitable follow-up to TC3.

As for the arcade game it's based on? Meh, it's okay. The machine-gun controller gives it a different feel from its cousins in the Time Crisis series, and the levels are designed around that experience. These changes don't amount to much in the end, but then again, the formula which Time Crisis II arguably perfected didn't need to be changed any more than it was. The best way I could describe Crisis Zone is, then, "TCII with a machine gun". You should be able to form your own opinion on the game based on that statement.

+ Plenty of destructible targets.
+ The more constant character movement makes stages feel more dynamic.
+ The home edition is loaded with extras.

- No location-specific damage (still).
- The story is generic.

Control: 4 SMGs out of 5
Design: 4 SMGs out of 5
Graphics: 3 SMGs out of 5 (Arcade) / 4 SMGs out of 5 (PS2)
Sound: 2 SMGs out of 5
Value: 2 SMGs out of 5 (Arcade) / 4 SMGs out of 5 (PS2)
The Call: 80% (B)

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