Never reaching more than a lukewarm cult following, the Zone of the Enders series, created by famous game designer Hideo Kojima, is probably most remembered for being bundled with a coveted demo of Metal Gear Solid 2 back in the PS2’s heyday. Just like the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, these games have received the HD makeover but unfortunately have not aged as gracefully.
This HD bundle contains both ZOE1 and ZOE2 but does not contain any significant new features. Other than a new introduction anime cutscene, the only thing “new” is the inclusion of the European version of ZOE2 that contains some extra content North American gamers never received. In fact, these games have been ported faithfully to a flaw and would have greatly benefitted from the inclusion of even minor options like being able to load a previous save from the pause menu (instead of a full reboot) or even offer inverted camera control options. Fans hoping to experience online multiplayer battles with leaderboards will be disappointed too as there is no online functionality whatsoever. However, there is an option to jump from one game to another via the main menu instead of doing a full system reset.
From a gameplay perspective, ZOE1 has not aged well. But to be fair, it was not exactly a top tier game when it was originally released on the PS2 either. The same two enemies repeat throughout the entire game, there is much backtracking with often little indication on knowing exactly where to go, combat usually involves nothing more than a three-hit button mash, and the PS2 polygonal cutscenes look extremely dated. Further, ZOE1 can be beaten in less than five hours and it all jarringly ends just as the plot finally starts to heat up. It would not be accurate to define ZOE1 as a bad game, it just isn’t exactly going to win any awards.
On the other hand, ZOE2 is undoubtedly the better of the two games and fixes almost all the issues with the original. Unlike the more open world style of ZOE1, ZOE2 is liner stage-based, has refined combat, uses timeless anime cutscenes, tells a much better story, and includes some creative boss battles. When comparing ZOE1 to ZOE2, the sequel stands head and shoulders above the original in terms of quality. But in order to fully enjoy ZOE2, it would be in players’ best interest to complete the first game as several characters return and references from the first game are made.
While there are plenty of mech games on any given platform, there really isn’t anything quite like the ZOE series. Using a unique control scheme, players assume the role of a flying space mech called Jehuty. Each game’s optional tutorial stages will have players flying around and feeling like a space badass in no time. The combat in ZOE2 is more detailed than ZOE1 as a group of enemies can be targeted at once, part of the environment can be picked up and used for offensive and defensive strategies, and even the average enemy can provide a challenge. The plot is also more cohesive and even the climax surprisingly rivals the large battles of any Star Wars film and the anime cutscenes hold up well. But the entertaining combat does have a few kinks like locking-on to specific enemies can be wonky in times of large battles and camera control can act a bit disorienting when in large fights or when against tight spaces.
The HD makeover and wide screen support is welcomed and these games have never looked better. However, there are still many textures that have not been touched since their PS2 debut. ZOE1 is the biggest culprit of this as the camera zooms in on these pixels during level transitions, clearly highlighting these flaws. Voice acting and lip syncing is by no means the best but the techno soundtrack still fits the game well.
This HD Collection is the best way to experience Kojima’s “other” project. ZOE2 is clearly the better game and is an enjoyable experience even by today’s standards whereas ZOE1 is more take-it or leave-it. The lack of new options and features is a letdown but the biggest disappointment comes from the exclusion of the GBA game, Fist of Mars. Fist of Mars is probably the least played Zone of the Enders game so it would have been brilliant to include it in this final package for a complete collection, but the restrictions of porting a handheld game to an HD console that was developed by a different company is understandable. So now the next questions is, where is ZOE3?
On Par With: Tomb Raider Collection
Also Try: any other Sony HD Collection (God of War, Ico/SotC, Jak, Uncharted, etc)
Wait For It: Snatcher HD
Side Note – Metal Gear Revengance Demo
Continuing the tradition, Zone of the Ender HD Collection comes with a demo of the next Metal Gear, Revengance, featuring Raiden. The demo is long enough to get a flavor of the new action based “cut-and-take” gameplay as the player encounters VR Training tutorial stages, stealth kills, action sequences, and even a boss battle with a wolf-like creature that has a chainsaw for a tail. This game requires a learning curve as both analog sticks must be used for precision kills.
Unfortunately, if you want to play this game on PS3, the user must have 3.5gb of free space available and is forced to sit through the lengthy install time. Why can’t this demo just be played off the disc?! It is rather inconvenient and frustrating. Be warned.
Metal Gear Revengance is currently schedule for a Feb 2013 release date.