Sega continues to drop bomb after bomb, kind of like the US in the middle east (without the loss of life, of course), and the Xbox seems to be getting more than its fair share. We are delivered Gun Valkyrie, a title originally bound for the Dreamcast from Smilebit, who also brought us Jet Set Radio Future. It seems that they’ve just about mastered game development on the Xbox; you could look at Gun Valkyrie as the ?silent’ bomber sneaking in just beneath the radar and leaving only devastation in its wake. I’m not sure anyone saw this game coming, amongst the various mixed reviews ranging from horrible to grand, it’s hard to tell whether Gun Valkyrie is a game that’s worthwhile or not. Once playing it, it’s easy enough to see that if you’re a fan of shooters, old-skool gaming, or even if you’re just hardcore–this game is for you. Certainly Gun Valkyrie takes influence from old-skool platformers, multiple anime series/styles, and even carries surprising influences from the movie Starship Troopers. In turn it makes this title highly unique by providing a continuous atmosphere of intense action, mixed with perfect camera direction, a dibble from the story of an eccentric sci-fi thriller and a dabble of difficulty that’s been missing from the gaming world in the past couple of years.
Everything about Gun Valkyrie screams ‘next generation’. It’s highly inventive, looks great, and controls like a dream. The premise of the game was initially somewhat confusing, though (more so to explain than to understand). Gun Valkyrie is set on the planet of Tir Na Nog, 4 years have passed since the disappearance of Dr. Hebble–the most influential, and highly celebrated scientist in human history. In 1870 AD he had the foresight and intelligence to harness the power of energy cells deposited on the earth left by Haley’s Comet. With what he produced, the world experienced its fastest ever growth in terms of intelligence; the secrets of the human genome, the discovery/power of the physical building blocks of nature, and space exploration would soon follow in a matter of decades.
Hebble basically created a highly intelligent and powerful nation in a matter of years, and with his technological advances, he basically controlled everything. Then, one day, he just disappeared; the Gun Valkyrie HQ, and the British Empire Space Intelligence Agency (BESIA), are now trying to locate the good doctor. You take control of his daughter, Kelly, and venture to the last known place the doctor was seen: a colony once populated with many people, but who’ve now disappeared, and the place is infested with lots of large, nasty bugs. Your mission is to infiltrate the planet of Tir Na Nog, find the colonists, or at least uncover what happened to them, and then find the doctor. As events unfold, certain unsettling issues arise, quite possibly all of these bugs could, in fact, be the former colonists you seek–but that’s all speculation.
The world of Tir Na Nog is simply something that needs to be seen to be believed. The level of design is innovative and the visuals are quite jaw-dropping at every turn–yet often highly chaotic. Gun Valkyrie sets a new precedence on so many levels, it’s truly hard to describe. Everything from gameplay, to graphics, to control, to camera direction, it’s all an amazing achievement and surely something to marvel at.
The gameplay is simple, Gun Valkyrie is a missions-based game where you are given a task to complete and you go out and do so. The only problem that stands between you and that objective is simply the massive scope of these levels: varying heights of terrain, huge amounts of killer bugs that make you feel as though you’re a Lieutenant in Starship Troopers–but with ten times as many opponents. The story is kept to a minimum during play, this maintains a high level of intensity, and the action just about remains constant. The levels are just as difficult to navigate as the bugs are, often I found myself saying “do they seriously expect me to do that?” It reminded me of old-skool titles where impossible jumps and tricky feats reigned supreme. After beating each level (because they’re hard as hell first time through) you really feel a sense of accomplishment that seems almost non-existent in today’s gaming industry. Most games today are filled with tasks devoid of difficulty, and I think Gun Valkyrie really brings back that flavor of achievement through adversity. After finishing certain tasks you’ll just want to throw down the controller and run to brag about what you’ve just done.
With the completion of each level, the player will earn credits that they can spend between missions on all kinds of upgrades and equipment. Kelly and her optional partner, Saburouta, are equipped with hi-tech Gear Skins, this bodysuit contains three available guns that are open for augmentation at the outset of each mission. Depending on the number of credits you earned in your previous performance, you can buy a selection of various offensive and defensive weapons: BIG guns, shields, and other items that grant you special powers, make for a varied amount of strategic planning depending on what you’ve selected.
This level of excitement is only complemented by the beautiful display of visual effects. Thanks to the (God-like) abilities of Smilebit, Gun Valkyrie looks incredible, moment after moment you’ll find yourself salivating for more. They are truly masters of their art: particle effects, bright and colorful explosions, high frame rates, gorgeous character designs, and breathtaking environments. The canyons in the game seem almost alive because they’re infested with massive swarms of arachnid life. They are filled with vivid colors, and highly intelligent minds; these bugs can kill you quite quickly, which is why you need dexterity of the hand, and nimbleness of the mind—you’ll often be stuck in nasty situations between a rock and hard place, that you somehow have to escape from. These nasty bugs attack in swarms, and from all directions. Sometimes you’ll even be tricked by a decoy, and then destroyed by other various bugs. They come from the sky and all around with deadly speeds. They look just about as good as they act, too. They’re highly detailed and creative. Who would have thought there were ?smart bugs,’? Looks like we’ll be taking a trip to see the brain bug soon enough. The stunning graphics work in unison with remarkable controls; Smilebit has really brought a new level of gameplay with its hover/boost methods.
Once you’ve adapted to the controls of the game, you’ll see how Gun Valkyrie has made Microsoft’s controller better. While design of the controller itself is poor, Gun Valkyrie is made solely for this controller, each and every nuance of which works perfectly with this title. I’ve developed a new-found respect for the Xbox controller because of this game. Every button feature on it is used, and is valuable during the game’s play. The left trigger produces a boost, which the left analog stick controls the direction of–pushing the stick in allows you to boost in mid-air (almost indefinitely). The right trigger fires, the right analog stick adjusts the view of the camera to extreme measures, and the buttons have various tasks: menu, change weapons, etc? Though the actual uses of the controls are straight forward, it takes a certain amount of finesse to use them fluently in battle. You can flip left, right, forwards, backwards, boost diagonally, just about any direction you could imagine (which makes attack patterns versatile, and battles not only a test of intelligence, but of agility and acrobatics, too). Each and every element of Gun Valkyrie feeds into this massive level of amusement and exhilaration. Sega and Smilebit have really been focusing on this aspect of gaming, rather than just some kind of gimmick.
Gun Valkyrie has it all: amazing graphics, precision controls, and an almost non-existent camera (meaning you barely notice it during play). Most 3D adventures suffer from one simple thing: the camera. There always seems to be an evident and innate problem with ingame cameras, whether it’s the movement, or the fact that it gets stuck, it’s jerky, doesn’t adjust well in all situations, swings wildly–or whatever. Never have we had a camera that acted just as it should. Well, I think Smilebit has figured it out, they came close with JSRF, but Gun Valkyrie is truly on a higher level. Any game developer trying to produce a 3D action/adventure title should take a gander at this one for a while. Just watching it in motion will send chills down your spine. You don’t even notice the camera while you’re playing, the only times it really becomes evident are when you need to use the right analog stick to check all angles. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve played games with camera problems, most games have some amount, but this one takes the cake, it’s perfect. There really isn’t much more I could ask for, because it performs so amazingly. It’s just simply impressive, once you’ve played the game you’ll understand. It looks fantastic, and that’s the bottom line.
Gun Valkyrie has more substance than most titles out today, and it really reflects all the effort Smilebit have poured into it. From the current standpoint it seems that Sega is the number-one third-party developer to date; with their consistent flow of terrific titles they are dominating the scene. They are producing a level of quality that’s just about unheard of from any other company. With the release of game after game, it’s fast becoming clear that Sega have no intention of releasing their hold on the industry. With games still to come, I don’t know what will be next, but if they are all this good, then I’m going to be pulling my hair out trying to find the time to play ?em all. For the hardcore, and old-skool, gamers alike, Gun Valkyrie is for you!