Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 Xbox 360, PS3 Review

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If you are, like me, in your early twenties and a resident of the UK, your most significant brush with the Gundam franchise will probably have been when Cartoon Network used to be good, and started showing a bunch of anime back in the late 90s/early 2000s, as part of a daily segment called ‘Toonami’ – which later turned completely rubbish and became its own TV channel. One of the shows in the Toonami roster was Gundam Wing, a story about a group of teenagers trained from birth to pilot massive, seemingly indestructable armored suits and generally fly about kicking the collective arses of the Earth Sphere Alliance, who ruled humanity’s space-based colonies with an iron fist. It’s not quite so clean-cut as that, mind – people swap sides, change identities, kill people they weren’t meant to, and it all gets a bit heavy for a cartoon ostensibly aimed at the young’uns.

Now, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 is actually based on the original Mobile Suit Gundam animated series, which I know nothing about – but I was pleased to find that Gundam Wing was seemingly a total rip-off (or re-telling, whatever) of its forebear. Kids pilot big robots, stuff blows up. Result!

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Even those of you who didn’t play the first Dynasty Warriors: Gundam probably won’t have much trouble imagining how this setting fits into the Dynasty Warriors mould. You’ve got a handful of guys with vastly superior abilities than everyone else, and a load of witless soldiers waiting to get their arses handed to them. Like any good Dynasty Warriors game, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time wading through massive hordes of enemy troops as they helplessly fall apart to the rhythm of your button-mashing. Actually, that’s a tad unfair – while you could probably get away with just hammering away at the joypad and hoping for the best, there is a bit of depth to the combat if you choose to look for it. The most exciting addition is the boost combos – if you do a number of regular attacks followed by a heavy attack, then quickly hit the boost button, you’ll charge at the enemy, causing extra damage and allowing you to combo back into your regular attacks without pausing for breath. You can only manage this a couple of times before you run out of power and have to back off for a second to let it recharge, but it’s enough to reward you for actually paying attention to what you’re doing, and should please those of you who found Dynasty Warriors 6′s endless combos a bit cheap.

Still, you might’ve noticed that this review isn’t really speaking to Dynasty Warriors newbies, and there’s a reason for that – that doesn’t really seem to be this game’s target audience. If you’ve played a Dynasty Warriors game before and genuinely didn’t enjoy it (as opposed to just writing the series off as many do, punters and ‘journalists’ alike), there really is nothing here that’ll convert you. Similarly, if you’ve never touched the series before, there are easier (and cheaper) ways of doing so, chiefly Dynasty Warriors 6 - although don’t let that get in the way if you’re a huge Gundam fan, obviously.

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Graphically, the game is as underwhelming as we’ve come to expect from the series – as much as I love the more recent Dynasty Warriors outings, Koei don’t really seem to ‘get’ current-gen hardware. This is, of course, partially offset by the sheer scale of some of the battles, and you certainly won’t be criticising the visuals when you manage to ruin 30 enemy units with a single, well-placed attack. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of flashy lights, and the suits themselves are all faithfully recreated, but the environments still look like they belong on a PS2. Oh, and the music’s a bit toss, as well – do yourself a favour and stick something suitably epic on instead. You’ll have a lot more fun that way.

The bulk of the game is split into two modes, both playable in offline co-op – story mode, and mission mode. Story mode sees you playing as one of a number of key characters from Mobile Suit Gundam, and following their exploits to the animated series’ conclusion. Not being completely au fait with the series, I didn’t get a huge amount out of story mode – I got the impression I was meant to care about the story, but I really didn’t. What I cared about was endlessly smashing up robots, and this is something that mission mode provides in spades. You pick a character from one of the many Gundam spin-offs (two characters from each, as far as I could tell), and engage in a series of skirmish battles. Each character has their own unique set of attacks, and their own vast set of unlockable missions, potentially leading to hundreds of hours of gameplay if you really feel the need to conquer the entire lot.

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Then there’s the online multiplayer modes. Criminally, there’s still no online co-operative play, but the modes that Gundam 2 does offer are a surprising amount of fun. Most notable of the bunch is ‘war mode’, which sees you and three other players charging around a map with your own small, AI-controlled armies. Each player is then given a certain objective – usually to kill another player, or destroy a number of AI units. Once you die or complete an objective, you’re given a new one. Points are awarded upon completion of these objectives, and what you end up with is a really fun little skirmish where the player’s experience shifts constantly with the current objectives. Considering this is new territory for the series, it pulls it off with surprising ease, and will hopefully pave the way for more online Dynasty Warriors shenanigans in future.

Having said all this, I do have one considerable issue with Gundam 2. As great as it is, it really is just another refinement of a game you could well have played a dozen times before. This, in itself, isn’t so bad, but when you consider that Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce on the PSP seems to be taking the series in a new, Monster Hunter-flavoured direction, it irks that Gundam 2 sticks so firmly to its roots. Purists will most likely disagree, of course – and for them, Gundam 2 gets a hearty recommendation. But to fans of the series who are ready to admit that it’s getting just a little old now, Strikeforce is the way to go.

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Still, I’m pretty sure that I bloody love this game. It’s one of those titles that you might devote a few days to, then decide to give it a bit of a rest. Yet you won’t ever actually trade it in, since you know there’s a whole mountain of stuff to play through, and you’ll find yourself still dipping in for the occasional session. Because no matter how many ways in which our beloved hobby may change over the next couple of years, smashing up hundreds of massive robots will always be fun.

8/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360, PS3

Developer: Koei

Publisher: Namco-Bandai

Genre: Action/Strategy

Players: 1-4